Thanks everyone for your kind words about my speech. I am happy it was inpiring.
Here it is in its best version:
Good evening my Fellow fellows, Host Organization representatives, Atlas Corps Staff and honorable guests. My name is Eduardo Salazar, I’m an Atlas Corps Fellow from Peru serving at the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland.
I will start by telling you the reasons why I shouldn’t be giving this speech, please don’t take them too seriously. The first and most important one is that I am a crappy public speaker unless my audience is comprised by children or teenagers. Groups of people over 16 years of age scare me a bit. The second reason is that I didn’t even have a week to prepare this (thanks Younas). The third and last reason is because I’ve had a very hectic and anxious couple of weeks for many reasons that I won’t expand on.
But there are also reasons why I should be giving this speech. The first one is that, apparently, most of the Fellows graduating wanted me to do this. I thank you for this honor and I hope you have to do other uncomfortable things in the future. The second and most important reason is that this is going to be a challenge for me and challenges are always fun. If I can give an hour and a half class to 35 children that would rather be outside playing, I can speak for ten minutes to a group of adults that are forced to remain quiet and listen to me because it would be rude not to do so.
So, I don’t know if you’re going to like this speech and I don’t care because they made me do it. If I choke or talk too much, please bare with me.
So, there is something I’ve been thinking about lately and it’s the meaning of being an Atlas Corps Fellow. What does it mean to be an Atlas Corps Fellow? I’m sure everyone has their own answer to that question, I guess the official one will be Scott’s.
When I started thinking about this, the first thing that came to my mind was the word “Service”. It is the part of our name we use less, but never forget that we are Atlas Service Corps. Being a Fellow means a life of Service. Service to others, service to our home, planet earth, and service to ourselves by becoming people who love what they do.
What service have I done in my life? I’ll tell you the whole story. Please stand up quietly if you want to leave or I’ll get distracted, and make sure your yawning is not too loud.
I guess service started with the boy scouts. I got to go to awesome places where I didn’t have to take showers and it didn’t matter that my clothes were covered in mud. I learned many skills that I still use now, like sewing and tying knots; and I got to use a knife. But, most importantly, I began to understand and enjoy the meaning of collaborating with friends and strangers to help people and make the world a better place. Sadly, the scout troop at my school got cancelled after a couple of years.
I bottled up my need to serve for a long time until I got to participate in service projects in high school through the International Baccalaureate program. Me and my classmates periodically went to a very poor settlement called Pamplona Alta where I was impressed to see how much poverty there was in the same hill where one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city was located. The eastern slope of the hill had beautiful houses with huge gardens, pools and awesome views of the city and the ocean, the other was covered in miserable shacks that had no running water and barely had makeshift connections to the energy grid. This reality convinced me that there was no time to play or fool around, to just be there to get school credit, it was either try to understand what was happening there or work, work, work. I was so concerned about this that I even went a few times after finishing school.
During college there was no time for anything but studying and partying. Studying economics and finance was fairly stressful for me and I wanted to get classes off my back and then just relax. I was fooled for a couple of semesters but I quickly started feeling out of place: most of the people in my major were concerned with macroeconomics, exports and financial return, i.e. making money. I was concerned with poverty, development and microfinance, and enjoyed the courses no one liked like history or economic philosophy. I had no idea what to do when I got out.
Enter nonprofits, which were a taboo for most of my college friends. The questions started coming: NON-profit? How can something work without making a profit? Who wants to work at a company that doesn’t make a profit? Are you a communist now?
I started working for Instituto Invertir, an organization that promoted business entrepreneurship as a way of ending poverty. I was appointed as main researcher, partial ghost writer and editor for a book about entrepreneurs defeating poverty through their businesses. I burst the bubble I was living in before and got to go around the real neighborhoods of Lima. I went to most of the huge developing areas in the city: to the center, south, east and north of the city, I didn’t go west because the ocean is there.
