Music and teaching hold a special place in her heart

“My grandmother used to tell me
that her grandfather told her
that his grandmother told him
that her grandmother told her
that from Santa Maria la Antigua del Darién,
one day she came,
she was holding a skull with people from my color,
in the jungle of the Atrato River with the native she shared
maltreatment and offense as payment for her work …”

These are the opening lines of Grace Padilla Terán's favorite song. The 28-year-old sponsorship grad says she's sung it several times at festivals and events.

While the song's lyrics may not seem uplifting, the Colombian native says they calm her when she feels restless or worried. In fact, she says the song gives her peace and encouragement — perhaps because the lyrics remind her of unfortunate moments of her life that she has fought to overcome — to be a better person and to move forward.

She says the song reminds her that everything is possible and inspires her to keep dreaming. It motivates her to smile and to tell herself she can do anything.

For Grace, singing is living … and living is singing.

Grace Padilla Terán sings traditional Colombian songs at festivals throughout Cartagena.

Open doors of opportunity

Grace was born in San Andres Islas, a Colombian coral island in the Caribbean Sea. But her parents came to Cartagena when she was a baby in hopes of finding a better life. When they arrived, her mother heard about the work Children International was doing there. And, in 1991, when Grace was 4 years old, she was able to enroll in CI's sponsorship program.

Grace appreciates everything CI has offered her, she says, from her early years in the program through her time as a leader in CI's teen empowerment programs. A HOPE scholarship eventually allowed her to study child education. Now, she is a teacher at one of CI's community centers in Cartagena.

The teen programs, she says, were the best experiences of her life. There, she met true friends and developed life skills that have been essential to her growth and maturity. She also met Youth Program Coordinator Fernando De Avila. He not only taught her and her peers that they could achieve anything they dreamed of, she says, but he also demonstrated those beliefs to them every day and every workshop he directed — on topics like honesty, perseverance, discipline and leadership and it left a mark in Grace's memory.

When Grace was no longer in CI's sponsorship program, she became a volunteer. For two years, she divided her time between music and her work as a volunteer. She then moved on to a job at a primary school. But CI was never far from her thoughts. So, last year, when a close friend told her that CI was hiring for a position in the library, she didn't doubt about sending in her CV — not even for a second.

In addition to her job as a CI librarian, Grace Padilla Terán performs with traditional Colombian musicians.

A life of fulfillment

Today, Grace's job includes encouraging education among sponsored kids at the community center where she works. She also is part of the Corporación Cultural Cabildo, a group of musicians and dancers dedicated to performing and teaching traditional arts and music. Grace is thrilled by both jobs. She says that, sometimes, she can't believe she gets paid to do what she loves.

“My work is a lot more than that,” Grace says. She admits that some people misunderstand why she works two jobs. “They think you are in need,” she explains. But, for her, that’s not why she does it. “Singing is making everybody happy through your voice, and educating is teaching others and demonstrating that learning is fun.” 

“My two jobs are fantastic,” she says. “It is magic.”

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