My name is Zuleika Lewis. I was raised in Venezuela since I was three months old with my grandparents. My parents died of HIV when I was 6 years old. In 2005 I came to live here in California with my aunt as freshman in High School. At the start of my freshman year, my English language skills were limited to “hi”. Everything was new to me and I did not know how the system worked not only in the educational sense but also within the culture that was going to be my new home town. I remember my grandmother telling me “I don’t want to have you anymore, go and live with your aunt. You are trouble and you are going to be nobody just like your mother”. My inner self was still asleep and hurt a little. Yet what my grandmother did not say was that my life was going to change in such a way that a whole new way of life was about to unfold for me in front of my eyes.
A few months before I ended my freshman year I joined an outdoor program for girls call GirlVentures. Through climbs and being in a supportive community of women I learned how to appreciate myself and recognize my needs. During my Sophomore year I felt how necessary was for me as a foreign student to have a community at my school and all the values that a community requires. In other words I wanted to meet a need. So I joined a club call “Get Real” where I was a mentor for freshmen holding discussion about respect, communication, integrity and all different values.
Through GirlVentures that same year I joined a mentoring program for low income students called Summer Search which creates leaders in our community through trips all over the world. With Summer Search I had the incredible opportunity to live with the Hopi Nation for a week and helped to clean the lake where they get their water from. By living with them and learning their story I gained a new understanding of how our actions impact the future. With this in mind during my Junior Year I created a club called “United” for people who spoke English as a second language. The focus of the club was to guide students towards college and to understand and celebrate other culture. It was my gift to other students to have a place that I did not have to feel welcome and share their culture with others. In addition it was my contribution for healthy generations to come.
In addition to the Hopi trip I also went to India for 3 weeks as a senior in High School where a deep understanding of the need for change grew into a strong belief as I drove through the streets and visited different villages in Pune, India. In the same way it was an eye opener towards my sensitivity for other cultures and how our connection with others in the world is the main reason why there are socio-economics imbalances caused by our narrow view. While in India I worked with HIV positive children who made me feel the experience of true love and also reminded me how lucky I am to be alive, since I am as well a survivor of HIV+.
I must say that though the places I have had the opportunity to visit, like Venezuela, the U.S and India are different they all have one thing in common. They are all connected. They are all one in the sense that we all share the earth and if they create good everyone else would get some of that goodness. If they create harm everyone else would get some of the harm. Especially in this times when globalization and actions based on the ego have taken such a big role in our world making a specific group the only beneficiary. In the other hand in Venezuela, here in the U.S and in India there is always someone who fights to create change just like Global Citizen Year. I always knew I wanted to be on their side.
Since I went to India I knew I didn’t want to go to college right away, nor did I know what I wanted to study. I feel like there is so much in the world to see, learn and integrate. That’s why when I read about Global Citizen Year I got so excited because they provided what I need which is time to explore careers and experience new things while making positive change.
Also I passionately share Global Citizen Year’s vision of a better world sometime in our future. I believe that when one has the experience to see others reality a whole new way of life begins to awaken and the understanding for change comes alive and this is what we need. Perhaps, we do not need to change the world but to understand the impact of the ways we do things. This creates responsible world citizens who fight injustices and by living in a whole different country for a year I believe I would become one.