I’m Sebastian Cruz, I’m 21 years old. I was born in Tumaco, Nariño, but I have lived in Cali since when I was five. I currently study Social Communication and Journalism in Universidad del Valle. The past 7 years as part of the YMCA have been kind of crazy. I’ve been an ambassador, a camp counselor, a leader, a teammate, a friend and, most importantly, a volunteer.
When I was in ninth grade, I was selected to be part of the Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP). A program ran by the U.S. Embassy that aims to empower young high school students as ambassadors of their own culture while visiting the U.S. on a three-four week trip promoting a mutual understanding between the youth of both countries. I had the chance to visit Seattle, New York and Washington D.C where I shared about my culture, broke some stereotypes and learned a great amount of things.
This was a shocking experience for me, in a good way, because it made me step out of my comfort zone for the very first time. At that point, I was 14 years old, I was someone really shy and not confident.
Being in a multicultural environment led me into changing my mindset regarding different aspects of my life. Starting on how I saw myself in relation to others. When I stepped out of my comfort zone, I started challenging who I was in a way I could only grow as a human out of the experience I was living.
Then, in 2017 I decided to apply to the International Camp Counselor Program – Summer, Work & Travel (ICCP-SW&T). Here, I had the chance to become a camp counselor in the Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center. Which is a summer camp located in Michigan where groups of kids and teenagers spend a week or two doing campfires, singing songs and playing crazy games.
In Sherman Lake I grew up a lot. I was part of an international team, with leaders from Turkey, England, Mexico, different states from the U.S and, of course, Colombia. We were all very diverse but we were brought together for the same purpose: making sure the kids had a great summer. Our goal was to promote safe environments through ensuring an integrated education based on values such as Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility (what we call: HCRR).
I was not the same person after I lived these two experiences. They made me grow as a young leader and made me recognize abilities that I had that I couldn’t see before. It made me realize I could speak up and work with others to empower youth in my own country and make a social difference.