About a year ago three corros, choirs in the community decided to make a CD. The plan was to sell the CD of their traditional music with their artisan goods. From what I understand – my most used phase, as much is lost in translation or has a complicated history – it was a long process. A German company donated their time to come to the community to record the choirs. They’re actually a pretty incredible organization called Camping Bus Records that goes to small villages in South America with a mobile recording studio to give musicians the opportunity to record their music and jam with them. If you’d like to see an awesome short one minute glimpse of the recording session click here.

A local company also assisted in the process and offered to make 600 copies. The CD, with the title Los Sonidos del Agua, Water Sounds, the translation of the name of the community (Yryapu) finally finished today.

Even though I was not a part of the lengthy process and all the hard work, I was still so happy to be there when the CDs were given out. I was so proud of the community and MATE to have completed the journey. Being there for the presentation of the CD and listening to the recording for the first time with leaders of the choirs was really special.

The community already has an offer from a company to purchase 100 of the CDs to sell in their store.

After celebrating the presentation of the CDs the leaders of the choirs, Claudio and myself gathered at the escuelita to discuss the administrative and buisness unpleasantries. As previously mentioned, no one in the community completed high school and thus none have taken an accounting or basic business course. The leaders did not think of saving a portion of the profits in order to produce more CDs. It had to be stressed that CDs would not be donanted again. Claudio politely and delicately explained this. As always, Claudio is very careful not to impose ideas of how the community should spend their profits or use their resources. Instead, he offers suggestions while always making clear they can decide for themselves if they wish to use the idea, modify it, or chose another way entirely. This is a fundamental aspect of MATE. It is also reinforced to the community almost daily and to toursits as well.  This is what differentiates MATE from other organisations in the area who work with indigenous communities. MATE is not a business – it is an organisation that is walking the first steps with the community to create a self-run tourism company and then will eventually leave. MATE felt that it was their duty to inform them of the need to save the profits to reinvest, but the actual administration has to come from the community. I think the concept of saving to produce more CDs was understood and agreed upon. However, at the meeting, they did finalize who would take the responsibility of keeping the books, nor was the price of the CD to sell determined. Hopefully this will be sorted out by the leaders in time and the CDs will continue to be available for purchase for many years.


Reporting and Reflecting


I got a little carried away under the section “lessons learned” while writing our mid-term CIDA report. I started writing out things I have personally learned throughout my adventure. It was 3am on a bus to Florinaopolis, Brazil so I realised too late that the question refered to lessons learned specific to the work in my host country. Even though I could not use them in the report, I thought instead of deleting them, I’d share them in my blog:

1. Workshop attendance is not always important. What is important is what is learned by the youth and the facilitator. So is the bonding and the time shared together.

2. Cultures are dynamic; one cannot preserve all elements of a culture. That is okay.

3. Even if a culture is perceived to have a more communal ‘sense’ than others, there will always be some form of hierarchy and individualism – it is a humanistic.

4. One must start at the very basics when teaching something. Even if it is too basic for some, and thought to be common sense, do not assume one knows something nor teach for the majority: include everyone.

5. Discrimination is real and should not be underestimated or brushed off as seeming weak. Regardless of the motivation and intelligence of a person, in some places being a minority can hinder one from completing high school or getting a job. This is not okay. But it needs to be recognized.

6. Preparation is essential for conducting a good workshop. But, it does not mean that all that is prepared is taught nor all that is learned can be prepared.

7. Read everything even if it does not immediately interest you. Because even though you read the Toronto Star every day all summer the one topic that you continuously skipped over (the Tar Sands in Alberta) will end up being the first thing the coordinator for a new project asks you about when you tell him you are from Canada.

8. Carry business cards with you. Even out to dinner. Someone will always ask you where you’re from, what are you doing, and sometimes they can be right in your field.

9. Ask directions when traveling if you are not 100 percent sure. And maybe even though it will hit your pride a little, if possible, ask for them in English because after ten go rights and 7 go lefts, izquierda and derecha will begin to sound the same.

ps After writing (and then deleting this) from the CIDA report, I with two fellow interns, Tulliana Duiker and Kirsten Kennedy spent an incredible long weekend in Brazil!

