Maria LaRusso is part of the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program for the following project:
Children’s Rights to Healthy Development: Piloting a Social Justice and Youth Well-being Program in Colombia
Recent scholarship in children’s rights has highlighted the value of expanding the focus on
survival to a broader understanding of well-being, including the use of positive indicators of youth
flourishing or thriving in assessments of progress. However, a 2020 report created by a commission
of the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the
Lancet found that not a single country performed well on a newly developed child flourishing index.
This project aims to promote adolescent well-being through both self-care and social action,
bridging mindfulness-based stress reduction practices with activities that cultivate critical
consciousness to raise awareness of the ways in which social and economic conditions, ecological
and agricultural changes, and unregulated industries violate children’s rights to healthy development.
There is an abundance of programs designed to reduce risk behaviors and promote well-being for
adolescents, but the limited success of most programs is a testament to how hard it can be to
“motivate” youth to change behaviors or habits to healthier ones. This program, Well-being And
Consciousness for Teens (We-ACT), takes a new approach by harnessing adolescents’ bourgeoning
critical thinking skills and concern for fairness and justice to inspire them to take action and
advocate for their own well-being. Colombia presents a unique opportunity to pilot this program
given the complex array of factors affecting youth well-being and the clear youth-based activism and
demands for justice, rights and participation that Colombia has experienced in recent years. To
conduct this work, I am partnering with the Pediatrics Department at Universidad Nacional, and a
community organization in Colombia that developed an evidence-based mindfulness and meditation
program that aims to foster self-awareness and life skills for adolescents.