Reflecting on my America Solidaria U.S Fellowship

Estados Unidos
Reflection written by Yoctan Vilchez Baez, an America Solidaria U.S. fellow from Nicaragua from the September 2016-2017 class who served with Atlas DIY in Brooklyn, NY

It’s been 6 months since I successfully finished my year-long America Solidaria Fellowship in the U.S, and throughout all this time I have been irregularly reflecting about all the transformative aspects that this experience has had in my professional and personal life.

Surprisingly during all these months, the one event that triggered much deeper and conscientious thoughts on my life as an America Solidaria Fellow was a question asked by a stranger during a small talk exchange: “So what is exactly your line of work?”, that is, after I had used the more formal explanatory labels of “Youth Leadership Development” or “Nonprofit Project Management”. The questions, as his honest and polite drilling device to fully grasp and understand what my work was really about, kept coming back: “Is it education? Is it management?” My answers kept on being formally vague (since it was a stranger who asked anyway), but something in me cannot avoid regretting the fact that I failed to answer: “My role consisted in standing in the frontline to make the world less grim, in a way that government, corporate or international organization’s positions fail to do”.

During my Fellowship I worked at a grassroots organization managing a cooperative model with more than 700 hundred young immigrant members from 40 different countries, all of them 14-24 years old. My job consisted in planning and implementing educational programs, managing a database, and providing information to members and community about immigration legal services in the New York City area. In a year (2017) characterized by a cruel offensive against immigration throughout the wealthier nations of the world, and particularly in the U.S, the need for this type of services quadrupled and the ability of organizations like the one hosting my Fellowship was overwhelmed. It was not easy. But I was not alone or unprepared.

America Solidaria prepares its Fellows and Volunteers throughout the continent with an exceptional training and connects them to a large international support network (a family, truly). I was sent to Santiago, Chile for my training seminar just before the start of my Fellowship; the lessons, lectures and skills developed there were of enormous value to prepare me for the challenges ahead, that is, not just the professional ones but also all the difficulties and risk that one can face as an International Fellow.

I am currently back home, working as an International Exchange Program Coordinator, basically within the realm of Youth Leadership development and Intercultural exchange. After my America Solidaria U.S Fellowship, I am very proud to say that there is no planning, workshop, presentation, logistics or intercultural activity that intimidates me. Furthermore, I am even more proud to be part of an international community of professionals working hard to advance the cause of the forgotten peoples of this continent. It is very common in different nonprofit/social impact ecosystems these days to listen to the terms change maker, leader, innovator etc. What distinguishes America Solidaria is its authenticity in delivering trained professionals that focus their efforts in providing quality services to those in need by practicing inclusion in every step of the way: the spotlight is never unnecessarily fixated solely on the change makers but in the needed change itself, of which we (America Solidaria Fellows) have become its sharpest tools.