Interview with Vitoria Marques of Brazil Youth Ambassadors

by Karina Cabral
Original article printed in Portuguese at O Livre.
Photo Credits: O Livre.

An example in her community, Mato Grosso student wins exchange in the United States


Fifty students from Brazilian public schools were chosen by the US embassy in Brazil, among 23,000 applicants, to gain an exchange in the United States. Among them is Vitoria Lissa de Oliveira Marques, 18, a Mato Grossan from São José do Rio Claro (296 km from Cuiabá), an example in her community for her leadership and volunteerism.

The program that Vitória is participating in is called Young Ambassadors and was created in 2002. A success since 2010, it has been reproduced in all the countries of the Americas. Since the program began, 522 Brazilians have participated.

Vitoria always volunteered—at school, in the church, teaching English to children in a public school—but it was in 2016 that she signed up for the program for the first time.

“My mother had a fundamental role, because she was the one who made my pre-registration, without even telling me. I remember that, as the stages went by, I became more and more surprised and I reached the final, but I was not selected,” said the young woman.

In the first attempt, as a finalist she was given the opportunity to participate in another embassy program, the EIP (English Immersion USA Program), which takes the finalists of the Young Ambassadors to a week in Brasília, where they undergo a total immersion in American culture.

“We participate in lectures and classes on culture / history and other things in the United States, in partnership with Thomas Jefferson House. This gave me an incredible view of the United States and of Brazil itself, because it contains people from all over the country,” said Victoria.

Last year, Vitória tried again and went through the entire selection process, which includes a pre-registration, sending documents to prove the written application, and a written and an oral test.

The entire process is done by a partner institution, which in Mato Grosso is the State Secretary of Education (Seduc). In the end, four finalists per state are selected—and one of them gets the chance to go to the Young Ambassadors and the other three go to the EIP.

The program is for students aged 15 to 18, who are in high school, have a good command of the Portuguese language, do some kind of volunteer work and have never been to the United States. That is, this was the last year for Victoria, who is 18 and finished high school in 2017.

Fluent English is not a requirement, but it is necessary to be at a good level of the language in order to communicate in that country. Victoria never took lessons, she learned English alone.

She is currently awaiting the outcome of the Enem, as she intends to attend medicine. In the meantime, she will spend three weeks in the United States with the Young Ambassadors, attending leadership workshops, volunteer projects, meeting government officials and US community leaders and giving presentations on Brazil.

“I’m going to stay in Washington for a few days, and then I’ll be staying at an American family’s home in Louisville, Kentucky,” she said.

With the trip coming—she goes on Friday—the young woman said that her anxiety was “at a thousand”, especially regarding meeting the family that will host her. She believes that this experience will transform her future, giving her the opportunity to broaden her worldview and improve her English.

“It’s the realization of a dream, a result of commitment. I just have to be thankful,” she said.


Local businesses, nonprofits mentoring Latin American entrepreneurs

Costa Rican entrepreneur Karen Paola Gómez López surfs on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. | Courtesy of Gómez López

Since early October, Costa Rican entrepreneur Karen Paola Gómez López has been embedded with Louisville’s professional soccer club to learn about marketing, networking and other business aspects to improve the viability of her adventure tourism startup.

Gómez López is one of 10 young entrepreneurs from Latin America who have shadowed business, nonprofit and government leaders in Louisville as part of a U.S. State Department program to foster prosperity and human rights south of the U.S. border.

Gómez López told Insider that she had learned invaluable lessons, including the importance of networking and that entrepreneurs had to take many small but critical steps to achieve success.

“I’m really grateful,” she said. “It’s a life-changing experience.”

Gómez López, 26, hails from La Cuesta, a small town near the Panamanian border. In college, she studied in Pennsylvania for a year as part of another State Department program. After completing her post-secondary studies in Costa Rica, she worked in tourism and then decided to get another degree, in social work.

She recently got together with two partners to launch Learn Experience Adventure (L.E.A.) Costa Rica, which is based in San Isidro and offers all-inclusive and customized adventure tours involving anything from hiking and rafting to surfing and snorkeling. Gómez López said the business would cater primarily to groups of foreign tourists and would welcome its first customers next year. Twenty percent of the profits will be invested into social programs the San Isidro region to help lift people out of poverty, she said.

Gómez López looked for mentors and advisers in San Isidro, a tourism-heavy city of 45,000, but found that governmental and private organizations that help entrepreneurs there focused primarily on tech businesses. She read about the State Department Program, Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, on Facebook and reached out to her embassy contacts, who encouraged her to apply.

Commerce and social change

The program this year has brought 250 fellows from Latin America to the U.S. Louisville organizations, including Superior Meats, New Directions Housing and Louisville Forward, are participating for the first time.

