Serendipity and Opportunity

Serendipity is defined as a “happy accident”, or something beneficial occurring that was not sought. In short, it means luck or good fortune. Some people are just in the right place at the right time, but others make their luck. Sometimes, all it takes is a little push and luck will find you. Opportunities multiply as they are seized, and for Johanny Amaya of Honduras, she understands this all too well. Serendipitous opportunities have presented themselves to Johanny for 20 years, and she has seized them all, each building upon the last.

Johanny did not have the easiest childhood. She and her brother were raised by a single mother, their father having abandoned them. Her mother also dealt with a debilitating chronic illness which forced them to move in with Johanny’s aunt and her family, which meant 10 people living in a crowded, two room shanty. The outlook for Johanny – economic, social, and otherwise – was not good. As her mother grappled with her condition, Johanny, at the young age of 7, also faced her own harsh illness – depression. As she fought valiantly against it, while simultaneously helping her mother, the first instance of serendipity arrived.

Children International is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that focuses on lifting youth out of poverty by providing opportunity, education, skills, and healthcare. By chance, Children International had opened a community center in Johanny’s hometown – where she became one of their sponsored children. The organization provided her with new clothes, food, school supplies, payment for school, and various physical items. However, they also provided her with something much less tangible – psychological support to help battle her depression. She worked with a mental health professional over a period of five years, and through time and hard work was able to overcome it.

Children International gave her the boost she needed. She became a happier, more confident person. She became a good student and an excellent English speaker – which would prove invaluable when, as she turned 14, her mother’s illness progressed to the point where she had to drop out of school to become her primary caregiver. Johanny stayed strong for her mother and herself, and despite many other hardships, did return to school and continue her education, obtaining a scholarship to complete her studies.

Johanny’s story, perseverance, and academic excellence did not go unnoticed. In 2014, she was granted the competitive Global Undergraduate Exchange Program scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. Through this opportunity, serendipity struck again.

World Learning, which administers the Global UGRAD Program on behalf of the State Department, placed Johanny in Kansas at Emporia State University where she thrived both academically and socially. This location would later prove to have a lasting effect on Johanny’s future. Upon learning her host institution, Johanny began to research the university; in her search, something popped up that brought back a flood of emotions: Children International. Emporia is a short distance from Kansas City, where, incidentally, the organization is headquartered.

Johanny remembered everything Children International had done for her, and that because of their initial support, she was able to continue the educational journey that would ultimately land her in the United States on the Global UGRAD Program. She wanted to thank them in person and relay the impact the organization had made on her future. Not long after her arrival in the U.S., she found herself at the Children International headquarters, face to face with those who had made profound difference in her life starting more than 20 year ago.

Johanny prepared a presentation, demonstrating her utmost gratitude and the realization of how and lucky she was to be “seen” by Children International when she was otherwise “invisible.”

While the Global UGRAD Program covered all of her expenses in the United States, Johanny did not know how she was going to continue to pay for her undergraduate studies back home. Her original plan was to take a break from school in order to work and save money for school; however, after her visit (and unbeknownst to Johanny), Children International created a fundraising campaign to help her finish her degree. Within a short amount of time, almost $5000 had been raised – giving Johanny yet another boost that will ultimately help her achieve her dream of a univeristy education.

Upon learning of the fundraising campaign, Johanny set up a Skype call with World Learning to share in the good news. In one last case of serendipitous coincidence, this call also featured her brother, who she was visiting in Colorado. He had moved to the United States many years ago to find work to support Johanny and her mother in Honduras; Johanny’s placement in Kansas allowed her the opportunity to see her brother in person – for the first time in 8 years.

Having since returned home to Honduras, Johanny is now on track to complete her undergraduate degree. She has a strong desire to pay it forward and give others the opportunities from which she herself benefited in the face of such adversity. As an alum, she was selected for World Learning’s Advancing Leaders Fellowship program, further giving her the tools and skills necessary to implement positive change. Her project is in the proposal stage, but will focus on the role of English as a linguistic tool to empower disadvantaged youth.

Though serendipity may have certainly played a role in Johanny’s life, there can be no doubt that her determination and perseverance have brought her to where she is today. We congratulate her on her achievements and can’t wait to see where this incredible journey will take her next!

To read Children International’s in-depth feature on Johanny, Click Here.


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