An Urban Transformation

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“The kids were cheering me on.”

I had the pleasure recently of visiting Comuna 13, a neighborhood in Medellin that has had a difficult history with gang violence and the illegal drug trade but which is showing signs of both progress and renewal. Due to the investments made by both the local and city government, Comuna 13 has become a hotbed for beautiful street art and graffiti murals, which has attracted many local artists to make a positive mark on this community. Many of these artists are from Medellin and grew up in the neighborhoods of Comuna 13. Rather than discuss the past of Comuna 13, I would rather talk about why this particular community is poised to have a brighter future.

Beyond just the new street art and the graffiti murals that you can find around Comuna 13 are the relatively new escalators that connect the San Javier metro station to the communities located in the hills surrounding this transportation hub. These escalators make it a lot easier for both students and workers to gain easier access to the rest of the Medellin metropolitan area and are an easy way to get from point A to point B. The escalators are free to use for all people including the tourists who come to visit this part of the city.

While the escalators are not so numerous, it is possible that more of them will be added to other parts of the city in the future if I were to haphazard a guess. Medellin can set an example to other urban cities on how to connect neighborhoods efficiently with the use of escalators, especially those with sloping hills and steep mountains within the city limits. For the elderly and children as well, these escalators can be quite useful in helping them get around the neighborhood without too much trouble.

If you don’t feel like taking the escalators, there are concrete staircases adjacent to the new escalators so you can choose which way you want to go up or go down. The escalators are weatherproof as well which is quite genius when you think about. On your way to the metro, the overhang, which is a bright, fluorescent orange color, will protect you fully from the elements such as rain, snow, hail, etc. It only takes about five to ten minutes to get from the top of the escalators to the bottom of the escalators so if you’re in a rush, you won’t have to go through too many escalators to get to your final destination.

The city government of Medellin and local police has done a great job in my opinion with regards to keeping this part of Comuna 13 safe and secure. I noticed during my visit that locals and volunteers are instrumental in helping to keep the area around the escalators clean and orderly. There are park benches and small parks nearby to encourage community get-togethers as well as the fact that there is a big slide where the local children can use to slide up and down to have some fun in the neighborhood. Being the kid at heart that I am, I partook in one of the slides because it is pretty enjoyable and you do go down at a pretty fast speed.

Beyond just the new escalators, the cool slides, and the park benches, there are also now a few library parks, which are free for members of the community to enjoy, explore, and learn. In addition to being places for education, the libraries are great meeting places for the community and can strengthen neighborhood ties. You can also hold cultural, recreational, and educational activities such as group English classes or a family birthday party. Books in these libraries are free to borrow and use.

Everyone can use them regardless of their age, educational level or social status. The mind is a terrible thing to waste and because of the twelve library parks in Comuna 13 and other parts of Medellin, city residents here have a real chance to learn new things and satisfy their curiosity. One particular volunteer group that I’m interested in learning about is called ‘Stairway to English’, which provides free English classes with native speakers to members of the Comuna 13 community.

My visit to Comuna 13 left quite an impact on me. I did go through an organized tour this time, which I do recommend to people visiting this webpage. It was really useful to learn about the history, background, and the progress being made for this part of Medellin. Medellin is quite a large city and it can be easy to get caught up in only staying within your own neighborhood and to not see other parts of the city. Personally, I do hope that other escalator projects in urban areas will become popular in Colombia and other parts of the world.

Human beings are increasingly becoming more urban with over 70% of the world’s population projected to be living in cities by mid-century. This puts the onus on local, city, and national governments to adapt to this reality and try to make life easier and better for the millions of people who call a city their home. Other cities should take note of the social progress being made in Comuna 13 and I can only hope that more and more residents of Medellin will be able to improve their lives in different ways because of urban projects like building library parks or constructing escalator routes.

If you’re in Medellin sometime and you’re curious to check out the positive urban transformation that is ongoing in Comuna 13 and other parts of the city, I would recommend using Comuna 13 Tours, which has a very knowledgeable, kind, and helpful staff members who are bilingual and want to share their city with foreigners out of the goodness in their heart. This is not an official endorsement and I don’t get paid or receive any benefits from mentioning this tour on my website.

I’m doing it because I really enjoyed the experience I had recently with them and I think other visitors who come to Medellin should do the same based off my positive experience using this tour group. Perhaps, most importantly of all, you’ll meet a few locals during your tour and you can see how hospitable, kind, and open they are in Comuna 13. My only advice is to be careful about your photo taking, and to be respectful of both the tour guide and the locals who are kind enough to take some time out of their day to share with you. I look forward to visiting Comuna 13 again someday and I hope to use that giant slide again too.