A lot to appreciate and a lot to learn

I attended a workshop given for the youth at la escuelita, ‘the little school in the jungle.’ I often go to workshops other than my own to further bond with the youth and get tips on workshop facilitation. At this particular workshop, the students (aged 13-20) read a passage and were told to underline the words they did not understand. There were words that absolutely shocked me that they did not know; words that are used in every day speech.

Through these experiences, I am appreciating that much more the educational privileges we enjoy in Canada. I am also understanding how resources and opportunities vary so differently between countries in the developing world.

Each of my oversees learning experiences has taught me a lot. For a month, I took part in a community service learning course in Rwanda with a professor and a group from Western. It being my first experience in a developing country that did not include the beach with family in Peru, I learned a lot. I find that much of what I am learning in Argentina is building upon what I learned in Rwanda and so I imagine I will be referring back to this experience often. This experience in Rwanda, and hearing – first hand – the stories of genocide and the monstrous atrocities that took place, made me truly appreciate the peace that I had taken for granted in Canada. And studying in Cuba for a month made me realize how fortunate we are to live in an economically stable country, with an open market.

As I mentioned earlier, it is an education deficit that I am coming to understand and appreciate here, in la comunidad. Argentina prides itself on offering free university tuition and having a very high literacy rate; however, in la comunidad, there is only one school, which ends at grade 8. After that, most youth end school. The reasons for this vary: child rearing can play a part, as can the distance to the closest high school. But the most common reason for youth ceasing to attend school is cultural discrimination. Those who do have the motivation to continue on to high school often attend for one or two years at most, and then leave due to discrimination and alienation, as one of the only (or, the sole) indigenous students in the high school.

In both Rwanda and Cuba, almost everyone I met had completed high school, and many had attended university, even those of lower classes. So the importance of high school rarely crossed my mind – especially coming from Canada where almost everyone I know has a high school diploma. Instead I have always placed a far higher value on post secondary education, and only now realize now how essential it is to ensure effective (and welcoming) high school opportunities for all.

Attending this workshop made me conscious of this reality and showed me how much I have to learn about giving my workshops. Beyond patience, there is a real skill in explaining the meaning of unknown words. This goes beyond offering synonyms, because often synonyms can be equally confusing when, in the case of la comunidad, Spanish is their second language. And things get even more complicated when students do not have equivalent words in their own language. Viviana, the workshop facilitator, did an excellent job today. I have much to learn from her and look forward to attending her workshops. She offered synonyms, but also examples, using the word in several sentences and focusing on each word for longer than I would have, until each student had not just memorized the word, but understood it too.

Beyond the importance of education, I took note of another interesting thing today: how much culture plays a role in conducting a workshop. While I watched the youth read through the passage I realized that some words were unknown not because they had not learned them in school, but because they did not have any cultural significance in their community. For example: a multa (a fine or penalty) had to be explained in great detail, given that many of the youth do not often leave the community and because of this, they had never had an encounter with the police, nor heard of someone getting a ticket.

The youth had not heard of one’s “ring finger” either. As Viviana is very experienced on intercultural learning she knew not to brush the word off with a simple showing of the finger, but to explain our Western culture’s symbolism of rings. This was essential, as the youth had never been told significance of the rings we wear on that particular finger.

I’ll save my other intercultural learning experiences for a blog of their own, as I have many (such as learning not to pause mid sentence in a workshop when a woman begins to breast feed her baby). I am very thankful for every learning experience I have had. And if I could go back and pay more attention in highschool, I would.

Esos son cosas de dios.

Esos son cosas de dios, Those are things of God. – Claudio Salvador (Coordinator of project MATE aka my boss).

Religious or not – as I still have to further explore for myself – days like today are incredible, and I find more and more a need to thank someone for them.

Today we had a meeting with the coordinator of Banco de Bosques, their indigenous counterparts, and a few members of the community. Banco de Bosques (The Forest Bank) is an NGO that is overseeing a very large grant that the Guarani community received from an organization called Inter-American Foundation. The agenda was to further organize how the tourism company will run in the future. When we arrived we were told that there was an overlap in scheduling and many members of the community were at another meeting. I thought we would leave and reschedule. Good thing I don’t make the decisions. The meeting was very successful. Although the attendance was not at its best, it was very interactive with lots of participation and many new ideas were offered. The number of total staff needed on a given day was decided on, along with what the various positions would be.

