Visit from Canada

Jos Noelle, the director of International Development at Niagara College, aka my boss, came to visit at the beginning of November. The visit began with a lunch in Iguazu where Jos and I discussed my internship, the complications and successes of the community, and he provided me with a lot of insight in regards to my future academic career. We then took a 5 hour bus ride to Corpus Christi that was of course stopped by a group of strikers. Luckily we were not held up for too long, and it actually gave us more time to chat and made room for a quick nap. The trip continued to a visit to ITEP, the institute that my fellow CIDA/Niagara College intern Tulliana works at. Here Jos made a quick speech, and then the mayor of the town took us to the Jesuit ruins and for a hike in the National Park. The excursions were followed by a lunch where Tulliana gave a presentation on the work she has been doing and Jos gave a brief but effective message on the importance of applied education for young professionals.


The following day we took a 14 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires for the International Tourism Fair of Latin America. I went with Jos Noelle, my Argentinan boss, Claudio Salvador, and a leader of the community, Ricardo Fernández, and also the tourism students of the instutite.  We went for several reasons: to make contacts with others in Tourism, to generate further ideas for our future company, and to give a presentation on our project and the connection between Canada and Argentina.  Unfortunately due to lack of organization and time constraints only Jos was able to speak. Jos presented of our organization to government representatives and businesses who are committed to sustainable and inclusive tourism development on our organization. He also discussed the partnership between the two cities of waterfalls that has taken place for over a decade.

Jos, Tulliana, ITEP teachers, Ricardo from Yyryapu, and I


The visit was a great learning experience and although Jos is moving on to future career endeavors I hope our paths cross again in the future.


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.


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.