YEA Camper Activist Spotlight: Paula Orrego’s Activism Journey

Paula Orrego has an uplifting, positive attitude even when dealing with challenging topics.

Paula Orrego was a YEA Camper all the way back in 2011, but it’s kind of like she never left! Paula became a counselor in training (CIT) the next summer, when she turned 18, and she has stayed in touch with us ever since. She’s also been doing activism ever since! Paula even blogged for us about attending her first ever march and gave YEA Camp credit for her “a ha moment” in becoming an activist! She is even coming to our first ever YEA Camp for Adults session this summer!

We appreciate that Paula took time to share her story with us, and are glad to share more about her with you.

YEA Camp: Hi Paula! Tell us about the activism you’ve been doing.

Paula: Right now, I’m working as a college ambassador for Give More HUGS, a non-profit organization that aims to give quality education to every child, regardless of their socio-economic status. I am currently working on a city-wide musical instrument drive to collect used instruments and send them to Hope for Relief Organization in Malawi; they will be opening a youth music center soon and are in need of musical instruments for their students. I have also been in contact with another community organization that needs instruments for their children, so if this drive goes well, I hope to start another one for that organization. Music has always been something I have been passionate about, and I want more people to see the value of it. Besides the drive, I have also been guest-writing for different blogs about anti-bullying (another subject I am passionate about) and how to become an activist.

YEA: How did you get involved with activism and what you’re currently working on?

Paula sporting her YEA Camp “This is what an activist looks like” t-shirt at a Pride rally.

PO: I became an activist because of the severe bullying problem at my old middle and high school. Besides being a survivor myself of bullying, I was also hearing my friends’ stories of how they were being bullied. When I had reported the incidences of bullying, the administration either denied the severity of the problem, invalidated my feelings, took actions that ended up making the bullying worse, or suggested I leave the school if I couldn’t handle it.

(Shoutout to the few teachers who did believe me and had my back!)

I wanted to make people see the problem–really see it–and not just sweep it under the rug. However, I had been put down so often that I didn’t know what to do to make people listen to me. I was honestly starting to give up, and I just hoped I could get through my senior year under the radar.

The summer before my senior year, I got an email from my school about different jobs and internships available to us in the community that would look great on our college applications. At the very bottom, almost as an aside, there was one sentence about a week-long activist camp for teens called YEA Camp. I figured this would be my only chance to find out what I can do about this problem; at the very least, this camp would be a fun getaway, and I would make some new friends.

Clearly, the camp experience lasted longer than a week! The staff empowered me so much that I didn’t just fly under the radar my senior year; I stood up for what I believed in and ended up giving my senior speech to my entire high school (with faculty and administration included) about bullying.

Fast forward to now, and I actually got in touch with Give More HUGS through YEA Camp! Somebody knew the founder of the organization and shared their openings for high school and college ambassadors to the YEA Camp alumni social media page. I have always wanted to do something with music, since I have been passionate about music since I was a child, and I wanted to spread the joy of music to more children. And the rest is history!

Paula attending her first march, at the Women’s March in San Jose, CA.

YEA: That’s amazing! What challenges have you faced as an activist and how have you dealt with them?

PO: I have definitely made many people unhappy by sharing my not-so-positive story about being bullied at my old school, even though I never say the school’s name. I remember how one girl, after I graduated, created an anonymous Youtube account just to send me a long message of how current students at the school were finding out about my sharing my story and how I should be grateful that I had attended that school, because it was a privilege to go there.

I am a natural people-pleaser, but it’s experiences like this that have taught me that I can’t make everybody happy, and that’s okay. People will always think they know everything about you, but they don’t. I’m always honest about my experiences and feelings, but I have never shared my full story publicly, just because there are some things I don’t like talking about or remembering. People like that girl don’t really know me or my whole story, so I remind myself that their judgments shouldn’t matter to me.

I built a bulletproof armor around me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stand up for myself. I ended up sending back a message and never hearing from her again.

YEA: Wow. What advice do you have for new activists just getting involved?

PO: If you are getting involved in activism because of something you have experienced first-hand, I’d say go for it, but don’t do it out of revenge. You might end up saying things you regret later. Keep people and places anonymous–you are trying to make a point about the greater problem, not trying to punish the individuals.

When you’re a passionate activist, whatever your cause may be, you are always going to find people who don’t agree with you. What’s important is that you don’t let them affect you personally. Don’t let them silence you.

YEA: How did YEA Camp help you in your activism, if it did?

PO: YEA Camp taught me so much, but the staff especially helped me feel more confident about myself. I would have never talked to all the class deans about bullying and written my senior speech about bullying if it weren’t for their support.

YEA: Are there any other organizations you’ve worked with or that have been valuable resources in your activism?

PO: Working with Give More HUGS this past year and last summer has taught me so many activist skills. They’ve taught me how to network, organize with teams, and just break out of my shell even more. The classes I have taken at my university, Palo Alto University, have also taught me how to be a critical thinker in my activist research. YEA Camp set up the foundation for my activism, but Give More HUGS, MoveOn, and PAU have definitely helped build on top of that.

Paula Orrego is a junior at Palo Alto University, working towards her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Social Action. Paula is a social justice and political activist who has primarily focused on anti-bullying since high school, but she has also worked on other issues such as women’s rights, animal rights, and the environment.

If you are as passionate about making a difference as Paula is, you should come to YEA Camp for teens or to our session for adults! Or, if you want to learn how to get active right away, download our new ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World.