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Miguel Romero’s journey: Promoting higher education in Colombia

Hailing from Valle del Cauca in Colombia, Miguel Romero is an eager participant of Global Rights Connection, Equitas’ new online human rights train program.

He joined the program to bring a more global perspective to his work at Kids Lives Matter, an initiative that is funded by the University of Houston. While on a scholarship trip to the United States to study cyber security, Miguel had the opportunity to meet with the founders of Kids Lives Matter United States. After this connection was made, Miguel opened a branch in Cali, Colombia, where the principal mission is to bring higher education to students across the country in order to empower them to become future leaders. As the Director, Miguel works with 20-25 students per school year on a weekly basis to introduce the young people to new fields of study through a human rights lens. Not only do the students work with Miguel closely, but the organization provides these students with a variety of workshops that are led by specialists from across the globe, such as those conducted by NASA and the University of Houston, all of which take place in English to also help the students improve their language skills.

As a person coming from a low-income family himself, Miguel noticed that it isn’t for a lack in motivation that young people do not attend post-secondary schools, but rather that there are very limited opportunities for students coming from low-income homes to do so. As a result, Miguel believes that many students with this background don’t value the importance of higher education. Reflecting upon this situation, Miguel challenged himself to change the perspective of these young people by showing them the plethora of opportunities that lay before them.

If you’re 14 years old and you don’t have access to higher education, you’re thinking ‘what am I going to do with my life? I never had someone tell me what to do’. They don’t know about different things like math and technology, they don’t know. Kids Lives Matter provides young people with the opportunity to get to know more about science, technology, human rights to help them decide what they are going to do.

The skills that these young students develop through Kids Lives Matter help to change not only their outlook on life, but also the perspectives of their families. Miguel exposes his students to issues that are not only common in Colombia, but also outside of the country, as a way to demonstrate that the issues they face are ones that also affect individuals around the world. Miguel is bringing this international perspective to his work by learning from peers in Global Rights Connection. He is using his time during the program to educate himself about issues his peers are experiencing in order to include them in his curriculum with Kids Lives Matter. Global Rights Connection provides Miguel with opportunities to learn from his colleagues through the synchronous sessions that take place weekly, where participants share with each other about themselves and the human rights challenges that they are working on in their countries.

“I want to learn as much as I can about every single person, every issue that they have in their countries. I am taking that as knowledge and sharing that with my students, so that they can see that the issues that we are facing in Colombia are common issues worldwide.”

Sharing this information with his students is not only for their general exposure, but also to help them apply their learnings to a higher level of analysis and critique – aiding each student in becoming a leader in their community to better the lives of future generations. Miguel is focused on showing his students how human rights are involved in all fields at all levels, starting from one’s home, community, city and country. To do so, Miguel plans to include a participatory approach into his work plan once he has completed the training program, an approach that he learnt to apply during Global Rights Connection. He will develop a new project where his students are given a specific issue that is prevalent in their communities – such as early aged pregnancies – that they are tasked to propose solutions to. Giving his students the responsibility to think about how to resolve an issue that is prevalent in their communities is one way that Miguel is able to evaluate his student’s understanding of concepts that have been taught. It also gives agency to his students and contributes to building their confidence so that they believe in their ability to impact their communities.

“More and more social leaders are being killed because they stand up for human rights and their community. So basically, we need more young people working for this society. It’s in that age where you decide to work as a professional [in human rights] and also help society. Kids Lives Matter is providing them with these opportunities to get to know more people around the world, but also giving them the skills to become future youth leaders.”

Miguel’s ability to change students’ perspectives is reflected through the shifted outlook on life his students now have. Bringing positivity and learning opportunities to young people who otherwise wouldn’t have had them is changing youth’s understanding of higher education. Miguel is motivated to continue to grow and teach his students. The networking and new skills that Miguel has gained throughout Global Rights Connection not only help his students, but also support his work in building a generation of future leaders to inspire change.