Pamela Zepeda

What does inspiration mean to you and how would you use your platform in your future career to inspire others?

I never truly contemplated how hard it would be to rebuild an entire life until a few years ago when I came to the United States. I used to live in a small town, Santa Tecla, in El Salvador. At home, I had created an art “gallery” up on the long living room wall which led to the dining room. My artwork covered every tiny inch of the peach-colored wall. Drawing from when I had been two up until recently. In 2019, standing in front of the almost empty room in my aunt's house in Los Angeles, it was strange, it was as if I had lost all my childhood memories and experiences just as I had proximity to the artwork-plastered wall.

So, when I was ready to start building a new life in the United States, I started with the most “Pamela” first step, I began to add artwork to a new wall. This time though, it represented not only my childhood and dreams but also the challenges of a new country: Not knowing the language well, being behind in school, and longing for my country. Eventually, I figured that since I am making art from recent experiences, I might as well draw inspiration from this new opportunity to nourish one of my other passions, reading.

Essays, fiction, poems, basically all I could pick up and read for as long as I can remember. Learning to read, my mom reminded me that “Knowledge is power,” and that, “The day you are able to read, nobody can scam you and tell you it says anything else than what it says, you have the power to defend yourself.” I took those words quite literally. However, at 12 years old, I realized my knowledge had a limit, I could not read English, and I was powerless.

Entire afternoons would be spent learning new English words and practicing conversations. My stuffed animals were my only audience. Little by little, silently, I gained my power back. For the last half of the second semester of 7th grade, I was placed in mainstream English. I became familiar with my new language and nurtured my creativity with fantastical stories like Harry Potter. The amount of joy and entertainment I received by reading these books, I couldn’t believe that they had not been part of my childhood. With each devoured page, reading also helped expand my vocabulary. Furthermore, when I turned twelve, I realized that I wasn’t getting a letter from Hogwarts to attend and had a cold wind of reality: I would have to take ownership of the blank pages of life and fill them with my own fantastical story.

The experience I possess allows me the empathy to understand and appreciate members of my community that make daily sacrifices that sometimes include their health for their loved ones' sake. I hope girls of color can be inspired by what an immigrant girl has achieved and the way she chooses to serve her community in the-healthcare-field.

What are you currently doing to inspire those around you?

During the summer of 2022, I had the opportunity to take the class “Intro to Public Health” at Charles Drew University through the Opportunity Scholars Public Health Academy. As part of the final project, we were assigned to groups and asked to choose a public health issue that affects our community. The project consisted of writing a paper on the causes of the public health issue we picked and come up with possible solutions. My team chose “The Higher Risk of Teen Pregnancy in Communities of Color.”

My group determined that a big factor driving this issue of teen pregnancy among girls of color was the lack of information on sexual health and contraceptives. So, one solution would be to increase community outreach to target high-risk areas, thereby increasing awareness of sexual health and contraceptives, and promoting responsible sexual choices and practices. However, I never imagined that less than a year, after presenting that final project, I would be part of the change by participating in the sexual health campaign, “Spring into Love.”

While working at the Girls Club of Los Angeles, I had the task of analyzing data gathered from drug prevention workshops targeted toward youth and creating infographics entailing ways to maximize drug prevention learning for attendees. While completing that task, I was inspired to be part of additional ways to inform youth of essential health information that would give them the power to make good decisions for their own life. This is when my supervisor recommended me to become an intern in “Spring into Love.” Along with motivated youth, I worked to organize and advertise the conference to youth in the community. “Spring into Love” was a fun event that offered raffles, cultural food, and diverse entertainment. On May 13th, 2023 youth in the community enjoyed a makeup mariachi, the screening of an indie film produced and acted by a couple of color from the community, and the interactive learning of information on sexual health and contraception.

As the day of the event came nearer, I saw the manifestation of my group's efforts to inform the community about responsible choices through the opportunity to lead one of the workshops at the conference. The workshop allowed me the confidence to expand beyond sexual health, it went into the portrayal of relationships in mainstream media and how that has the potential to normalize either healthy and/or unhealthy relationships. This opportunity reached much further than what I would have dared dream. I am opening the doors to youth to self-guidance by providing them the education so that they have the freedom to take ownership of the decisions taken regarding their health.

What you would do with the scholarship award if you were to receive it?

The scholarship I receive will go towards funding my education at a secondary-education institution. My goal is to graduate with degrees in nutrition and biology while fulfilling the requirements to attend physician assistant school. I will then obtain a job back in the community to serve the people that have seen me grow.

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