When Morrell Park’s Sofia Cavicchia attended Independence Charter School, 16th and Lombard streets, she had the opportunity to learn Spanish and take a service trip as a seventh-grader to Colombia.
Sofia enjoyed the trip to the South American nation and found it meaningful, and wanted to continue service-oriented activities.
“When I got to high school, my mom found out about Teens Inc.,” she said.
Sofia, now a 17-year-old senior-to-be at Central High School, became active with Teens Inc., whose mission is to connect young people to the world through local and global service.
“I went to Guatemala twice with them,” she said. “I absolutely love Guatemala.”
Sofia’s first trip was scheduled for June 2018, but a deadly volcano eruption threatened the visit. She was determined to go.
“Guatemala needed us more than ever. There were lost lives and families without homes,” she said.
Sofia made a return trip in June 2019.
“Going back, it felt like a second home,” she said. “We recognized the tour guides, and people opened their arms to us.”
On these trips, Sofia served as a translator, since she is bilingual. In all, she helped build six houses, with the help of local handymen. She visited a malnutrition center and a homeless shelter, and assisted in food and clothing drives. She spent time with peers from the Philadelphia area and Guatemala. And she was able to talk with some youngsters from the Central American nation.
“A girl told me she couldn’t go to school because she couldn’t afford a uniform,” she said. “I thought that was crazy.”
Sofia was planning to make a third trip to Guatemala this month, but the coronavirus pandemic halted travel. Still, she didn’t want to miss out on helping the people of that country.
So, she decided to raise money online.
Sofia wants to raise $10,000, even if it’s 10,000 people donating a dollar apiece. So far, she’s raised more than $3,000, with proceeds going to The God’s Child Project to pay for food and supplies for Guatemalan people impacted by the coronavirus.
The fundraiser will continue through the summer, and visitors to the website can watch a minute-long video of scenes from Sofia’s past visits to Guatemala.
“I wanted to give back as much as I can, even from a distance,” she said. “Travel is blocked, but I decided to fundraise as much as I could. I made a promise.”
At Central, Sofia takes part in Model UN and Model Organization of American States (in a partnership with Penn). She’s gone to Washington, D.C. to meet students from South and Central America. She’s taken two classes at Penn that are worth eight college credits.
In addition, as the pandemic began, she started the online Global Cafe to help spread her passion. The initiative offers six language classes and global discussions and presentations. So far, young people from 25 countries are connected.
As Sofia looks ahead, she is considering enrolling at either Swarthmore or Penn. She might major in international relations, with a minor or double major in humanitarian aid.
Three years ago, she was thinking of studying physics or math, but now is looking to perhaps work for the United Nations or start a nonprofit.
First, though, there will be a trip to Guatemala in June 2021. And later, as a young adult, she’ll be a valued Spanish-speaking chaperone.
“That trip to Colombia in seventh grade sparked something in me,” she said. “It’s magical to see that, with language and culture, there’s never a barrier. Guatemala is a very hopeful country. There’s happiness there. The people are so joyful.” ••