When Camila Ordóñez Vargas, a political science and economics double-major, traveled to spend spring break with her family in her home country of Colombia, she never imagined that she would be unable to return to finish her junior year in Lawrence. Now facing this unexpected new reality, she’s finding ways to help alleviate the impact of the crisis in Colombia as the country grapples with social and economic uncertainties.
On April 2, Vargas posted a music video on YouTube to raise funds to provide 5,000 lunches to the volunteers, nurses, doctors, and low-income citizens in her home town of Barranquilla. To build on the momentum sparked by the video, which has been viewed more than 2,000 times, she launched the LOCOMBIA campaign, which she describes as “the home of dreamers who not only believe but also work for a better tomorrow… the origin of the wit and creativity that characterizes us, Colombians, where the joy of our culture is born.”
Please walk us through your experience of traveling to Colombia over spring break. How did events unfold from your perspective as the novel coronavirus spread worldwide?
I came to Barranquilla, my hometown, to spend spring break with my family and meet with politicians and government entities to work toward my thesis on food security in Colombia, never expecting that a pandemic would impede me from returning to KU to finish my junior year.
The first COVID-19 case in Colombia was diagnosed on March 5th, and the national government has imposed preventive measures evolving from voluntary self-isolation to mandatory quarantine. I’ve been in quarantine for 40+ days and the stay-at-home order has been extended until May 11, but elders (70+ and older), are required to stay at home until June, at least. Additionally, there are no domestic or international flights until June, and only banks, hospitals, pharmacies, and groceries are open.
Tell us about your initiative, LOCOMBIA. Where did the idea come from, and what do you hope to achieve through the campaign?
Since the first day I started self-isolation, I have not stopped thinking about how low-income families have not been able to make ends meet and bring food to their tables as they subsist on their day-to-day functions, which have been interrupted by the stay-at-home orders. I came up with the idea to do a music video to provide lunches for the needy and unemployed “Barranquilleros” during this difficult time.
“Odio X Amor” (Love for Hate) is the song that sparks this journey by evoking that love defeats hate. I contacted and brought together 20+ voices to sing that “it’s time to change,” to be kind, to be better, and to unite to beat this crisis. This video gave life to #AmorXLOCOMBIA (Love for LOCOMBIA) to motivate people to show compassion and altruism for those who need it. I founded LOCOMBIA to establish the Colombia that I aspire to perceive and live in. LOCOMBIA is the home of dreamers who not only believe but also work for a better tomorrow. It is the origin of the wit and creativity that characterizes us, where the joy of our culture is born.
I hope to provide food for the families in need with every dollar that is donated. I have been in contact with multinational brands to request their assistance to feed the poorest neighborhoods in my region.
LOCOMBIA’s upcoming project is a fashion collection that pays tribute to “Nuestra Gente” (Our People), the hard-working men and women who live off the goods they sell on a day-to-day basis. This collection of shirts will be up for sale with national and international shipping soon.
I aim to show how Colombians, from the tastiest coffee to billboard music hits, put our hearts to everything we do. Every campaign that LOCOMBIA launches, will aim to show the potential and talent that distinguishes Colombians. LOCOMBIA can be found on social media on Instagram and Facebook with the handle @amorxlocombia.
How do you apply lessons or skills you’ve gained in your majors to the campaign?
I chose to major in economics and political science to satisfy my interest to not only learn the financial and legislative methods that make up the world, but also to develop a multidisciplinary point of view structured by firm ideals and current events.
Diving into the political economy has opened my eyes to the cruel reality and socioeconomic injustice that most Colombians face. With a poor education system, a lack of a food policy or food aid program, and an informal economy amounting to roughly 50% of the total population, I aspire to close the large gaps that obstruct the creation of new opportunities for all.
Do you have any advice for others who want to help provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The current COVID-19 circumstances are an opportunity to raise awareness to assist the underprivileged, as we, college students, can contribute our knowledge thanks to all the opportunities we have had. In the case of LOCOMBIA, every single donation makes a difference, as every dollar counts, literally. $1 USD = 1 lunch and $ 8 USD = 1 food basket. All US Donations can be done at Venmo @amorxlocombia
What would you tell your freshman self?
Regardless of how confusing or difficult the journey may seem, nothing will prevent you from following your true passions, for they go in line with your ambitions.
What motivates you?
Believing that I will be able to improve people’s lives through my career has always been my greatest motivation. Being able to apply what I learn to help the vulnerable population is, and has always been, the leading motivation in all my academic and extracurricular decisions.
What do you want to do when you graduate?
I dream of applying my academic, extracurricular, and professional experience to improve the quality of life and boost economic mobility in underprivileged populations.
Are there any other comments you’d like to share?
I am also launching an online volunteering program to provide English tutoring to the juniors and seniors in a public high school in my region. All students, faculty, and staff are more than welcome to support this cause by providing 45 minutes to an hour to tutor 2 – 4 students at a time through online meetings. All volunteers will receive an official certificate recognizing their time and effort. Anyone can e-mail me if interested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be like Camila. Make an impact. For more information, explore the Department of Political Science and the Department of Economics at the University of Kansas. Learn more about our students’ research on the College Blog.