In this week’s installment of the Spotlight Series, we bring you a conversation with Salvador Gómez-Colón, a 15 year old from San Juan who raised more than $100,000 to purchase and distribute solar-powered lamps and hand-powered washing machines to households in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’ve lived in San Juan, PR my whole life, but this past September I embarked to boarding school and I am now a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Before attending Phillips Academy, I was a student at Saint John’s School, which I attended since pre-K. While I was a student there, I actively volunteered as part of an organization that feeds the homeless in Old San Juan and led service initiatives with my school’s National Junior Honor Society. I’ve also participated in Model UN since seventh grade, which is one of the things I really love to do, and for the past two years, I’ve also swum competitively.
What’s your earliest memory of activism?
To me, activism is not protesting or going to a march, it’s really about standing up for something you believe in, and taking concrete action to push your point through. My first formal experience with activism was probably when I first participated in Model UN in seventh grade. In Model UN, one takes on the role of a person, country, or institution with its own views and ideas. When you compete, you must stand tall and proud of these views and learn to defend them in front of those who might not necessarily stand on the same side. In many MUN conferences, I have had to assertively defend my delegation’s views to keep my integrity and purpose within the committee. I’ve always been conscious of activism, and the power it has. I’ve always thought it is correct to stand up for what I believe in and promoting what I think is right. I believe that one shouldn’t have to stay on the sidelines, but one should be an active participant in defending what is right in a respectful manner.
“We all have the capacity to create change; one individual, one family, or one community at a time.”
Can you tell us about the moment you realized you had the potential to create positive change?
When Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico, I was overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts that were completely new to me. As I witnessed the destruction and chaos that was widespread across the island, I could only wonder what I, a fifteen-year-old ninth grader, could possibly to do make an impact and make people’s lives better after tragedy and trauma. In my reflection, I decided I was going to purchase and distribute solar lamps and hand-powered washing machines to the most heavily affected communities around the island. It was my way of providing light, hope, safety, and emotional well-being to those who were facing the direst of circumstances.
In the coming months, I struggled with doubt and worry about not being able to succeed in my mission of raising $100,000 and positively impacting 1,000 families in the town of Loiza. Yet in the end, I raised over $150,000 and distributed more than 5,000 solar lamps and 1,500 hand-powered washing machines across 17 different towns. I was able to fulfill my goal of spreading light and hope to those who most desperately needed it, as well as reminding many that we all have the capacity to create change; one individual, one family, or one community at a time.
What was it like to be a young person engaged in this kind of work?
Spreading Light and Hope through Puerto Rico was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Even though, at first, I was skeptical of how much positive impact I could make, I still pulled through and did not give up with my mission. I proved to myself that age is just a number, and our potential to create a positive impact on people’s lives is not dependent on it. I believe that, even as I experienced, youth might feel uncomfortable with taking concrete action on the issues they care about simply because they think they won’t be able to have a relevant impact. I strive to be an example for youth that seek to take action and do their part to improve their communities, as a testament of the power of will and dedication, as nothing can be accomplished without these.
Do you think it’s important for young people to be civically involved?
I believe it is crucial that children be involved in civic engagement programs like SLP because they foster a sense of responsibility, accountability, and purpose that could not be otherwise achieved. When children participate in these programs they become aware of events and issues inside or outside of their communities that enable different and expanding perspectives about their lives and the world. I’ve always been fond of knowledge and exploration, and if children are exposed to programs that promote these, along with critical thinking skills, they will be better equipped to tackle society’s greatest challenges in the future. After all, we are the present and future of our world.
If you could give one piece of advice to other young activists, what would it be?
Never let your age get in the way of accomplishing what you want. No idea or dream is too big, as long as you take action on it. If you focus on your goal, your passion and dedication will take you there. While sometimes quitting might be the easiest thing to do, never give up on what you already started. No matter what it is you do, once you start, pull through and take it to the finish!
Want to hear more from Salvador? Watch his video on Solar Power International here!
Thank you to the International Congress of Youth Voices for helping SLP to reach Salvador!
The International Congress of Youth Voices unites students, ages 16 to 20, from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials. Founded by author Dave Eggers (co-founder of 826 National) and nonprofit leader Amanda Uhle, the inaugural event took place August 3, 4, and 5, 2018, in San Francisco. Youth delegates came to us from the United States, Iraq, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Syria, Ireland, Australia, Iceland, Burundi, Honduras, Cuba, Denmark, Venezuela, Zambia, and Nepal.
Politics of the world affect young people as much as anyone else, and they have little to no voice as major decisions are made. The Congress was founded as a means to amplify their ideas and energy and to unite young people for a weekend of collaboration. Student delegates are chosen based on their commitment to leadership and social justice and their passion and eloquence as writers. The event is designed to provide a path to leadership for all delegates and represents a continuum from students who have exhibited potential in local writing and tutoring programs to writers and activists who have already made notable achievements at a very young age.