I finally saw reality, the vast expanse of poverty in the city and compared it with my own life and the life of those around me. How could I have ignored these places for all my life? Why is it that people don’t care about these areas? How can most people in the city I call home have such miserable lives? Why is it so hard for these people to be minimally successful? There was something that HAD to change.
After Invertir I had a one year hiatus working at the graduate school of the Universidad del Pacífico, one of the most prestigious business schools in Peru. I really don’t want to talk about it. It was a boring office job where I was surrounded by old ladies listening to crappy music and administrators that only wanted to sell education instead of educating. I met the big power players of Peruvian business, they surprised me by their utter disrespect towards our environment and people in need. An urgency to be useful to society started boiling inside me again, I wanted out.
I was lucky enough to find Enseña Perú somehow, I can’t remember really. What I do remember is that I wanted to be part of this Peruvian Teach for America chapter, to go into those towns I had seen and establish real relationships, create lasting change. I was lucky enough to get accepted and when I announced it at work my boss asked “What about your CAREER?”.
Now I really wanted to leave.
At Enseña I met an awesomely diverse group of people with the same aspirations as me, we wanted to change the future of the most vulnerable people in every region of my country. Those were the hardest two years of my life, 4 days a week of 16 hours of work plus working during the weekend. I lived and breathed the challenges of poverty. It was a roller-coaster of emotions: I felt the love of my students but also their frustrations, struggles and sometimes, there’s no way of denying it, their utter hatred. That was the most rewarding and motivating job I’ve ever had and I still feel those two years went by too fast.
When the end of my second year as a teacher was a few months away, my mother thought I had enough of this “service” thing. But, as any person who has gotten a tattoo before the age of 18, I had to do exactly the opposite of what she asked me to.
Atlas Corps was introduced to me by a friend of Enseña Perú who organized a conference call with Scott. I can only remember one of the things I said: “Don’t worry about the stipend Scott, we know how to be poor.” I was fascinated by the idea of broadening my horizons and having a new perspective towards working for a better world.
The application process was long and made me very anxious.
In the last few months some friends who are applying have asked me how it works. I have a long narration of how it was for me saved in a Word document, which I read or paste in chat windows for those people. I won’t put you through that.
I got my J1 visa approved less than a week before I came here. It was a big surprise for most of my friends who didn’t have enough time to force me to get drunk at a farewell party. I got to the US on April 29th, 2013.
Are you guys tired? I only have five pages left, it’s going to be over soon.
I considered myself lucky to have been placed at the Center for Social Value Creation, it had a great fit with my interests and I had had a very pleasant conversation with Melissa Carrier, my wonderful supervisor.
My experience as a Fellow has meant many things for me:
I’ve met the world for the first time, I have friends dedicated to service all around the globe. Each of my fellow Fellows has something I admire personally and professionally. (I’m not talking about the parties and stories we all share, those are not to be openly discussed.)
I have also discovered that I am able to work at an office without losing my mind. That is, as long as I have an honest group of friends to share that tiny space with. Even though I can’t manage to arrive at 9 am sharp, I have to admit that you guys have made me want to go to work.
This experience has given me a new understanding of business. It has made me believe that business can create positive social impact and wiped away the misconception that business doesn’t work without greed. Sorry Mr. Friedman.
Through my experience at CSVC I have again witnessed the great power that young people have to change the things around them and seen the beginning of a new generation that will work for ideas instead of large amounts of money they don’t really need.
Next on this life of service I have somehow managed to make for myself is the crees foundation. They work in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon helping the local community find new ways of making a living sustainably in the forest. They have given me my first fancy title: “Education and Entrepreneurship Officer”. I hope I get to use a machete.
I am very grateful to be part of this family and to have been a part of your experiences as Atlas Corps Fellows. I am also very proud of having Atlas Corps in my heart and mind (and in my right arm). I am also very sorry for putting you through my wordy sentences and baroque musings. This has been the story of one fellow. I encourage you to get to know the rest of the Fellows and to learn about their stories.