by Marcus Leyva
Late last summer my uncle Noberto wrapped his prized fighting roosters in newspaper, stuffed them and the rest of his family into their 1955 Buick and drove 36 miles inland to Las Tunas, Cuba as a Category 5 Hurricane barreled directly towards their hometown on the coast. Thankfully, Noberto, the rest of my cousins and, most importantly, the roosters all survived the storm unharmed. They were fortunate that the damage was limited to property, but for my uncle and family it will takes years to restore normalcy (many streets in town are still torn and unusable from Hurricane Wilma in 2005). Life will move forward but it’s difficult not to reflect on the lack of economic mobility for most of my family and remember that, hurricanes aside, there is no clear economic path forward for most Cubans: the government dictates the market and most life choices with the threat of violence hanging over the head of anyone who thinks otherwise. Separated from my uncle by only a generation, I spent the duration of the storm in complete safety, with hot water and food readily available. To say I am a rare exception of economic mobility would be a gross understatement of reality. The probability of ending up where I am today is one in millions and there is no way I would be here today without the support of a loving family, strong mentorship and community throughout my life.
The lack of economic mobility is a common theme not only throughout Latin America, but within the United States as well. Throughout my academic and professional career working in financial services, the mobility gap has become more glaring every year as I realize real world considerations like applying for colleges, the financial aid process (including the labyrinth FAFSA), personal finances, tax planning, property ownership, applying for jobs (networking) and a number of commonplace life requirements in a first world country are all concepts almost foreign to many, including myself. There is no simple solution to issue of economic empowerment but there is no argument that access to education is a way forward.
CBOB has its roots in Colombia, and although I am not Colombian, the heart of CBOB’s mission resonates with me deeply and extends beyond Latin America. The mission of the organization is clear: education is the only clearly defined and sustainable route out of the cycle of impoverishment. I have witnessed firsthand how the organization has set about trying to chip away at the barriers to education as a Bound for Peace trip Volunteer in Medellin, as a trip volunteer, as a member of the student chapter at the University of Florida and now as a Board Member. Today I am proud to remain part of an organization with an intense focus on education and providing the tools and support needed to succeed against all odds. Together with our donors we are working to double our IAMCBOB scholar base by 2020 and parallel the same successes we have had abroad at home, providing tutoring, healthcare and comprehensive K-college mentorship for migrant students in Florida through the CWOB program. As we look ahead to the next ten years of CBOB’s future our team of dedicated volunteers and interns are emboldened and enthralled by the opportunity to continue to promote economic mobility through education at home and abroad.