Laura Duncan

The council tried to pair the visiting entrepreneurs with businesses or nonprofits in similar sectors so that each could benefit from the other’s expertise and make connections that may result in additional revenue.The program, in its second year, aims to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Latin American countries, said Laura Duncan, visitor program manager for the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. The council is the State Department’s regional partner and served as a liaison between the fellows and host organizations.

One visitor from Ecuador runs a company that produces guinea pig meat and has been meeting with local chefs, hotels and Latino grocery stores for potential export opportunities, Duncan said. Another entrepreneur, who works with at-risk youth in Suriname, got an up-close look at the operations of YouthBuild, a local nonprofit that helps disadvantaged youth obtain a high school diploma or GED while getting hands-on career training.

While the State Department has, for decades, fostered international exchanges focused on the public sector and social issues, the start of YLAI reflected an increasing interest by the agency to create greater stability in developing countries by supporting entrepreneurs who are trying to improve the lives of people in their communities by offering them work and by including in their business plan some kind of social component.

The application period for a program that will send 45 fellows from the U.S. to Latin American countries in March and April is about to begin.

The programs are funded by the State Department. Funding details were not immediately available.

Enjoying the people — not the weather

Karen Paola Gómez López, left, and Leigh Nieves

Since arriving in Kentucky on Oct. 6, Gómez López has shadowed Leigh Nieves, account executive at Louisville City FC, the local pro soccer club.

Nieves said that on a basic level both the soccer club and the adventure tourism company tried to attract and entertain people, and LouCity leaders had focused on helping Gómez López with marketing and networking skills and had connected her with local tourism-related businesses and resources to help her company adopt those practices that maximize its chances for success.

Nieves said that the club, too, had benefited from the initiative because Gómez López provided some insights into how LouCity could reach out to attract more fans from the local Latino community.

Discussions about soccer between Nieves and Gómez López came easy because it’s Costa Rica’s most popular sport. Gómez López said Costa Rican towns had at least three things: a church, a school and a soccer field.

The visiting entrepreneur also could not help but point out that the Costa Rican men’s soccer team had qualified for next year’s World Cup while some other teams did not.

Beyond the business lessons, Gómez López said that she has enjoyed meeting Louisvillians.

“People I have met have been really nice to me,” she said.

The work, activities and additional meetings and discussions with the other visiting entrepreneurs have made for busy days that often left her too tired to visit many Louisville sites, she said. Nonetheless, she enjoyed a tour of the Muhammad Ali Center and plans to visit Churchill Downs on Friday.

And, she said with a laugh, she has been able to go to the mall to buy some clothes for her family in Costa Rica, including her parents, an older sister, a younger brother and two nieces.

Gómez López said that she likes Louisville because it’s a sizable city but not so big that it’s overwhelming.

“It’s easy to get to places,” she said. “You don’t get lost here.”

She does have one complaint, though.

“I don’t like the weather,” she said with a laugh.

Costa Rica is close to the equator and does not experience seasons or significant temperature swings. Average daily temps range from 70 to 80 degrees.

Nieves said it’s been refreshing to meet someone from another culture, especially someone with such passion for her business and mission to help others.

“I have nothing but good things to say about working with YLAI,” Nieves said.

Gómez López invited Louisvillians to visit her country, which, she said, is safe, fairly prosperous, close (a four-hour flight from Atlanta) and a paradise for nature and adventure lovers. The country has active volcanoes, Pacific and Caribbean coasts and, although it covers only 0.03 percent of the planet’s surface, it holds nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity, according to the country’s embassy.

“Costa Rica is one of the best places to visit,” Gómez López said.

Carlos Zamora, Costa Rican entrepreneur and partner in adventure tour company L.E.A. Costa Rica, rafts the Naranjo River. | Courtesy of Karen Paola Gómez López


Costa Rica

  • Location: Central America, north of Panama and south of Nicaragua, bordered by the Caribbean Sea in the east and the North Pacific Ocean in the west.
  • Area: 51,100 square kilometers, or slightly smaller than West Virginia.
  • Climate: Tropical and subtropical.
  • Terrain: Coastal plains separated by rugged mountains including more than 100 volcanic cones, including active volcanoes.
  • Capital: San Jose.
  • Population: 4.9 million.
  • Government: Presidential republic.
  • Background: Costa Rica’s political stability, high standard of living, and well-developed social benefits system set it apart from its Central American neighbors. Through the government’s sustained social spending, almost 20 percent of GDP annually, Costa Rica has made tremendous progress toward achieving its goal of providing universal access to education, healthcare, clean water, sanitation and electricity.
  • Per capita GPD: $16,400. Northern neighbor Nicaragua has a GDPs of $5,500. Costa Rica is a popular regional immigration destination because of its job opportunities and social programs. Almost 9 percent of the population is foreign-born, with Nicaraguans comprising nearly three-quarters of the foreign population.
  • GDP growth in 2016: 4.3 percent.
  • GDP composition: Services, 73 percent; industry, 21.5 percent; agriculture, 5.5 percent. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread. (Source: CIA World Factbook.)