For more information: http://www.comuna13tours.com/

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Fear of The Unknown

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“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Why do people sometimes have a fear of the unknown? As human beings, we each have our own unique doubts, fears, and phobias that develop as we deal with the world and its’ challenges. Whether they are fears related to heights, spiders, snakes, or even speaking in front of a large audience, it’s part of what makes us human to have fears. Facing and confronting your fears is not an easy struggle and it takes courage, compassion, and emotional maturity to get past your phobias. One of the most common fears that most of us have from time to time is ‘Fear of the Unknown.’

To have a strong desire to control your circumstances, your path in life, and your future is only natural. However, it’s clear that some things can never be fully known and that there will be changes that we will have to cope with. Trying to control everything and everybody around you is a recipe for disaster. Facing the unknown without fear is not easy but it is necessary in order to become a more mature and more centered person. Fear of the unknown is related to other fears that people have which have a connection to one another such as the fear of death, the fear of getting old, the fear of being homeless, the fear of life changes, etc.

There’s a popular saying that goes, “You always fear what you don’t understand.” This quote ties into a central idea that people fear most what they cannot change, anticipate, or prevent from happening. Some examples of this phenomena include economic recessions, societal changes, job loss, personal loss, election results, retirement planning, health problems, environmental concerns, etc. All of these phenomenon tie into the overall ‘fear of the unknown’ for the average man or woman. None of these phenomena can be controlled or even changed by one individual. Since we cannot usually have a great effect on preventing these fears from becoming real or taking place in our lives, what can we do or what should we do?

It’s best not to resist the changes that are bound to happen at some point in our lives. We simply cannot know everything that is to occur in the future and it would be useless to try to plan for everything ahead of time. Most of the time, it’s best to go with the flow, try best not to fight what comes your way, and to make the most out of things. Do not give in to fear, hate, doubt, disappointment, and anger, which are all negative consequences that come with fearing the unknown and the unseen. Having fear about what can happen a week, a month, a year, or a decade from today is a waste of time because you simply can’t know what exactly lies ahead in the future.

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to be adaptable and malleable to the future. Trying to plan everything out is a waste of time and energy. While seeking stability, security for yourself and others is an important part of the human condition. Sometimes, you need to cope with some instability and insecurity that will come your way. Another notable saying that people rely on for strength is the popular quote; “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Persistent fear of what’s to come is not productive, not enjoyable, and not healthy for anyone in the long-term.

What happens to most people when they feel a palpable sense of fear? Well, there are a number of common symptoms and ailments that one can experience as a result. Your heart rate starts to increase, and your breath will become shorter and more harried. You may begin to panic, and feel an enormous sense of tension in your body. You’re going to be anxious and stressed about the unknown and what you’re going to do about it. The more extreme symptoms of feeling fear involve nausea, fainting, vomiting, crying, and shaking uncontrollably. I mention these reactions to fear not to scare my readers but so you can better learn to recognize these symptoms and try to control and alleviate them as best as you can.

Now that we know what the ‘Fear of the Unknown’ is and how to classify it along with the related symptoms, how can we cope we this fact of life? The most important thing to keep in mind when confronting this particular fear is to stay positive about what’s to come. Not everything in life will go smoothly and there will be challenges ahead. However, it’s important to remove the negative associations, conclusions that your mind will come up with sometimes when it comes to thinking and planning for the unknown. A little bit of anxiety and stress is natural when it comes to facing the future but it should not affect your daily activities and your personal relationships.

You’ll have a more peaceful state of mind when you react to the strange and unforeseen future with a positive and upbeat outlook. It’s best to focus on your goals, stay focused, and don’t get sidetracked about what might or what not happen to you in the future. Changing your thoughts and your mindset through meditation for five to ten minutes on a daily basis can also be a great self-help remedy for getting rid of your fear of the unknown.

Embracing a new environment, new friends, and new work opportunities can also keep your imagination in the right state of mind. If your sense of anxiety and fear of the unknown is extremely strong and hard to break, it may be best to consider neurolinguistic programming, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even certain medications if the problem becomes that severe. However, these kinds of remedies should be used only as a last resort.

Having a sense of ownership and direction in our lives is extremely important. However, we cannot control everything especially the unknown that lies ahead. Whether its’ moving to a new city or country, jumping into a dark lake, starting a new job or hiking up a mountain, these are all instances in life that can give us reasons to worry and to be anxious. However, by controlling our thoughts and emotions, and having the ability to stay positive regardless of the circumstances will keep you both mentally and physically fit.

