Becoming a Child Advocate

Editor's Note: DC Action for Children is pleased to welcome Gabriela, our new Research Fellow. Welcome to our team, Gabby!

While volunteering for two months in Medellín, Colombia with DukeEngage, I witnessed firsthand how local community activism and government support worked together to transform one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 

“The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay”

I spent every morning in the neighborhood of San Javier visiting families enrolled in Medellín Solidaria, a social outreach program focused on connecting displaced families with public resources provided by the city. Social workers are assigned to neighborhoods, the majority of which are located on the outskirts of the city, where they schedule home visits with residents. During these visits, discussions with the families revolve around accessing the most basic resources, such as clean water, and understanding what the city has to offer. They also cover more complicated necessities, such as opening a savings account and fostering open conversations between parents and their children. Every home I visited welcomed me with such warmth as if I were part of their family, and it was evident that they treated the social worker with the same respect and kindness.

Gabriela traveling up the side of the valley in a MetroCable with the Biblioteca España (Spain Library) in the distance.

I climbed the steepest hills I had ever encountered in a city and met some of the most resilient people. I worked with amazing social workers who graciously let me participate in their home visits. I listened to the stories of these families who struggled to escape the drug violence in their hometowns to start a new life in Medellín. Many had come to the city with simple dreams of providing for their families, but only encountered more financial struggles and increased challenges getting access to resources. One family explained to me how originally the city opposed residents creating neighborhoods that sprawled up the sides of the valley Medellín is situated in. While the land was untouched by urban development, it still belonged to the city or other land owners who were not pleased with the intrusion of these makeshift communities. Many families told me they were forced out by police and their homes were destroyed. But the persistence and courage of these displaced families could not be denied, and the neighborhoods continued to rebuild. Even after gaining rights to the land, these displaced families were still much removed from true city life and basic living essentials due to their physical distance and lack of knowledge as to what resources the city offered. The city of Medellín eventually realized that this growing population of displaced citizens could not be ignored, and chose to help integrate them as true residents by starting Medellín Solidaria to make sure citizens understood their rights living in Medellín and did not remain an afterthought to the rest of the city.

Now, through the creation of public libraries, Medellín has transformed. Many of the libraries are located in under resourced neighborhoods and serve as community sanctuaries. Residents can access books, computers, classes, and, in some cases, child care. Many of the local residents have a great sense of pride in their libraries and the resources they provide. After touring several of the libraries located across the city and seeing the incredible change one point of access can create in a neighborhood, I realized I wanted to be a part of an organization that advocates for local community change and that has the ability to benefit the entire city.

Coming Home

Once I returned from Medellín and went back to school, I found an internship with Action for Children North Carolina that combined my passion for improving the well-being of children and my hope to work towards creating the best environment for them. My time at Action for Children NC showed me the hard work and determination that go into every project that a small nonprofit takes on. With children spread across North Carolina’s 100 counties, there was never a lack of issues to be addressed. Much like Medellín, there is a necessity to understand the needs of communities at a local level. Action for Children North Carolina is working towards bettering state policies to benefit the well-being of children, especially within the areas of education, health, and economic security.

After finishing my internship with Action for Children NC, I found that I wanted to get to know a city with a geographic scope similar to Medellín. In Medellín, while the population of the city is dense, it is still possible to visit each individual neighborhood to understand its needs which are distinctive to each area. Similarly, in DC each ward is unique and has its own characteristics that help define its successes and challenges. DC to me represents a hub of educational reform where I feel my emerging nonprofit career and passion for advocating on the behalf of children can unite at DC Action for Children. Medellín will always be the city that inspired me to become a child advocate and Action for Children North Carolina will be my first step into the realities of nonprofit work. Now I find myself excited and ready to continue the journey with DC Action for Children towards becoming the advocate I hope the children of DC need.

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