Todos aprendemos de todos. – We all learn from each other

My vague, ten year old job posting said I would conduct workshops during my internship. It loosely mentioned that workshops would involve basic business skills. Since I never took a business class (and my interviewers knew this) I assumed it would cover basic topics such as communication, customer service, basic accounting and administration skills. I was looking forward to this challenging but rewarding experience. However, since the community recently received computers it was decided I would do computer workshops instead.

I will admit, I was disappointed. I took this as too easy and simple a task, I wanted to conduct workshops that were more challenging and covered more interesting material. I wanted to return to Canada feeling that I had contributed to the development of the community and their future tourism company.

A syllabus had been set prior to my arrival and I was able to make a few adjustments as needed.  If you recall, a friend who had volunteered in the community recommended that I record myself speaking Spanish at intervals during my internship. While preparing for my first workshop, I thought what better time would there be to embarrassingly record myself speaking Spanish to my computer than practicing my first workshop. (I cannot believe I am admitting this and on the internet too, where it will forever be present) but I filmed my preparation for my first workshop.

I wanted to set the tone of the workshop to be very relaxed and open, so we sat in a circle. I explained to the students that I was not an expert, that we were all present to learn from each other, and we all had something to offer. I also explained who I was, why I was here (in the simplest of terms as I’m still exploring that theme on my own), and allowed time for everyone to introduce themselves. I discussed how we had a lot of material to cover, but that the last 15 minutes of every workshop we could dedicate to a fun topic. I suggested we brainstorm to decide on enjoyable programs to learn. No one said anything. After I offered a few suggestions, a few responses were given. Using the web cams, and watching music videos were suggested, as was the internet. I probed further of specifically what they wanted to learn about the internet. As I saw their eyes gaze to the floor I realized to my dismay – and lack of knowledge and preparation of intercultural education – I realized I had set them up for embarrassment, because they did not know about the internet. I offered an example of Facebook, and they all recognized the term and so with my mediocre Spanish and without internet to demonstrate, I began to explain the wonders of social networking.

Overall, the first workshop went well. We discussed the syllabus, added to it, learned the parts of a computer and how to care for one. It was a challenging two hours however. I will never forget how Valerio would look at me so intently and I could not help but feel his judgment when I would stubble upon words in Spanish. Suzanna is too cool for school, at 12 years old, she has a nose and lip piercing and several tattoos, she comes in with her music blaring and cool band tees. There is also Antonio, who did not offer one word for two hours, but I have heard he is dedicated and will be present at every workshop. And there is Maria who is a ball of joy with bright smiles, is shy, but shows interest, she is pregnant at 14; I hope we will not lose her for too long when the baby comes. The workshop was so much different than any previous workshops or trainings I’ve done where one is constantly working the audience to be quiet rather than covertly begging for them to even talk amongst each other.

Now reflecting after many workshops, I realize I was definitely wrong about it being a unrewarding or a simple task. Teaching the most basics of computer skills is challenging! My peers and I learned the basics of a computer at a young age on our own, with trial and error, and the odd Google search. But the youth in the community did not have that opportunity. Teaching someone to highlight a sentence when they have never used a mouse before and when I cannot remember how I learned, makes you think. Equally importantly the silence has ended. We make jokes! We laugh. We even stay after class and chat. I’ve also started a workshop for children. The idea of the escuelita is for youth who no longer attend school and will become or are members of the team organizing the tourism company. But, I saw many children peering into the school, or hanging around hoping for a chance to use the computers, so an hour before the formal workshops, there is now a time for all ages to learn.  The Pedagogical Coordinator and I are also in the beginning stages of planning First Aid workshops.

Communication comes in all forms

Many weeks ago I visited a great communication workshop at the little school in the jungle. Like the workshop I wrote about in a previous post I went to meet the facilitator, get to know the students a little better, and get further ideas of how to conduct my workshops. The teacher was amazing. Many of the youth in the community are quiet. Not only are they not very outgoing, but sometimes they won’t even respond to questions directed to them. However it is still great that the youth attend. Since the community wants to eventually operate a self-run tourism company, the youth understand that they should enhance their communication skills in order to welcome tourists.

Cielito, the faciliator, was great. She handled it very well when the students wouldn’t respond and she would come up with other ways to encourage participation. Or she would start a new activity. I was very impressed. You could tell see some sadness in her eyes, but never did she express her frustration or impatience.

For example, after showing a short clip, she asked the kids to talk about what they learned from it. Silence. She quickly changed it to tell me the animals of the jungle and this generated some commentary. Then, in order to practice tour guiding, she asked the students to individually come to the front of the class and describe an animal of their choice. None of the students volunteered to present. So she called on me. I felt awful, I wanted to help her, lead by example, encourage the students, but I didn’t know anything about animals of the jungle! I knew names, if that, (and few in Spanish) and definitely was not well versed on their eating habits, habitation, etc. I asked if I could present on a an animal from Canada. Dale, ok. I googled animals from the jungle that night.

She was great, she really is working hard to increase the students’ confidence. She offered constructive but not offensive tips on proper speech presenting: extending hands, using eye contact. The older kids responded, the younger ones not so much. It was one student’s turn, Johnny, one of the brightest I’ve met, but terribly shy. He stood at the front of the class in silence after saying half a sentence. I remembered then that he had impeccable drawing skills and so I suggested draw for us what the Toucan looked like and ate, etc. It took a little while, but the results were incredible. After drawing a perfect Toucan on the board and seeing the impressed faces, he was able to present. The small he gave while presenting, I hope was a small boost of confidence. I’m very glad that I went to the workshop and looking forward to the ones of the rest of the weeks. I saw the challenges that come with participation, with working in a classroom with different age groups, and even language barriers between Guarani and Spanish. I’m glad I am now aware of them and can begin to plan for them, but of course there is much with intercultural learning and workshop facilitation that cannot be planned.

* I should note that many of these blog posts were written on walks home from the community on my phone over a month ago. Please disregard the dates and in the future I plan to post soon after I write.

preguntas, preguntas

A few weeks ago, I showed the community to a friend. I knew I enjoyed my internship. But I didn’t know until today how much I really loved it.

Telling him about what MATE has done and more importantly what the community is doing on their own, made me so happy and so proud.

But it was not all smiles and pride. I was eager to inform him about the issues in the community and the history of the Guarani. But the tour also brought to light how much I still don’t know about the community and how many questions I still have to ask. Everyday I ask Claudio questions and he responds with detailed and informative answers. But I rarely ask delicate questions to my peers in the community. After working in Rwanda where we made the grave mistake of asking far too many questions, I have been very cautious to not make this mistake again. Also, I have had many insightful conversations with one of my favourite professors, Dr. Quinn and her work in Uganda where she has warned me that one must gain trust in a community where you are an outsider before asking too many questions. She has explained that any community has little reason to trust someone after there has been many broken promises. As well, I am the 17th CIDA intern that has worked in the community, therefore with such a high turnover rate, those in the community do not feel a need to become close who will leave so soon. 6 months isn’t long enough to build absolute trust but I can build relationships.

The other day, however, while walking through the community I asked Claudio my daily questions and he replied that I had been in the community for long enough that the people know me and I can begin to ask them the questions. So little by little, with respect and patience, I’ll begin.