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.