“The children were in school at the time, but I convinced their teacher to let them out,” Ocampo said. “There was no electricity or running water there. They satisfy all their water with the river that flows by.”
“It’s tragic. (In Austin) when I talk to students I tell them to work hard, be good in math and science and our system will help them. In Colombia I can’t say that to them. All I can do is enjoy the one or two hours we are together.”
During the short time he had with the children, Ocampo was hoping to inspire at least a few future aerospace engineers.
“You want to let them know there are possibilities and something different out there for them,” he said. “I’d be happy if out of several hundred one or two do something meaningful with their lives.
He hopes to spark something inside the children the way he found his way to becoming an aerospace engineer at a young age.
“At age 5 in 1972 I saw the night launch of Apollo 17. That was my spark. It is the same type of spark I would like to provide the children of Chocó,” Ocampo said.
The day after watching the launch, Ocampo’s parents bought him an astronaut G.I. Joe and he never looked back.
Ocampo has already motivated two engineering students who attend La Universidad Tecnologica del Chocó. Twin brothers Heicer and Heiler Ledezma organized Ocampo’s trip to Chocó and dream of one day attending The University of Texas at Austin.
He met the twins while working on a small educational satellite project in Bogota, for which Ocampo was a mentor.
“They were willing to volunteer and do the work for free because they want to learn about satellites,” Ocampo said. “I will try hard to bring them here for graduate school but it’s tough. They need to learn English first. It’s hard for students like them, especially because they are poor.”
Meeting Father Cesar August Perea, a human rights leader, was also a high point for Ocampo. The friendship they formed has likely set the course for Ocampo’s future outreach work.
“We quickly made a connection and I committed with him to form a non-profit group in Austin so that we can work together in the future to bring hope to the children of Chocó ,” Ocampo said.
Working with Father Perea would allow Ocampo to travel further into the rain forest to regions he can’t access on his own due to the lack of transportation infrastructure and security issues
“I want to reach out the communities that need supplies and food first,” he said, “then we can talk to them about space”.
Ocampo plans to go back as early as December to bring backpacks and school supplies to children.