Southwest student chosen to be fellow Youth Ambassador
Kirk: ‘I hope I will be able to bring knowledge back to share with others’
Southwest Senior Blanche Kirk was recently chosen to be a fellow Youth Ambassador to South America.
Along with Cassville resident Marisa Padilla, Kirk was one of several fellow ambassadors chosen from 16 states to represent her community, state and nation in Colombia, South America, which will first include traveling to Washington, D.C., for one week, then to cities in Colombia for three weeks as part of Partners of the Americas’ U.S. Youth Ambassadors program.
During her trip, she will participate in activities with local government, civic organizations, schools and in workshops that empower youth to mobilize their communities toward positive change.
Applicants were selected through a competitive process, including academics, recommendation letters, leadership qualities, dedication to service and community, ability to adapt to new situations and environments, maturity and responsibility and ability to communicate effectively in Spanish.
Kirk learned about the program from her Spanish teacher, and a representative of Partners of the Americas who visited the school. The competition was open to youth between the ages of 15-17 in Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Wyoming, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C.
“I am honored to have been chosen as a youth ambassador, and I hope that I will be able to help my fellow ambassadors spread goodwill,” Kirk said. “I also hope I will be able to help the people of Colombia to better understand our country, and learn from the people of Colombia as well, so that I can help teach my fellow Americans about them.”
Accepting the opportunity was at first, a difficult decision because she had never traveled far from home, Kirk said.
“After discussing it with family and friends, I came to the conclusion that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” she said. “So I thought, I might never have the opportunity to do something like this again and would go and I might learn something new from this experience.”
Expenses are completely covered.
“The program is funded by the U.S. State Department in an attempt to have better relations with Latin America,” Kirk said. “They have chosen 10 students and one adult to spend a month in Colombia to learn about another culture, break down false stereotypes, do community service projects, bring back what we learn to our own community, and participate in a community service project here. They believe in thinking globally but acting locally.
“We will be spending several days touring our nation’s capitol of Washington, D.C., and learning about our national monuments and history to take to Colombia. We will be learning how to answer questions diplomatically. We will fly to Bogota, Colombia, see their capitol, and meet some of their dignitaries. We will also tour some nearby cities and sites, and we will stay in an orphanage and help work with the kids there. Then we will fly to Barranquilla and stay with host families.”
Kirk said that all of the activities will allow herself and fellow ambassadors, which also includes Cassville student Marisa Padilla, get a ‘true taste’ of Colobmbian life and culture, as well as share their own.
Upon her return, Kirk will be tasked with using her newly-acquired knowledge to implement a service project for her local community. She hopes the program will help her to better herself and others.
“I hope to better my leadership and community skills,” she said. “Further, I hope to bring knowledge back with me to share with others.”
Kirk will jet set to Washington, D.C., then to Bogota, Colombia, in early July to start her adventure.
“I am nervous, excited, and curious,” she said. “I’ve never been on a plane before, never been out of the country, and I’ve never been that far from home. However, I am excited because this a new experience and it will be so awesome to be able to do all these things.”
The Youth Ambassador also aims to project a more comprehensive image of Colombia than what international media portrays to educate others and influence future relations between the two countries. It was inspired by President John F. Kennedy and founded in 1964 under the Alliance for Progress.