At a previous meeting, it was decided that the tourism company would have sub committees. Today, it was great that Claudio took the time to inquire whether everyone at the meeting fully understood what a committee was. As many in the community did not go to school past grade 8 and do not speak Spanish in their day to day, it was evident that not everyone understood the term. Claudio explained the meaning and immediately changed it to grupos, groups. This may be of little significance to some, but it is very important that the community members are organizing themselves and in order for this to be they must use phrases and words that they understand – not ones that us, outsiders have created.

Had the meeting happened and we all went home, my day would still have been incredible. But, the day got even better! Channel 13 news from Buenos Aires (the capital) came to film in the community!

Valerio, a 19 year old with intelligence, courage, and even a new wife and baby on the way, impressed us all. They filmed an hour tour, where he demonstrated the use of traps, showed us the jungle, and explained the culture of the community. The journalists and cameramen thoroughly enjoyed it. This is great promotion for the new tourism company and more importantly, it highlights that unlike other indigenous tourism communities, all decisions are made by the community members themselves and not an external group. It was also great that Valerio discussed in the interview how their land was recently reduced by the government from over 600 hectares to only 250. This is incredible exposure of indigenous issues that will hopefully encourage people to further look into. At the end of the tour they interviewed me about my internship. Hope they got my good side haha. And I know they got the real, and the great side of the community.



Necesitas Paciencia

Things are very go-with-the-flow down here. Well, maybe not for everyone because often I think I’m the only one out of the loop, so its go with the flow for me. For example, yesterday I received a text from my boss asking me to meet him at his his house early the next morning and we would go to Wanda together. Wanda is a town about an hour away that has touristic mines to visit. We previously talked about the mines and so I assumed we were touring the mines for the day and did not probe any further.  I found out the next morning on the bus that we were headed to a conference! Both in dress and research I was unprepared. I wore shorts and hiking boots, but more importantly I was not familiar with the NGOs that presented, or the topics (dams and their damage to the surrounding areas). Luckily, many of the attendees work in the jungle so they were casually dressed and it was not a very interactive occasion so no one noticed that I didn’t even know the word for dams in Spanish until half an hour in.


Due to my lack of research and not having taken science since grade 11 I did not understand a fair amount of the presentations. It also did not help that every time I furiously searched through my dictionary for a word, five more tricky words would pass and the context of the sentence would be lost. But, I did take a lot of notes, videos, and have a lot of websites to visit so from home I can learn what I missed.

After the conference, my boss travelled to another town to appear on a talk show (he’s kind of a big-journalist-deal down here) and so I had lunch with two members of la comunidad before taking our bus back to Iguazu. We joked about how little we all understood at the conference and wish we had been more prepared. After a bit more small talk, the conversation dwindled and we had only just ordered. I think I can hold a conversation with almost anyone for a decent amount of time but after a mentally exhausting day and with such cultural differences between us, I was lost. What felt like much too long after, a soccer game came on TV and I was relieved of the silence. Conversation began flowing and although I’ve heard that soccer is our universal sport, I had never truly seen the effects. I was sitting in a hole in the wall restaurant, in a town of maybe 1000, in South America, with two great people that had never heard of facebook, talking in what is both our second language, and yet had a nice, relaxed conversation about the last thing I would ever bring up at home.

The next interesting event happened while waiting for the bus. The station did not have a schedule nor was there someone to ask. “Necesitas paciencia” (you need to have patience), said Pato. I didn’t even realize I was being impatient, I thought I was just (maybe more than necessary) asking about the schedule. But he couldn’t have been more right. What was the hurry? I didn’t have anywhere to be, the weather was perfect, we had just ate, I had a bottle of water and sunscreen, and great company. Later in the day I thought about his comment for a while and even though it was just about a bus schedule, I need to apply this dutifully to all aspects of my life. I’m around here for a while, there’s no rush.

My new life is starting to fall into place.

As nice as it was to live in a hostel for two weeks and meet new friendly faces and go out to dinner with people from all over the world every night, the bills are adding up! So it’s time I move into a house and start cooking. Plus, it is much too easy to talk in English every day and not meet locals. And going out of my comfort zone is essential in this adventure!

I’m moving into a nice home a few blocks from downtown. The landlady’s name is Sophie and she is a friend of a friend of a women who worked in the community last month. It’ll be great to be out of a suitcase, have a roommate, and a dog! It’s only for a temporary time because her family is coming to visit for the summer, but it’s a great start! 

