Just as my short visit to WYA Europe headquarters in Brussels was nearing to an end, I made my third interview with the interesting persons I met there. This time it was Fernando Alvarez. Why him, one could ask? I was wondering the same when WYA Europe staff explained me: “He’s young but very talented. He understands many things, you’ll see.” So we started.
The talk went off as usual. He was telling me how he grew up in the Mediterranean Coast of Spain and how he had a very happy childhood. “I always look back at those days with nostalgia. It was a rather traditional environment, very family centered, which shaped the way I am and the way I see the world.” Later, things started to change.
When he was 15 his family moved to the San Diego, CA for a year. “It was an amazing place and we were really excited to live there. At the beginning, it was harder than I thought being new in school and everything, especially because my English was terrible. However, people were pretty welcoming. Everything and everyone was so different from what I was used to. It felt more like a long vacation. Before that I had barely ever left my hometown and being there at that age was life changing, I discovered there was much more to life than getting by and I learned to be around all sorts of people.” As months fled by he made great friends and had a lot of fun but he knew he had to go back to Spain.
Once in Valencia everything was business as usual for him, he liked it at lot but he felt he should strive out of his comfort zone. “After I finished school I decided to go study up north in Pamplona. I wanted to be away from home for a while and try something new, but I wasn’t sure exactly about which degree to take, because I had no idea what I wanted to be in life. I liked very different things from journalism to architecture, but at the same time, I always had this concern about justice. So I ended up choosing Law because I thought it would give me a valuable background and different options.”
Then he continues saying: “I liked college life and 4 years went by really fast. I traveled, I met great people, and I learned a lot about life and about myself. Of course, it wasn’t an easy ride, I had to work really hard to keep my scholarship and there were some tough moments when I wasn’t sure I was doing what I truly wanted to do.” At the end, he realized he did not want be a lawyer, at least in the traditional sense of the word. “So I started looking for alternatives”, he says.
After graduation, he was still pretty confused, and he had tried out different things in the summers between school years but hadn’t found anything he was passionate about. Then, a friend told him about WYA. “I was surprised to find there was someone whom I shared values with, working to promote them in the international community. I decided to apply for the internship in Brussels.”
I ask him what he has learned here. He responds: “Coming here I learned how important it was to stand up for your beliefs and be active in the public arena. Seeing people who are fully committed to change society for the better has made me realize I also have a responsibility to act. It has also helped me become less skeptical about politics and policy making.” Not a small insight, I would say. For some, it could be life-changing.
Fernando at the conference in the European Parliament
Then, he realized another important thing. “I felt surprised to see the internship was focused on us learning rather than just working. The training we received was not just so we could carry on our tasks, but also to grow and improve our understanding of issues we should be interested in. Going through the CTP and discussing it with the rest has helped me know more about the implications of recognizing human dignity. This is something I want to share with other people.” Hearing him explaining that, I understood the value of this contribution. It made me think of Mandela and his saying that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. His life and actions they also study in CTP. Indeed, just learning how to resolve the tasks can only get you so far, but having integral formation ennobles your whole person and with this, it changes everything around you.
And this, of course, is empowering. “I realized very often we see everything that is going on in the world as stuff we can´t do anything about, so we simply fall back into ourselves and our petty troubles. This is something I do not want for myself or for anyone really because I have experienced firsthand how it makes you more selfish and indifferent. The first step is to tell yourself that what you do on a daily basis matters and that you should try to do your best instead of just getting by. Eventually, you will grow and you will find more and more opportunities to make a difference. I feel many people in WYA are an inspiration in that sense.”
I received this as a very mature insight. Big changes come from small acts of dedication each day. When you don’t feel like getting up in the morning but you do it, when the responsibility is overwhelming but you take it, when you have those annoying and boring tasks and you don’t procrastinate but solve them first, when you try again after failing many times. By growing up, most of us learn that it isn’t just about motivation and thinking how to achieve results. It’s also about mastering yourself in that process. That’s when the results come.
Fernando continues to explain to me that he still hasn’t decided what he wants to do after the internship. “But I know that this experience will be a valuable addition to my baggage. Hopefully, I will find a way to commit with my work and my time to a cause that is meaningful and fulfilling. In the short run I want to keep working and continue my education. In the long run, I would like to give back because I feel in debt and I would like everyone to have the same opportunities.” Sense of responsibility born out of gratefulness, this seems to me as one of the noblest things that a human person can achieve.
We are finishing the conversation. I am asking him for his final thoughts about future. He responds: “I am especially interested in areas like conflict resolution, peace keeping and development. I find it a bit frustrating because I constantly hear that young people with ideas should get involved in fields like those, but at the same time we are systematically excluded because of our lack of experience. I believe policy and decision-making process should be more open in a democratic society, especially considering that now we have the means we didn’t have back in the days. To participate in public life is not only a responsibility but the essence of the equality in dignity that I believe in. I hope by furthering my education and my experience I will find a place where I can make a valuable contribution through my work.” Well, according to his supervisors and according to what I’ve learned from this interview, his presence in any place will be nothing other than a valuable contribution.
Written by Timo van Meertens, freelance journalist and occasional contributor to WYA blog