The time has come again for a story of a Youth in Action. Meet Valeria, a Youth Forum 2021 alumni from Mexico. She has been actively involved in substance use prevention and youth empowerment for years. Are you curious about her experiences? Then scroll on!
It’s really nice to get in touch with you again, Valeria. Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure! My name is Valeria Hernández and I’m 25 years old. I studied International Affairs and I am currently the Institutional Advertising Branch Deputy Chief in Centros de Integración Juvenil (CIJ), the main organization in Mexico working on the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and scientific research on drug use in the country. For me, the coolest thing about my job is that it gives me the chance to promote healthy lifestyles which I’ve been extremely passionate about for many years. Actually, most of my hobbies are related to being active: I love kick boxing, swimming, running and doing workouts. Besides that, I am a vegan and a foodie, so any plan with my lovely dogs or having a good plant-based meal with a coffee, I’m in.
What do you recall about your experience in the Youth Forum?
The experience was really nice and I learned a lot about evidence-based prevention, and even though it was not possible to have the full “in-person” experience, I tried to stay positive and seize the opportunity as much as possible. I met really talented young people with rich experience and knowledge on the topic. It was definitely a challenge to participate remotely because I feel more confident and connect better in person, but I am still really thankful and happy for the opportunity to participate.
Were you able to get involved in activities related to drug use prevention or youth empowerment after the Youth Forum?
The participation in the Youth Forum gave me the chance to write two articles in the Youth Initiative Magazine, which helped me to gain even more information on the topic. The first article explained why protective factors are so important in preventing drug use, and how we can boost them. The second article covered the importance of mental health, and a some tips on how to take care of our mental health.
As I mentioned, I currently also work in CIJ to reinforce prevention messages and disseminate as much as possible. I also recently had the opportunity to participate in the 3rd Global Forum for Youth Leaders on Drugs Use Prevention (Abu Dhabi, May 2022). I must say the experience was amazing in all possible ways! I learned new things and reinforced knowledge about the science of prevention, I created a Boxing Prevention Project that was selected as top 6 projects and will luckily be implemented soon in my country. I met amazing people from all over the world who share the same dream: To help to create a better world and a better future. It all brings me back here, to try to get a chance to continue growing my career on this noble topic.
So you’ve continued to work full-time in the field of drug use prevention. This is very impressive! Can you share some of the work that you do?
My work in CIJ is to create and reinforce the ties we have with many other fields: education, public and private organizations, communities, families and any other spheres where prevention can be done. For example, we collaborated with a Mexican company that works with restaurants, shopping malls and hotels. The senior managements realized that many of their employees were using drugs, and they came to us for supportive measures. Through our 120 operating units across the country, we created a specific work plan to prevent substance use amongst workers and at the same time, we offer treatment to those who want it. Overall, we strive to provide cities in Mexico with high-quality prevention and treatment based on science, and of course, respecting human rights at all times.
What motivates you to dedicate to drug use prevention?
This is a question I really like, because I believe that if you don’t love what you do, you’ll hardly find motivation and therefore you probably won’t be happy. My main motivation since I first started volunteering in the prevention world until now, lies in taking constant steps that can change the world. I want to take part in bringing welfare to communities and to the world; and this is what motivates me to do my job, happily. And, every effort counts.
As a youth yourself, what does youth empowerment mean to you?
For me, youth empowerment first requires us get to know ourselves, to identify what we are good at, what we love to do and who we are. This, I believe, is the hardest part, but it’s almost like therapy; a lot of questioning and listening to yourself can lead you there.
Once you identify that, I think you can work to educate yourself on your topic of intersest, whatever that may be, and start to be a role model for other young people in the same path. If you love what you do and find a way to develop your skills on the topic, it’s very possible you will become a leader and a change generator.
And lastly, would you have any words for young people out there?
I would just like to encourage everyone to get involved in any activity, project, job and group that can teach you something about a topic you are interested in. In my experience, when you get involved and go beyond your comfort zone, the chances of finding a space to grow and to become an inspiration for others, are higher. Trust yourself, be constant and patient.