My name is Rafael Rodriguez. I am an university student in the United States and I am volunteering for RECLAIM for two months here in Manchester, UK.

Even though I hold a dual citizenship as a United States citizen, I was born in Colombia -- South America’s northernmost country. This cultural blend has defined who I am. I understand the pressure of being an immigrant and all the impediments that come with it. I had to go through the struggle of adapting to a household that barely had means to cover expenses, ironically in the place where the “green bill” reigns. I had to learn a new language, adapt to new customs and to an explosion of varied cultures. However, at the same time, I have received many of the blessings that many immigrants hope to obtain when they leave their countries behind: the so-longed American Dream.

I have a family that is now slowly getting out of the poverty line. I am attending one of America’s most prestigious universities and, as it is the case now, I have had the honor to travel to different countries. Nonetheless, all this apparent success hasn’t come only through “hard work,” as many people tell me at times. It has involved much more that is sometimes ignored.

I had the support of my parents. I had the support of caring teachers and mentors. I had the support of a faith that is often misunderstood and manipulated to transgress the integrity, dignity and lives of other people. I had the support of a pre-university program that believed in me when my society -- the American society -- didn’t provide me with the tools to believe in myself. Therefore, I can’t relate to the idea that society is solely based on personal merits. I can’t relate to a world that tells young people that if they work hard, they will get all they want in life. I can’t relate to it because as my personal experience tells me that is simply not true.

The reason why I decided to volunteer with RECLAIM came from my incessant desire to help working class young people who are not offered the same support or opportunities from society as their more privileged peers. They may have a supporting family, but may not have an education that prepares them for the exigencies of the society surrounding them. They lack the representation of politicians whose upbringings are far from the reality of their lives, which eventually leads to political inaction and continued political disinterest. They face a society that grossly labels their friends, or themselves, as the cause of violence and a media that often misrepresents and stereotypes them.

RECLAIM identified this problem, as have many other organizations back home and throughout the world, and I am volunteering with RECLAIM to contribute to the empowerment of these young people to correct the wrongs of an unequal, unjust society. It is not only time for young people to reclaim the future, but also time to lead and conquer.