Graduate Spotlight: Meet Mariana and Pedro
When VSP began in 2009, the founders dreamed that, having graduated from the program at age 18, students would return in a mentorship role. The program was just a blossoming idea at that point and many of the first students were five to ten years out from that possibility, so it was solely that, a dream. In the last two years, after nearly ten years of sustained mentorship and growth within our communities, that goal has finally come to fruition.
We now have a strong group of Tíos, as we are all known, who started the program as students and have come back to participate in all aspects of programming. They each came into the program at different stages of its existence and different times of their lives, but have returned as adults to give back to their communities, polish their surfing skills, and expand the reach and impact of our program. It would be an understatement to say that we are grateful for and humbled by their work and the example they have set for our younger students.
This mentorship cycle is crucial for the continued sustainability of our program, as it will ensure that our kids always have older Chileans to look up to. While you may have seen some of these new Tíos in photos, we have yet to introduce each of them properly. They are a true testament to the program’s impact and will play a huge role as we continue to foster a cycle of empowerment that will carry on through the years. This week, we’ll introduce you to Pedro and Mariana!
Mariana came to us by way of Cerro Montedonico at age 16. A relative of her’s lived near the club where English classes were held and let her know about the opportunity to attend free classes with native speakers. Coincidentally, Mariana was also researching surf schools in the area, having become fascinated by the sport through various media sources. The English classes had already piqued her interest, so it was hard for her to believe that our program also held weekly surf sessions during the school year. Retelling the story, it’s almost hard to believe that we simultaneously fulfilled two of her goals, and yet, her story is not uncommon, as we’ve always believed that the program should exist solely because the need and desire for it already existed.
Mariana joined the program to experience something new and ended up falling in love with the sport. She fondly remembers the experience of her first successful wave, recalling both the joy of it and the long line of failed, but determined, attempts that lead up to it. It’s clear that a seed was planted during that first wave, as she was a big part of almost all of our surf sessions this past summer, sharing her passion with all of our students. When asked to explain why she decided to return to the program, Mariana simply stated there was no other option; the opportunity was so unique to begin with that she’s held onto it as much a possible and hopes to be a part of the next generation’s experience.
We are super grateful for all of the hours she put in this summer, as she was a staple of our sessions from start to finish. She voluntarily came to the office to help us pack up and then engaged our students in a number of ways throughout the classes. It was especially clear that our youngest girls, who have just started the program, looked to her for guidance and comfort throughout the summer. We are super excited for her as she continues her Kinesiology studies in university and can’t wait to see what the future brings for her.
Pedro was one of our first students at the very onset of the program. Wiley, Henry, and John first pitched the project to families in Cerro Mariposa and, after receiving positive feedback and support, began the Valpo Surf Project there. Pedro, 13 at the time, was immediately drawn to the surf component of the program, having only seen the sport from afar. Admittedly, English only became a relevant factor to him later on, but has become increasingly important in his life over the years. I can say from personal experience that his English, which is incredibly fluent, has progressed a lot faster than his surfing. I swear that’s a compliment, Pedro!
While there are a lot of memories that stand out from his time as a student, two stand out above the rest. Like Mariana, Pedro remembers his first waves and his first day in general. Unfortunately, his first day was a frustrating one, marked by several failed attempts at popping up and increasing exasperation. The tíos and volunteers cheered him up though, assuring him, very truthfully, that everybody goes through the same trials on their first day. This difficult day proved to be a motivating factor for him and a constant source of perspective as he continued to progress in the sport.
The other memory relates to our work outside the sport. Henry, one of the program founders, set Pedro up with a cooking teacher after he had expressed interest in working in a kitchen. Henry brought him to meet this cooking professional and he then had the chance to work in a professional kitchen, fulfilling a dream of his. While his time there did not inspire him to become a professional chef, it did provide a framework for further exploration in the kitchen and for following his passions in general. This experience still stands as one of the best of his life and is a constant reminder of the doors our program has opened for him.
As he puts it, Pedro returned to the program out of deep nostalgia, seeing himself in each of our students and recognizing the positive change he could generate. During surf sessions, he most enjoys watching students step outside of their comfort zones. They might dip a few toes in at first and gradually begin to take more risks in the water, realizing that everybody is there to support them if they fall. He loves seeing them mature and grow right before his eyes and understands the thought process behind each movement and gesture, as he underwent the same process himself.
Pedro is a man of letters in the classical sense, if that means anything to anybody. As a high schooler, he traveled internationally to debate tournaments and racked up considerable achievement in the discipline before studying law in university. He’s always excited to discuss literature and is the first to ask what I am reading at the moment and if I have any books for him. Over the past year or so, he’s been working as a paralegal at a law firm and continues to do so, although he has recently switched his studies to computer science. We’re excited to see what doors will open up from his new studies and know he’ll find success no matter what.
In the future, he hopes to live abroad in some capacity, not only to travel, but to work. His English acumen and wide range of studies will surely provide ample opportunity to do so in nearly any country in the world. He also wants people to know that completos, Chile’s enormous hotdog varietal, are his favorite food, despite how unhealthy they may be.
Our next blog post will introduce Barbara and Gustavo, who also began the program at its inception in Cerro Mariposa. They, like Pedro and Mariana, are involved in the program on a frequent basis and have contributed in numerous ways.