As the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt stated famously during his 1st inaugural address to the American people on the subject of facing the Great Depression, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.”

Dealing with Adversity

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“There is always something positive that comes out of something negative.”

“Remind thyself, in the darkest moments, that every failure is only a step toward success, every detection of what is false directs you toward what is true, every trial exhausts some tempting form of error, and every adversity will only hide, for a time, your path to peace and fulfillment.”
―Og Mandino

Anybody who has ever lived has faced adversity and struggles that test one’s resolve and fortitude. How someone deals with these challenges and setbacks can show you their true character. I used to live under the assumption that everything will go smoothly if you work hard, play by the rules, and do your best. Recent events in my life have shown this hypothesis to not be true. Life is not fair sometimes and it is extremely important to adapt to this fact rather than to fight it head on.

We can curse our misfortunes but it is much better to move on and look to the future. The worst thing that someone dealing with adversity can do is to wallow in self-pity and to be endowed with guilt. The past won’t change but the future is still in your hands to shape. I am glad that I am aware of the realities of the world now while I’m still young rather than to be surprised by them at a later age. If a goal you strived for vanishes into thin air or a dream that you thought would be yours disappears, it does no good to consider what might have been but to plan instead on what could still be.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that over these past two weeks I’ve felt a range of emotions ranging from anger to sadness. I was in denial at first about what happened to me and why it happened to me. Initially, I could not accept what I could not change. I went through the five stages similar to the popular model of ‘Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.’ Luckily, I did not suffer a personal loss or suffer from a serious ailment but I was crushed by the news that I would not be continuing on the adventure that I started eighteen months ago when I filled out my first application form.

It is difficult to deal with these painful emotions and feelings but it is far better to embrace them rather than to let them bottle up inside of you and fester on and on. I would have loved to continue the good work that I was doing and to finish the job that I had signed up for. Unfortunately, life has other plans for me and I am willing to embrace the challenges that lie ahead. Luckily, we live in a world where there are plenty of opportunities and possibilities available to those of us who are willing to work hard and to use our knowledge.

Clearly, I am not the only person to ever suffer setbacks and misfortunes. Many exemplary leaders and icons of history were unsuccessful in their initial hopes and dreams before greatness found them later on in their lives. The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, had many personal misfortunes and professional failures happen to him before he became elected to the highest office in the land. He lost lovers and family members, failed in business, was defeated multiple times for elected office, and dealt with mental health struggles all throughout his life.

However, he never gave up because he knew what he was worth, had faith in himself and his abilities. He displayed a strong intellect and a strong drive to be great. President Lincoln had a lasting impact on my country and the world. This would not have been possible if he had simply given up when he encountered all of these adversities and disappointments. His story is a continual inspiration for me and for others who have been dealt a personal or professional blow to their lives.

How would our world be different today if inventors like Edison had given up after his 900th try at inventing the lightbulb or if geniuses like Einstein had listened to those teachers / headmasters who told him that he was lazy, dumb, and not worth the effort? If you don’t have confidence or don’t believe in yourself, you are not going to get very far in life.

While it’s pleasant to have other people think highly of you and give you praise, there will be other times where they’ll tell you that you’re not good enough and that you don’t belong there. If there is anything that I want the readers of this blog post to realize is that you can’t let anybody else stand in the way of your goals and dreams. They may have good intentions and think that they know what’s best for you but you have to decide that for yourself.

When I was younger, I was naïve to think that everything would go smoothly in my life and that I could control every outcome. Especially after what happened to me recently, I know that this notion is unrealistic. There are certain aspects of your life that you have some control over and there are other aspects that are completely out of your control. I do not regret the past nine weeks that I spent in Colombia, and I am proud of the good work that I was doing. I am happy for my fellow CII-8 trainees and wish them all the best as they become volunteers and move on to their communities for the next two years of service. I was grateful for the opportunity and have some good memories from this experience that I will remember fondly.

The future is unclear at the moment but I look forward to the opportunities and possibilities that lay ahead. I know that I will continue to write and develop this personal blog that I started eight months ago. I believe that there are many adventures that lie ahead for me in my life. I will continue to have faith in myself and my abilities. Dealing with this particular adversity will make me a stronger and more mature person in the long run. I have a strong mind, a strong body and I am confident that I will get through this momentary setback. Your past does not define you and the future is yours for the taking. Always remember that.