â€œAnyone can change their lives for the better,â€ says Jeff Torres, the 20-year-old Youth Ambassador forÂ World Vision. â€ I did, so if I can do it, anyone can.â€
Itâ€™s easy to assume that Jeff, the top youth fundraiser forÂ 30 HR FamineÂ in Lower Mainland last year, always lived this way. He talks to hundreds of students on a weekly basis to inspire them to take the challenge and get a taste of what many children in the world experience everyday. But rewind to three or four years before and anyone can see he was on a different path. A frequent drug user and dealer, he often got into trouble but did not realize the consequences until one night, he was arrested by the police. â€œThey took me to the station and told me that I would have a criminal record for the rest of my life. Back then, my dream was to be a firefighter but after I heard that, I knew I can never be one,â€ reminisced Jeff. â€œAfter I got home that night, I started really thinking, is this how I want to live my life? My answer was no. So I started praying to God and asked him to change my life and make me a better person.â€
After graduating from high school, Jeff decided to try pledge for 30 HR Famine when he heard about the horrific number of children that go without food everyday in undeveloped countries. After six months of countless donations and a self-initiated triathlon fundraiser, Jeff raised over $10 000 in total, earning him a two-week trip with World Vision to Tanzania. There, he met a family of two young boys, both under ten years old, and their mother. Many things about the family amazed him, but it was the lives of the two boys that stayed with him the most. â€œEveryday, they wake up to go to school. On good days, there would be food on the table but if there isnâ€™t, theyâ€™d go without. A few hours later, they walk to school. Because there arenâ€™t any schools nearby, they walk around 20 km to the closest one. Thatâ€™s over two hours of walking for two very young boys who are always malnourished,â€ Jeff described, using the recollections of his mind. â€œSchool is the only place they meet their friends so they love it, even though it takes such a long time to get there. Thereâ€™s never enough food at home so they never have lunch. Now, after school, we can usually go home and have some snack. But after that exhausting day, those two boys walk another 10km to work. Work there isnâ€™t anything easy, nothing youâ€™d give to kids. A lot of it is heavy lifting and hard labour. When theyâ€™re done working for a few hours, they can finally go home. And it takes another 10 km to go back home. Then, they finally have their second and final meal of the day but again, only if thereâ€™s food. So in total, these boys do half a marathon everyday on empty stomachs. They have a well nearby but the water is really dirty. Thereâ€™s even bugs floating in it! So they are very malnourished.â€
Since coming back from Tanzania, Jeff has been working with World Vision as the Youth Ambassador. Heâ€™s currently continuing his education in Human Kinetics at Capilano University. Although he does not have a career that he wants to pursue, Jeff knows he wants to travel to different nations to help the hungry children and believes that his knowledge of the human body will greatly help him in the future. His trip has also inspired him to help children. Instead of getting a cell phone, he spends his money on sponsoring two children. â€œNot having a cell phone is pretty inconvenient but knowing that youâ€™re saving two peopleâ€™s lives is the best feeling.â€
Often, he sees many students on the unstable path he was on during his teenage years. However, he has faith that anyone can change his or her life with determination and courage, no matter what one has done.