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Writing with Heart: Meet 826 Boston Alumna Oriana Barros

February 12, 2021

Oriana Barros first came to 826 Boston as a high school senior looking for college essay assistance. Today, she’s pursuing a degree in biology from The University of Massachusetts Boston on her path to becoming an optometrist. While storytelling and the science of seeing might seem far from each other, Oriana’s identities as a writer and a scientist are two important parts of herself. Keep reading to learn more about 826 Boston’s incredible alumna and volunteer Oriana: 

In what ways did you participate in 826 Boston programming as a student? 

During my senior year of high school, I was the first student to visit the Writers’ Room at The Jeremiah E. Burke High School. I was able to write, edit, and submit my personal essay to ten different colleges and universities. I also had help with many essays to apply for different scholarships. 

In what ways have you participated/volunteered with 826 Boston as an adult?

I volunteer virtually (due to Covid-19) at my former high school. I am able to help many students with their college essays.

Why did you choose to come back and volunteer with 826 Boston after graduating? 

I chose to come back and volunteer with 826 Boston because I wanted to be able to give back to other students, just like I had help during my senior year. I feel happy to be able to help other students and learn about their dreams and goals, it helps me keep my own dream alive. Helping other students gives me strength to keep working hard as a student and achieve my goals to become an optometrist. 

Has 826 Boston influenced you at all as a writer?

When I was a senior in high school, I had arrived from Cape Verde in the United States in less than a year. In a new city and new school, I found that I had a lot to learn. On top of it all, I needed to plan for college applications. 826 Boston helped me think as a writer and made me determined to never give up. I was able to apply for a Harvard Medical Center program, even at that time when I had very low self-confidence. As I entered the Writers’ Room I already thought my writing was poor and I would never get into this program, but I worked hard everyday after school and left the Writers’ Room with more confidence. I learned how to believe in myself and never limit myself. I am and I can do what I put my mind into. 

How do reading/writing/storytelling factor into your life now? Either personally and professionally. 

I am currently at The University of Massachusetts Boston finishing my degree in Biology, but I have taken some creative writing courses and loved it. My passion for writing grew so big that right now I am working on writing my own autobiography. 

How has the pandemic changed your work with 826 Boston and your work in general?

Yes, because of the pandemic everything is now virtual. It has been a challenge for me to manage a healthy routine and the amount of screen time we have now is much more than before. I have been trying to do my best as a student, mother, sister, and partner. It has been hard to find a balance between school and family duties, but I believe that we should all keep the faith and things will get better. 

Do you have any special memories from 826 Boston? 

A special memory I have of 826 Boston was when I had the opportunity to read out loud my personal essay at the ribbon cutting for the The Writers’ Room at the Burke. I remember that I made every single person in that room cry and laugh at the same time with the story of my life. I felt very special on that day. It was the most important 650 words of my life. 

What would you say it takes to be a good tutor and work with students?

I think that first thing to be a good teacher/work with students is to love what you do. For me passion is everything, when you do something with your heart is always good. But also be open minded, be open to teach and also learn with your students. My favorite author Augusto Cury said, “To educate is to travel in another’s world, without ever entering it. It is using what we go through to transform what we are.” 

How does 826 Boston stand out to you? 

826 Boston stands out to me in many different ways but especially the Writers’ Room and the community. Once you enter the room you become a whole different person. Even now with the virtual help, the volunteers and coordinators contribute to your development as a writer. The 826 Boston community makes you forget how to write with a keyboard or pen and makes you write with your heart. 

What’s your favorite thing about teaching/working with students? 

My favorite thing about working with students is to look them in their eyes and see their passion and motivation, and also the time we spent discussing different ideas. 

What’s your favorite book? Story? Podcast? Piece of writing/music/art/etc?

My favorite book is called The Dream Seller by Dr. Augusto Cury. My favorite piece of writing would be this one from my personal statement; “Un perde nha bida kanto kim perde nha vista, unico kusa kim fika quel el e scuro.” From Cape Verdean Creole, this translates to, “I lost my life since I lost my vision, the only thing that I have left now is the darkness.” These were my grandmother’s words when she turned completely blind at 70 years old. My curiosity was as great as her darkness… The moment I learned she lost her eyesight was when I became interested in human vision. 

Favorite spot in Boston? 

My favorite spot in Boston is The Charles River Esplanade. When I am there, it feels like my home country (Cape Verde). It brings back memories from my childhood. I used to read, study, and spend quality time with my friends by the sea. 

Look out for more stories, like this one, from 826 Boston’s alumni with our Alumni Spotlight Series!

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