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 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!