In October 2015, 17-year-old, Patricia Salazar traveled with 19 other youth from Venezuela and Colombia to the United States for one month as a participant in the State Department-funded Youth Ambassadors program. “It was a dream come true…the chance to know, enjoy and learn about cultures different from mine,” Salazar said.
The meetings, workshops, and cultural activities Salazar attended in Washington, D.C. and Tennessee not only “exceeded the expectations of any young person” but also helped her see how much potential young people around the world possess. “Every activity made me grow up as a leader, opened my mind and motivated me to work even harder for my country’s future,” Salazar said.
Salazar’s experience in the United States represented the first of many goals she plans to achieve as a community leader and environmentalist. Upon returning to her home city in Cumaná, Venezuela, Salazar designed a project to combat pollution at El Peñon, the local beach. Due to its proximity to the city’s garbage dump, many wildlife species are at risk of endangerment and quality public health is a concern.
Born out of her tour of the Waste Management and Recycling facilities in Johnson City, TN, Salazar launched Make a Wave, a project aiming to reduce pollution at the beach and raise awareness at schools about environmental protection. The project “shows how important it is to protect our environment because if nature is healthy, we are going to be healthy,” Salazar said.
Relying on the knowledge she learned as a Youth Ambassador, Salazar mobilized 30 other youth in her city to take action. “What I learned in the U.S. was what gave shape to the project that I’m leading,” Salazar said.
Since Make a Wave began, Salazar and her peers have organized four beach cleanup campaigns, collecting over 150 pounds of garbage and directly benefiting 750 residents living near El Peñon. After each clean up, Make a Wave volunteers reflect together about the importance of their work, reinforcing the value of teamwork and their impact on the environment.
Salazar had the opportunity to share her project’s success and gain additional support from the Partners of the Americas Venezuela chapter at their May 2016 meeting. Approximately 60 attendees joined from across the country, including several officials from the cultural section of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Along with the many other State Department program alumni present, Partners’ Youth Ambassadors from previous years networked, discussed their current and past projects, and brainstormed where their project could grow.
Salazar continues to recruit more volunteers and expand the project. Her next goal is creating broad awareness in her community about environmental preservation through Educate with Make a Wave, a phase of her project that is still in conception. Educate with Make a Wave will teach students in schools about environmental preservation, invite their feedback on the program, and help in cleaning up the community.
“I think that all of our actions, even if they are small, they impact the whole world. That's why we have to work and persevere, because that's how we will achieve our goals,” Salazar said.