Delegate Spotlight | One Child's Dream: Catalina's Dedication to Colombia and its Children
by Zachary Thomas
“I want to break the social [barriers] in my country, and help those who do not have the same services as we do.” Catalina Carbonell, a 19 year old from Cali, Colombia, has dedicated her life to helping those who do not have access to supplies and services many of us are blessed with each and every day.
In Colombia, Catalina worked with an organization named Soñar Despierto, The Daydream Foundation, a program run entirely by teenagers striving to make a difference in their own community. The main goal of the organization is to give back to children who live in impoverished conditions by promoting human value not only amongst the staff but also for the kids they care for. Within the organization, Catalina was involved with one of the Daydream Foundation’s Programs - Cuéntame Tu Sueño, The Tell Me Your Dream Program - which focuses on giving children with terminal diseases in terminal stages hope by making their dreams come true, much like the Make-A-Wish foundation here in the United States. So far, Catalina tells me that Soñar Despierto has had success with dozens of children in the program, granting wishes from swimming with dolphins to spending a day with firefighters or police officers. During her time with the program, Catalina was assigned, as are all staff members, to an individual child and granting his wish became her personal venture.
She worked with Jaider Nastul, a young boy who suffered from aspergillus and chronic granulomatous, a hereditary disease that causes the immune system to improperly function in its ability to fight disease, leading immune cells to collect in different areas of the body and cause infections. If treated improperly, this disease is fatal within the first decade of life. Catalina first met Jaider in September of 2013 when he came to her home city of Cali to receive treatment. Over the course of their friendship Jaider would receive three bone marrow transplants. “I soon realized, due to his condition, I would not be able to make his dream come true, since he could not leave the hospital nor get any visits, so I continued to visit his mother [and I got to meet his brother]. From time to time the nurses would let me go into his room and see him. After two other bone marrow transplants, Jaider died on March 18, 2014.” Catalina was affected deeply by Jaider’s death and had a very hard time coming to terms with his death: “He came from a rural area in Colombia, and his family was humble, which makes me think that maybe, if they had had better care for him, and if they’d diagnosed it earlier, maybe Jaider would still be with us.”
Ever since his death, Jaider has been Catalina’s inspiration, inspiring her to work with children in the United States, where she is currently a student at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. In order to continue helping kids have hope, she has joined her local Big Sisters organization, a program that provides kids from less fortunate families a mentor to learn the skills necessary to have the life they dream of and to give them the tools to succeed.
At our past conference in Boca Raton, Florida, hosted by Lynn University, Catalina was able, as a team leader, to meet delegates from around the world who were just as passionate about social work as she is. Many of them were part of their respective UNICEF chapters who also focused on helping children in need. But what Catalina enjoyed most were the speakers. “Nicholas Kristof has been my personal hero ever since I read his book ‘Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity’, which inspired me to create the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women at my high school’s Model UN in my senior year. So getting to meet him, and have my books signed by him was definitely a dream come true.”
“I have my goal, so what I am hoping for the upcoming MCC is to realize how to turn it into a reality, and to discover more ways in which I can help my country, and more families like Jaider’s family. [I am hoping] to get together with people who have the same passion for social service as I do, and who will understand how I feel.” She is very hopeful to not only help children like Jaider but to also help her home country of Colombia. At the conference, her goal is to know more about the process to move from an idea to a concrete movement as she learns from her fellow delegates, gets her contacts and vision in order, and moves her plan into action. “I feel so passionate for my country because I see how much potential it has [and yet] how little people are doing to help it.” She is coming to this conference resolute in her fervor and prepared to make an impact on her community.
Catalina is just one of the many amazing delegates already registered for the 7th annual Millennium Campus Conference the United Nations from August 11-15th where she, along with others from around the world, will come together to think, connect, and act to challenge the paradigms that perpetuate inequality and to redefine the world around us. Apply at mcc15.org/delegateapplication to join the movement and promote social change!