The leaders Latin America needs

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: August 31st, 2022

Claudia Lorena Cañas (‘23, Colombia), Selvin Jirón (‘23, Honduras), and Romina Ovelar (‘24, Paraguay) stand out at EARTH University for their academic excellence and their energetic drive in fulfilling each project they propose. Moreover, they are recognized for their perseverance, a trait they each developed early in life. For their exemplary leadership, the three received scholarships from The Mastercard Foundation.

Learn more about these bright stars at EARTH:

Claudia Lorena Cañas: a determined Colombian woman

Claudia comes from Florida, in the Cauca Valley. When she speaks, one can easily imagine her as a determined child and teenager, which she still embodies Claudia finished high school at the age of 16 and immediately started working.. Although she gained a lot of work experience over five years and supported her family economically, she knew her goal was to study at a university and work to improve Colombian communities, especially the most vulnerable indigenous populations.

During the most critical years of the Colombian post-conflict, Claudia´s municipality, Florida, was the scene of events that intensely marked the lives of its inhabitants. Claudia lived through this experience and continues to witness the consequences, which is why she has long wanted to seek solutions for her community to have a better quality of life. Her mother is a social leader who created the Fundación Florida Tejiendo Paz (Florida Weaving Peace Foundation), composed of women who were victims of the armed conflict. Before coming to EARTH, Claudia took charge of the Foundation and linked it to different projects for the agricultural, economic, and social development of the affected families.

She worked hard on a project that assisted small growers of blackberries and mangoes. That was her first introduction to rural development and agronomy and was the moment she discovered her calling. “I made sure the entire project was executed.. One hundred farmers were provided with everything they needed: a well-assembled installation and productive system for their plots, and technical assistance for two years,” she says.

At the same time, Claudia worked with indigenous communities in a program of the Organization of American States (OAS) called Comprehensive Action against Anti-personnel Mines. “Due to the conflict, many anti-personnel mines were placed in rural areas, so Colombia haslimited agricultural development. Farmers cannot work the land until all the explosives buried in their plots are removed,” she explains.

Claudia actively helped implement the program in three communities. She has also worked with the Indigenous Organization of the Cauca Valley to carry out the Territorial Development Plan for Indigenous Communities. For months, she worked seven days a week and spent a lot of time going deep into the jungle, getting to know the real needs of the most remote communities in the valley.

In 2020, Claudia traveled to Costa Rica to fulfill her dream of attending a university. For her, EARTH perfectly fits with the integral work she has already been doing in various communities. It is a space that gives her the technical tools she needs and brings her closer to a multicultural universe where she can learn from other experiences.

“I describe my time at EARTH as a metamorphosis. It has been a transformation, a great technical enrichment. There are things I did not understand before, I did not know how they worked, and that often went unnoticed. However, each step at EARTH makes you understand the meaning of even the smallest thing existing on the planet. Everything is vital for to continue having functioning ecosystems and keep generating the most important thing: food,” she says.

Selvin Jirón: a Honduran dreamer

Selvin was born into rural life in a small coffee-growing village in the Department of La Paz, Honduras. As a child, he helped his family cultivate coffee and was very enthusiastic about studying. It was difficult for most of the youth in his community to get a university education due to social, geographical, and economic conditions. Nevertheless, this was Selvin’s dream, and there was no way he would give it up.

In 2018, when it was his time to make that dream come true, his grandmother came with great news: during a meeting at the coffee cooperative she belonged to, she learned about EARTH University. It was everything Selvin wanted. His dream now had a name: EARTH. He started the application process, and although he was accepted, it was not until 2020 that he entered the University with support from the Mastercard Foundation.

Agronomy had been on Selvin’s mind for some time. He had seen for years how the farmers of Pacheco Morales, his village, repeated processes with their crops that did not improve harvests, profits, soil conditions, water, or the environment. Although he did not have answers or solutions to understand what was wrong, he was confident that his studies at EARTH could enable him to help improve life in his community. Selvin is now in his third year at EARTH and is in Brazil, about to begin his professional internship. Since he began  at EARTH, he has given his best, and his efforts have paid off. He knows that in the future, he will return to Pacheco Morales ready to help other farmers, start his projects, and achieve new dreams.

“This University changed my world. It changed my whole perspective of society, and I feel that all these changes have been for the better. They have made me a more resilient person and aware of global issues and those that are present in my community. In the future, I see myself transforming the world for the better. I want to help my family, other people, my community, and wherever I go,” Selvin says.

Romina Ovelar: a hard-working Paraguayan woman

Romina was born in a rural town in Paraguay where Guarani and Spanish are beginning to blur with Brazilian Portuguese. Her entire family is dedicated to farming, and with much effort, Romina is the first woman in her family to complete high school and have access to a university education. Her path to EARTH has been full of adventures. She lived the first years of her life in Argentina, where her parents sought new opportunities until they decided to return to Paraguay. Upon returning, she entered an agricultural boarding school but later switched to a technical school in environmental education. The women-only institution is based in one of Paraguay’s largest natural reserves. While there, Romina discovered one of her great passions: sustainable agriculture.

“It was tough for me to decide to study at that school because it was far away from my family and academically demanding. But I was very enthusiastic about learning something new, something that could be useful for my future,” she says.

While there, Romina was always an outstanding student. She belonged to the robotics club, was part of the Sustainability Committee, and traveled to different places in Paraguay to represent the school. She even went to the United Arab Emirates to present one of her projects during Sustainability Week. “After that trip, I told myself I would achieve countless things. Many people told me that you had to be the daughter of a millionaire to achieve goals, but now I know this is not true because if you look for opportunities, they are always there. It’s a matter of making an effort to show that you are really capable.”

With that mentality, Romina arrived in Costa Rica in 2021 to join our University’s Class of 2021-2024. She was encouraged by her professors in Paraguay, who never doubted her potential and capabilities. Romina dreams of studying more, working hard, and specializing in the subjects she likes the most. She dreams of returning to Paraguay and helping her family, community, and younger siblings to have all the opportunities she has had. She knows that, from now on, she will be a change agent dedicated to sustainability and protecting natural resources.

We applaud Claudia, Selvin and Romina, the leaders that Latin America and the world need!