By Natalia Torres
Born and raised in Cali, Colombia, I quickly jumped at the chance to join Children Beyond Our Borders once I found out about it as a sophomore at the University of Florida. Leading up to my first service trip, I was thrilled about the opportunity to collaborate and travel with like-minded people to serve the youth in my home country. After the excitement of landing in Cartagena wore off (does it actually wear off though?) and I was a few hours into our first day at Granitos de Paz, I was hit with how truly fortunate I was to be in that space and that it was not something to be taken for granted.
During my time at Granitos on my first trip, I was able to witness the phrase “education = empowerment” in action in the community; within the center, at every workshop with our kids, and mostly within myself. I was able to step out of the bubble of my privileged college experience, return to my roots and see first-hand that education comes in all and shapes and sizes and it has the ability to create significant change in an individual’s life. I also realized that I wanted my efforts to go beyond a two week trip.
At the time, that looked like heavy involvement with the UF Chapter of CBOB. To this day, my group of girlfriends who I reunite with at least yearly, rely on for life advice, and feel empowered by, are the women I met on these trips and during my time with the organization (hi Alli, Candice, Maria, Supriya and Taryn!) Long term, these experiences and the passion that I felt around our mission led me to education as my full time profession. After graduating from the University of Florida, I moved to Chicago to join Teach for America as a special educator, and to this day, I work at the same high school I started at, now as an Assistant Principal.
Through Children Beyond Our Borders, I was able to have life experiences that illuminated the right path for me, and also made it clear that to make the impact that I wanted to, I had to make a serious and long term commitment as an educator. This is why I pursued my masters as soon as I started Teach for America, have been at the same high school since my first day as a teacher, and returned to Children Beyond Our Borders by joining the board a few years ago. Every day I wake up ready to learn and grow as an educator, but I know that all of these experiences are most powerful when shared, so I hope that the knowledge I’ve gained over the years, inspired by the very first time I set foot in Barrio Olaya Herrera, can serve as a resource for all the children that Children Beyond Our Borders seeks to empower through education.