What leadership roles or volunteer experiences have been important to you during your time at Maryland?
A variety of medical professionals told me, “You will not live to see the age of twenty”. Dozens of doctors told my parents that, “[Your daughter] will remain attached to a respirator for the remainder of her adult life”. My most poignant memory remains waking up in the intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and hearing my surgeon say, “You received a successful heart and kidney transplant”. At age 12, I received the gift of life given to me by a brave twenty-two year old student. Her life came to a tragic end after incurring serious injuries during a major car accident. I realized that in order for me to be living a person had to die for me to have my new heart; I could have chosen to waste this new life or chosen to make an impact. As I laid in recovery, I thought about what my legacy on this Earth would be. I began to examine my own history. As I looked at my mother, a woman who held my hand throughout this ordeal, I finally understood the inspirational legacy to which I had emerged. My mother immigrated to the United States from immense poverty to become the first woman in her family to learn how to read and write. In West Africa, she was denied an education because she was a woman. I realized my desire to become an advocate for the expansion of women’s rights in my homeland. I began working within the sphere of international policy by lobbying for legislative initiatives affecting the genocides in Darfur, Sudan and the Republic of the Congo. My humanitarian works gave me hope for a brighter future through enriching the lives of others.
I was honored for my international efforts as the recipient of the 2010 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) & Marie Claire National Student Award for the Health & Dignity of Women Everywhere; awarded by official United States UN committee Americans for UNFPA. I served a one year term as a U.S. Student Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund, which afforded me the opportunity to travel to a third world country. Serving as an advocate for international women’s rights allowed me to live my dreams. I would soon be attending briefings with UN officials and later reporting for Marie Claire Magazine, within rural Guatemala. The Population Council of Guatemala is currently using my Marie Claire writings to teach the indigenous women of Abriendos Oportunidades the English language. In Patzul, I met two young women named Rosa and Elvia. Each of them comes from a family of eight children and were forced to drop out of school to take care of their siblings. Had it not been for the intervention of United Nations’ programs, both Rosa and Elvia would not be attending college. I wished to do more than simply write about their stories of hardship. I eventually brought their stories to Congress through an invite from my Congressional representative, the Honorable Donna Edwards. I lobbied members of Congress for the approval of a $10 million dollar increase in funding for UNFPA programs. As I sat with Congressional staffers, I spoke about my findings in Guatemala and the socioeconomic inequalities women in the third world encounter. I was able to demonstrate why access to equal education for women should be funded, because access to equal education is a human right millions of women are denied. This experience ultimately altered my life by allowing me to serve as a vocal antagonist for peace.
What has your scholarship meant to you and how has it enabled you to pursue new and exciting opportunities?
Education served as the key to unlocking all of my dreams and aspirations. I chose to attend college as a means of utilizing my education to make an impact on society.
For many students, these dreams of attaining an education serve as a bridge to greater opportunities for themselves and their communities. The education I’ve received at this institution has given me a platform to serve as a proponent for social change for my community. In 2009, I founded Sacred Heart’s Children’s Transplant Foundation, which raises awareness about organ donation while supporting local public service programs. My grant program, Project A.S.C.E.N.D., has created a college scholarship program thus far awarding five college scholarships to low-income youth. Additionally, we have given local charity LLOL Mentoring the opportunity to create a summer camp for teen girls, reaching over 100 girls in the DC metro area. Sacred Hearts’ charitable efforts have been praised and featured on MTV, Glamour Magazine, and the Huffington Post.
How will you make a positive difference in the world?
I desire to expand the work of my nonprofit organization, Project ASCEND. Project ASCEND is a grant and scholarship program working to increase civic activism and educational opportunities for low-income women of color, within the Washington DC metropolitan area. Project ASCEND wishes to expand our efforts to fund the education of women and girls in the Abriendo Oportunidades—a civic service nonprofit working to provide Guatemalan women/girls primary and secondary education. This program financially supports impoverished young women and provides mentorship and support to lift young girls out of poverty. As a requirement of the program, scholarship recipients must organize mentorship opportunities for the younger generation of girls within their respective villages. The women we work with come from tragic backgrounds and have experienced molestation, poverty, abandonment by their parents, and dismal education opportunities. When young women receive mentorship, they are deterred from teen pregnancy, drug use, gang activity, and are more likely to attend college.