MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Tomas Camba finally found a sense of belonging after having to leave his home country and enduring violent bullying. The 15-year-old credits his experiences at Shenandoah Middle School and help from the mentor he met through a school program.
Born in Venezuela, Tomas left his homeland when he was 12. His family was chasing opportunity abroad following political turmoil in Venezuela.
“My family can’t live in Venezuela right now,” says Tomas.
His first stop: Barcelona, Spain.
Tomas, a talented young musician, attended a school and conservatory where classes were taught in the regional Catalan language. Things didn’t turn out as he hoped they would.
“They bullied me because I don’t speak very well Catalan,” explains Tomas, describing how terrifying the experience was, especially once it turned violent and a fellow student stabbed him with a pen.
Eight months ago, his family was on the move again. This time, he and his father settled in the United States and Tomas once again faced a language barrier, not speaking any English.
His experience in South Florida has been nothing like what he faced in Barcelona. Tomas credits his science teacher at Shenandoah Middle School for making him feel welcome, and for introducing him to the man who would become his mentor, Luis Martinez.
“He has a habit of calling me sort of like a fake uncle. I actually view myself more as a friend, here really just to show him what’s possible,” says Martinez.
Martinez runs Stardom Up, an organization that exposes students to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics, better known as STEAM.
He met Tomas on a field trip.
“While we were doing some of our programming, Tomas sort of went out on his own and started building things,” explained Martinez, who discovered teen’s natural engineering ability.
Martinez saw more layers to the young musician, not unlike what he saw in himself.
Martinez started his career as a lawyer and now dedicates his life to education and science.
He said he was especially drawn to Tomas after taking a look at plans for his 8th-grade science project, a wind turbine. He invited Tomas to spend the summer visiting tech and engineering companies with him. Stardom Up also granted Tomas a scholarship to attend an engineering summer boot camp.
“He give me like a second opportunity to start again, to engineer,” said Tomas, grateful for his mentor and the opportunity to explore his interest in science and technology.
With designs for a wind-powered phone and laptop charger and a slew of other original ideas, now Tomas is off to the engineering program at Coral Park Senior High School for the upcoming school year. He has big dreams and hopes to attend college at MIT someday.
“I always tell him that maybe later on in life I could work for him,” said Martinez.
But Tomas has other plans.
Perhaps because of his own experiences trying to find a place to belong, he wants to employ homeless people to develop electronics.
As for his music, Tomas said he’ll keep playing instruments, too.
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