Members of the Movement: Mia Cardenas

While part of the buildOn Community Team at CHAMPS Charter High School in California, Mia Cardenas served on three Treks with buildOn. Passionate about photography since a young age, Mia credits the experience of taking pictures on Trek in Haiti, Malawi and Nicaragua with inspiring her to study photography at Pasadena City College, where she is currently a student.

buildOn’s Trek program brings groups of volunteers from across the globe to some of economically poorest countries in the world to work in partnership with local community members to build schools. buildOn recently interviewed Mia to discuss her experiences and photographs from her three Treks. To see Mia’s full photography portfolio, please visit her website. To learn how you can help form a Community Team in order to build a school with buildOn, click HERE.

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Above: Mia’s first Trek was to Malawi in 2014. Her experience in Malawi inspired her to build two more schools with buildOn.

Mia, thank you for sharing some of your photographs from Trek with us. How did you first get involved with buildOn?

I became involved with buildOn during my junior year of high school in 2014. I attended CHAMPS Charter High School in Van Nuys, California. My good friend Alannah Forman had brought a buildOn club to CHAMPS after she had gone on Trek to Malawi the year prior. I was inspired by her passion for buildOn and her drive to get as many students involved as possible.

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It’s wonderful that you went on more than one Trek. What inspired you to build three schools with buildOn in three different countries?

After fundraising for the first school I helped to build in Malawi in 2014, I felt like my work wasn’t finished. I fell in love with the experience that buildOn provides. From living with a host family, to working on the worksite alongside the people in the community, continuing to help build a future for families for generations to come quickly became my mission. Going on Trek made me realize that I want to continue my work as a humanitarian on a larger scale and go into that field as a career.

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What was your favorite part of the Trek experience?

Having dinner with my host family was one my favorite and most memorable parts of Trek. It gave us the time we needed to decompress from the day and spend quality time with our family. We talked, laughed and ate an authentic home cooked meal every night. Dinner would usually follow with playing games like UNO or Jenga, which all of the kids found extremely amusing!

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How did your Community Team go about raising the funds for Trek?

Our Community Team tried to be as unique as possible when it came to fundraising. We had yard sales and bake sales, but one of my favorite events we put on was “Rock On for buildOn.” Coming from a performing arts high school, there were so many talented students roaming the halls. When we started to spread the word about a talent show we were throwing in efforts to fundraise for a school to be built In Nicaragua, I was humbled to see my peers come together to support one another and buildOn.

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How have your experiences on Trek impacted your life?

This is a very difficult question to answer, because Trek has impacted every single aspect of my life. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone on Trek. One of the conversations we had as a group on my trek in Haiti that stuck with me the most was differentiating our wants and our needs. To this day I always go back to the question, “Do I really need this?” and the majority of the time, the answer is no. I saw people living with so little, but they were the happiest and most giving people I have ever met. I have never felt more welcomed by a group of people, and it only took a single moment to embrace them as my family. I took every single conversation, and experience with me when I came back home. Going on Trek made me realize how much I love working in this field and that I could see myself doing it as a career. I also wouldn’t be the photographer I am today if it wasn’t for my first trek to Malawi. I have never learned so much more about the world and myself than when I was on Trek.

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When did you first discover your love for photography?

I was 12 years old the first time I picked up a camera, and I have been studying photography ever since. Going on my first trek to Malawi and photographing the amazing people there changed who I was as a photographer. With my camera in hand I captured the life and environment of each village and in doing so it opened my eyes to photojournalism and documentary photography. Those genres have been my focus for the past three years and I am driven to show the world what the power of photography has through my lens. Coming back home and seeing my images resonate with people made me think that I could really do something like this as a career. Going on Trek and having my camera with me is a time where I am most comfortable, and I strive to continue to mix my passion for photography with my passion for humanitarianism.

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What do you hope the schools do for their communities?

I hope that the schools we build bring better opportunities to the community. I hope the schools we build inspire and bring hope to the community. Hope that one day, these students know that they can become whatever they want, and have no limitations because they are able to receive a better education. I strongly believe in buildOn’s mission to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education, and that is exactly what I hope the schools do for their communities.

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