By David Snyder
Measured and soft spoken, confident and poised, Diana Huerta already has the bearing of the doctor she is studying to be. A 2012 graduate of the Jóvenes en Acción program, Huerta recalls fondly her time at World Learning’s School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, and the lessons she learned there.
“In Vermont they gave us workshops on leadership and how to work with youth,” Huerta says. “It was important preparation for us because they gave us skills on leadership and how to work with young people.”
Such lessons are at the heart of the Jóvenes en Acción program — a partnership between the Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the Mexican Ministry of Education, private funders, U.S. community partners, and World Learning. Through Jóvenes en Acción, selected Mexican high school students travel to the U.S. for a four-week educational exchange, starting their stay at the School for International Training to learn basic leadership skills and brush up on their English skills.
From there, the students spend several weeks living with host families in the U.S., a chance to learn more about the culture while also researching service projects they are expected to carry out upon returning home. For Huerta, she and her fellow team members chose the topic of bullying.
“We saw that young people had the wrong idea about love,” Huerta says. “They thought that their boyfriends could treat them like property.”
After two weeks in Chicago, visiting with various non-governmental organizations that dealt with bullying and domestic violence, Huerta and her fellow team members returned to their community in Puebla, Mexico, and sought to share some of their newfound knowledge.
“Back here we started workshops to teach youth about violence because it was a problem here,” Huerta says. “We tried to share with other people that you can make a change in the world, and I think that is necessary today.”
Hosting workshops twice weekly for six months, Huerta and her fellow Jóvenes en Acción team members tested their leadership skills by engaging fellow students in group discussions about bullying and relationships — topics not openly discussed in the community, Huerta said.
“We would role play, share our opinions, and point out differences between our opinions,” Huerta says. “Through that, the participants learned how to recognize and avoid violence in relationships.”
For Huerta, a first time visitor to the U.S., the Jóvenes en Acción program gave her a new perspective on the world. Through her training in Vermont, and her experiences living with two host families, Huerta says the program also gave her a boost in confidence as she returned home to Mexico to carry out her service project.
“I learned about different cultures,” Huerta says, “And the program also taught me that I can be a part of change in the world, and that I can influence another generation.”
In her second year of university now, where she is studying to be a doctor, Huerta looks back on her experience with Jóvenes en Acción with the critical eye of maturity. Earnest and intelligent, thoughtful and considered, Huerta feels the responsibility of using her experience and her education to help others, and says the Jóvenes en Acción program helped change her for the better.
“In my career I will need a lot of leadership skills,” Huerta says. “And this program helped me to grow up.”