At a plantation-style home 90 miles outside of Mexico City, Leah Stern knew she had made the right decision to switch careers.
“When I walked in, I saw hundreds of smiling, happy children running free, singing and playing – not what I was expecting at an orphanage,” Stern said. “I knew then and there that I was in the right field.”
After 10 years of working as an international news reporter, Stern decided she no longer wanted to be an observer. So for the last six months, she has worked, hands-on, to make a difference with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) — a non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged and orphaned children in Latin America and the Caribbean by providing homes, health care and education.
As the South Eastern regional director of NPH (the name translates to Our Little Brothers and Sisters), Stern is in charge of organizing fundraising events and cultivating sponsors, referred to as padrinos, or godparents. Sponsors help support NPH homes in Dominican Republic, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru.
“We make sure that all our homes have the necessities to care for our extended family of 3,400 kids,” Stern said.
However, Stern didn’t always work with orphans. After she graduated from the School of Communication with degrees in film and political science, she moved to Israel and began writing for the Jerusalem Post. During the war in Lebanon in 2006, she became a war correspondent for Israel Television, a job that required her to be anchor, reporter, producer and editor.
“Israel was always in the forefront of the news,” she said. “I felt like it was the perfect place to give me the experience to grow as a journalist.”
Later, she worked as a contributing reporter for CNN World News and an Israeli Embassy liaison to the Vatican during Pope Benedict’s tenure.
It was through her study abroad experience with the School of Communication’s Film in Prague Program that she shot her first film and began to contemplate pursuing a career overseas.
Associate Professor John Soliday, who has been taking students to Prague for 23 years, said he has seen the program have a significant impact on students like Stern. participating students that changes their perspective on journalism and film.
“Students have the chance to work with faculty that are internationally recognized for films that took on political issues, in which their art is an attempt make their opinions clear and to change the world,” Soliday said.
Stern said she was successful as a reporter, but she eventually started feeling like she wasn’t having a direct impact on the issues she saw around her. she would see.
“It got exhausting, going around the planet seeing the conflict but not necessarily making a difference,” Stern said. “Blood shed, war, corruption — you see a different side of humanity, the disturbing and dark side, and I was in the middle of it, just as an observer.”
Stern is still pursuing her passion for journalism as a freelance writer for The Huffington Post. She may no longer be travelling the world looking for stories, but the impact of NPH extends far beyond South Florida, and Stern now works every day to create positive change.
“When you work for an organization that helps get 75 percent of the high school seniors [in the NPH homes] to go to college in Mexico,” she said, “you get to see the change you’re making.”
Though Stern has only just begun to see the impact she can just started to make an impact have on on the children’s lives, she said she already finds daily inspiration and lessons through her work.
“I’ve learned so much about humanity,” Stern said. “How sometimes those with very little can find happiness in the simplest things — sunshine and green grass. I learn constantly from our children about life, love and gratitude.”