buildOn Oakland Alumnus Juan Pablo – Why We Can’t Wait

On May 6th, 2021, buildOn hosted a virtual event featuring buildOn Oakland students, corporate leaders, artists, and supporters. At this special event, buildOn Oakland alumnus Juan Pablo shared a moving account of how he got involved with buildOn, what service means to him, and Why We Can’t Wait to serve others. 


“Hello everybody. My name is Juan Guillermo Matias Pablo. Today, I’m gonna share my story with you. 

When I was 12 years old, I moved to the United States from Guatemala. At the time, I only spoke my native language: Mam. Most of the community of Oakland spoke Spanish – that I knew. So I had to learn two new languages – Spanish and English – at the same time. 

It was really hard for me to be in a new city. I really felt left out at the beginning, but when I finished middle school and I started attending Fremont High School – where I was introduced to buildOn – I started to feel like I fit in. 

I met buildOn when they came into my classroom and talked about how you could go and build a school in a different country. I was really surprised. I got excited about how you could go to a different country and build a school. I told myself that I could really do that, but also thought that I couldn’t really do that. I didn’t really think that the opportunity was real. 

A year passed by. I did start doing community service with buildOn, and then everything they said before, I saw it. And then it clicked for me. Everything that they said was happening – we were impacting lives. 

One of my favorite services is serving hot meals at shelters. Or handing out food at the FEMA food bank. At the food bank, there are members of my community there who also immigrated from Guatemala. Serving there is always so meaningful to me because it’s me helping my own people by translating for them in our native language.

When I did this, families would be so happy because at first, they wouldn’t notice me because they were not thinking that I was one of them. But when I spoke Mam, they’d get surprised and excited, and they would ask questions, like if I was Guatemalan, and they would even ask more questions to get the food they wanted. All because they saw a person serving them from their country. I was really excited about this, and that experience made me feel emotional, a mix of sadness and happiness – but mostly happiness. 

When doing service through buildOn, I learned two lessons. One of them is to never take anything for granted because not everybody has what you have. Not everybody has the opportunity to get what they want or the things that they desire to have. Not everybody has an opportunity to have that, and I appreciate everything that I get because not everybody has what I have. 

The second lesson that I learned is that no matter who you are or where you are, you can always help out. I know there are issues in Guatemala that need to be fixed right now. But coming to the US, I didn’t really think that there would be similar issues because it was a more developed country. I thought everything would be great. But I see that there are problems and issues here.

Whether you are in Guatemala or in the US, governments make decisions that impact our small communities. There is a lot of need to be addressed in Oakland or anywhere else you go. And it’s our responsibility to go out there and help out. We’ll give a hand. 

And there’s no time to wait because every time we wait somebody is getting negatively impacted. I appreciate every student, every staff, every partner that goes out there to serve our community because we are actually affecting lives. So thank you for being here tonight. Peace out.”