This article, written by Boris Ladwig, was reposted from Louisville Insider.

Learn more about the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative on our YLAI webpage.

Louisville Company Hosts Exotic Meat Entrepreneur From Ecuador

Listen to the WFPL radio spot.

About a dozen chefs wearing white coats and white hair nets are gathered in the frigid red-floored production facility of Superior Meats on West Main Street in Louisville. The chefs are here on this weekday afternoon to learn methods on how to “take down” or cut up a lamb.

Roxanne Scott |
Lamb “Take Down” At Superior Meats

Superior Meats supplies meat to restaurants, hotels and medical facilities. It is the last family-owned local meat supplier in Louisville. Company President Ben Robinson says they get their beef, bison, pork, poultry, wild game and other meats from many places.

“Everywhere — we source everywhere,” he says. “Everywhere from the commoditized beef out West to our local farmer in Bardstown.”

And Superior Meats is also sourcing its talent from afar. The company is currently involved in an exchange through the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative sponsored by the State Department.

Entrepreneurs from all across Latin America are in Louisville as part of the program. The founders are hosted by small businesses and nonprofits in the city for the next few weeks.

The entrepreneur chosen to do his fellowship at Superior Meats is Jose Lema from Ecuador. At his home in Quito, Lema sells exotic meat to hotels and restaurants.

“I’m in the meat industry back in my country but I deal with different animal,” he tells the chefs. “I deal with guinea pigs.”

Guinea pig might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an ‘exotic meat’ in the U.S. But in Ecuador, this is nothing new.

“Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia share a culture because that’s where the Incan Empire was set up thousands of years ago,” Lema says. “Since we share all of these, guinea pig is eaten in these three countries.”

And to Lema, it does NOT taste like chicken.

“If you mix like a pork and a rabbit — it has a particular pork-ish flavor,” he says. “But you still can have these rabbit undertastes.”

Lema’s company is called Cuyempak and was founded in 2010. “Cuy” is the word in Ecuador for “guinea pig.” Lema works with 200 small farmers in rural areas in Ecuador on best practices on how to raise and sell the animal. That includes processes around mating, feeding them with plants that will let the animals gain weight, and composting.

Lema buys the animals from farmers at a fair price, takes them to the plant, then processes and sells them.

The vacuum-packed cuy can be bought with or without marinade. The animal is prepared with Ecuadorean spices, as well as garlic, a lot of onions, cumin, a little bit of pepper and the company’s secret ingredient. Cuts include guinea pig filet and guinea pig ribs.

For Lema, this isn’t just about cuy or guinea pigs. According to the World Food Program, chronic malnutrition affects nearly 24 percent of children under the age of five in Ecuador.

“It needs solutions for that,” Lema says. “So guinea pig is part of our culture and that’s the response for that.”

Lema wants to use Cuyempak to help small farmers. He says the goal is to use local resources to solve a problem.

“So we’re trying to help a little bit for this problem and give these families a chance to have a better life, a better economy,” says Lema.

The same goes for Ben Robinson of Superior Meats.

“We’re sitting here in a state that’s the number one producer of beef cattle East of the Mississippi,” says Robinson. “We care about our community we care about our farmers and we want to help be a piece of this industry going forward.”

Although they may work with different types of meat, Lema and Robinson say they have a lot to learn from each other.

This post, written by Roxanne Scott, was reposted from WFPL News

Meet Some Iraqi Exchange Students Who Want To Change The World

Listen to the WFPL radio spot.

Thirteen exchange students from Iraq are in Louisville this week. The teenagers are part of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. While they’re here, the students visit education institutions and attend workshops on youth activism.

They’ll go back to Iraq and work on a community project around an issue they’re passionate about.

I caught up with the students on their break at the Big Four Bridge. I talked to them about their projects, what they do for fun at home, and about misconceptions some may have about their country. Listen to what they had to say in the player above.

Roxanne Scott |
Ali Al_Behadili

“My project is about designing a dialogue group to inspire others about being more open-minded and celebrate the diversity. Because Iraq is so diverse. We have people from different backgrounds, different languages, different religions.” —Ali Al-Behadili, 16.







Roxanne Scott |
Zainab Al-Hilfi

“Just to be honest I want to be a pilot. But my mother said no so I have to be a doctor. I don’t have an opinion about my life. It’s all about your parents, the community. And I will work on that, actually. Like, through doing some dialogue groups.” —Zainab Al-Hilfi, 16.







Roxanne Scott |
Awab Abdulhadi Majid

“Here’s the thing: not all Iraqis are Arabs. Not all Arabs are Muslims. And not all Muslims are terrorists.” —Awab Abdulhadi Majid, 15.










This article, written by Roxanne Scott, was reposted from WFPL News.