Ahhhh this is why I came.

A few days ago, for the first time, I visited the indigenous community that I will be working in for the next 6 months. It was an incredible experience. It is a beautiful place filled with so many young, bright minds that I cannot wait to learn from.

Before I begin the post I should explain some facts to prevent confusion.

The Deets:

The community is called Yyrapu and the people that live there are a group called the Mbya Guarani. For simplicity, I’ll call it la comunidad or the community, as everyone here does too.

The community is ten minutes from downtown Puerto Iguazu. Iguazu is a town of 50 000 and is home to (me!) and the famous Iguazu Falls. It is a tourist town similar to Niagara Falls or Aguas Calientes in Peru. It is very impressive that the community still lives in middle of the jungle despite the bustling city that is so close. Many residents of the community live in small wood homes, but some still – for a lack of a better word – live in huts. 7 years ago an organization called MATE (Argentine Model for Tourism and Employment) began to help the community build their tourism and cultural resources. This organization is two fold. They have a committee made up of mainly indigenous residents that is building their tourism company that hosts tours of the jungle and sells artisanal goods. They mainly help run a school for youth to learn about their culture and enhance their skills to be later used in the tourism company. My internship will begin offering computer workshops to the youth in this ‘little school in the jungle.’


Claudio (my boss, teacher, and hopefully to be my mentor) took me to the community and introduced me to a variety of leaders and youth who attend the school. The people were nice and welcoming but brief and some of the children cried in presence. However, in just a few short days I feel much more welcomed in the community.

Today there was a guiso to bid farewell to a woman who volunteered here and to welcome me. Until recently I kept hearing “we’ll see you at the guiso,” or “when is the guiso?” so I thought guiso meant a celebration/goodbye/welcoming. But it actually just means a stew. One boy, who is 19 bought all the ingredients and his wife who is only 14 made the stew for over 20 people! Very impressed. Even last year I needed the help of 7 roommates to make a stew. It was delicious and was nice to be eating alongside members of the community after knowing them for only a short time. Even though the purpose of the gathering was never mentioned, the fact that it was organized by members of the community and not MATE coordinators made it very special.


The volunteer who was leaving, Juliane gave me lots of insightful advice about working in the community and for my internship itself. She suggested I make a list of expectations for my time here. For example, I hope to reach out to x number of people in the community that have never been to the school. Of course, the expectations should not only be quantitatively measurable. I’ll continue to visit the community for the following week and post my expectations once I’ve decided them. One goal that I do know now, although superficial, is to improve (or perfect!) my Spanish. Juliane cleverly suggested I make a video speaking Spanish now, another in three months, and a third at the end of the internship.  I don’t think I’m confident enough to post the one of right now, but hopefully I’ll be able to share one in three months. A leader in the community, Pato, joked with me that I need to learn one word of Guarani (their indigenous language) a day. That’s a great goal! Although keep in mind that I couldn’t even pronounce my first word of the day, so maybe today will be a two parter.

Claudio spoke very quickly and due to my limited Spanish some was lost but he did offer much insight. I’m very excited to continue to learn from him. In the pre departure training it was stressed that building trust in a community is essential before conducting a workshop. They even spoke that this process could take over a month! However, Claudio says that that would be necessary for more sensitive topics, like gender workshops for example. He told me I will begin with a computer course and suggested I only need to visit the community a few times before I begin. That means I start my workshop next week!

More importantly, Claudio discussed that in order for me to learn the most from the community and build trust I need to immerse myself in their culture and community. Of course these were my prior intentions, but he has seen other interns or volunteers after a while become accustomed to go to the community only to do their workshops or attend a meeting.  Even if other work gets busy, I need to remember to continue to visit even if just to sit and talk with the residents. One thing I loved about the community was the children running around, playing barefoot, laughing, or crying. It reminded me of the Rwandan community I worked in. One of my favourite pastimes when we weren’t working was blowing bubbles and playing with the kids. This time, since I speak the same language as them I can do much more with the children, with play included of course, but perhaps with a lesson or skill attached. It will also be a great way to build trust with the community and especially with the women. I noticed that Claudio introduced me mainly to males and that the attendance at the school is higher in males as well.

I am very thankful that so far my work experience has been great and I have been well received. I look forward to sharing with you how these relationships develop and how my first workshop goes!