My LALA Experience


Maria José Cardeño

Maria José Cardeño tells us about her experience at Latin American Leadership Academy: a journey of self-discovery, connection and empowerment.


Wanting to change something is not easy, especially when you are someone young trying to lead a transformation. Not only do you face a society that underestimates your abilities. You face inexperience, the ignorance of many circumstances, an overwhelming lack of support and the frustrating feeling that you are the only one who sees potential in your ideas, or is interested in working to solve the problems that everyone talks about.


Adding to this, the journey of being young–in the process of understanding who you are and what you believe in–the feeling of being alone in the fight against the perpetuation of what you want to change is quite daunting. And it leaves you feeling that, in reality, there is not much you can do to transform your community.


At least that was me: a girl trying to find her way, with a deep desire to serve others but not knowing where or how to start. A girl about to resign on her journey of trying to change the world... LALA showed me how mistaken I was.


Whether through open discussions with the group or the knowledge shared in the Social Entrepreneurs Panel. Through practical activities and visits to communities that had managed to transform themselves, or the moments of inner reflection. Even through casual conversations with my peers and mentors. Each day in the Bootcamp meant new perspectives, new experiences and new ideas. Plus, a number of emotional and intellectual challenges that defied me to grow and be a better version of myself. To sum it all, every day there left me more lessons than I can tell.


Being part of LALA was like discovering a universe that I barely imagined. A universe where my ideas were not only taken seriously but were given feedback. I was in a place where we were encouraged to ask questions, in which we talked about the topics that were of importance to me. A place where the discussions sought to bring to light agreements and common points, not only conflicts and division. And a universe in which knowing yourself had a fundamental role.


I had the opportunity to meet with other teens from different backgrounds, who shared my concerns, my values, my ideals and my dreams. I met adults who are more than happy to teach us what they have learned throughout their lives, because they firmly believe in the value of our ideas, as they saw potential even where we didn’t. I also met mentors who knew that we can accomplish whatever we want to. Who were thrilled to give us the tools we need to achieve our dreams, and to guide us on the path that will take us there.


The Colombia Leadership Bootcamp not only restored my faith in myself and in my power to achieve the changes I want to see in the world. It also showed me that I'm not  alone in the quest of changing it, not even close. Getting to know other people who have managed to change so many things with such little opportunities is inspiring.


Now I know that there are many incredible human beings, like my peers and mentors, who are working fearlessly and with a big smile to change their communities. That there are many people willing to support me in my task and that I have a great network of friends who want to help me in my projects. And the opportunity I had to support them, listen to them, give them feedback and learn from all of them is something that I wouldn't change for anything.


Without this experience, I would've never been able to launch the project that I am currently working on –an organization that connects NGO’s to collaborate among them and escalate their impact–, nor would I have had the tools to encourage others to believe in the power of their own projects. Even more, I wouldn't have known how to convince my community that change is possible.


LALA gave me a family. A family filled with hope, that grows every day and believes that together we can change the world. And I could not be more grateful for being part of it.


by María José Cardeño, CLBier 2018. 17 years old, from Medellín, Colombia

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