Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
When Cielo Martinez arrived in Seattle in 2014, the teen from Guatemala City found herself living in a new country, speaking a new language and navigating a whole new school system. A mere four years later the 18-year-old is a scholarship winner who’s deeply involved in her local community.
“It’s not only that I’m helping my community,” she says. “It’s that a lot of communities have helped me.”
One such community: El Centro de La Raza. The Seattle-based organization provides a hub for the local Latino community with a focus on programs including education and language services. Martinez says her own family has made use of El Centro’s programs.
“When we arrived, my mom didn’t know much English,” she says. “She took one of the bilingual programs at El Centro to help her prepare for a job.”
Inspired by such efforts, Martinez decided to invest more in El Centro. Regular volunteering eventually turned into serving as a student rep on the organization’s board, a position she still holds.
“We meet once a month and talk about what our community needs and how we can meet those needs,” Martinez says. “It feels great to give back when [El Centro] has given me so much. Even with such a small thing, you can change the world.”
A graduate of Seattle World School, Martinez is now a freshman at South Seattle College. She’s taking classes in political science and international relations, and thinking of becoming a social worker.
Martinez has also been involved in multiple scholarship programs; most recently, she was one of ten students awarded a scholarship during El Centro’s annual gala in September 2018. Such success is the product of Martinez’s commitment to give back and her education.
“I’ve been here four years and sometimes you’re not sure of yourself or you don’t feel like you belong to a new country but you actually do,” says Martinez. “If you believe in yourself, you can do a lot of stuff.”
And never forget that you’re not alone, she adds. “You’ll find a lot of people along the way who will help you on your path to be successful,” Martinez says. “Keep working hard.”