Friday, January 29, 2010

Está viendo a pasado..

EXCITING NEWS! I made the first fundraising payment! I don’t have to put a personal contribution forth! Thank you to everyone who helped through making donations, purchasing bracelets and participating in all of our fundraising efforts so far! I feel as though I am accepting an academy award – and unfortunately I may even start crying.

Good Global Citizenship Think Tank

Last Friday, January 22, I was part of the Good Global Citizenship Think Tank this was an event put on by Joanne, our director of the Beyond Borders Program, and Michel, the chair of the Global Studies department at Wilfrid Laurier University. They hosted scholars from universities across Canada. This was a very unique Think Tank because the people involved were from different positions (such as professors, international service-learning program directors, academic advisors, deans, students, the director of Intercordia, and coordinators of all sorts), different faculties (such as religious studies, global studies, education, political science, nursing and social work) and different parts of Canada (Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan). So as you can see we came from all different walks of life and created a very diverse, experienced and knowledgeable group on international programs.

At the Think Tank, Joanne had asked me to talk about my experience in Guatemala. However, due to time constraints I didn’t end up presenting. This was beneficial because I didn’t want to have to get up and speak in front of the group again. I would like to share my experience though, and this is a great way to do it because if my face happens to go red no one will see.

Olivia’s Guatemala Experience

Two years ago this March I travelled with a group of eight other students and two high school teachers to Panajachel, Guatemala. We were there for 10 days and after accounting for travelling time, orientation and a bit of tourist action we spent five days building two houses. We split up into two groups while we were working but other than that did everything together.

We didn’t receive very much preparation. Reasons for this are likely because the trip was roughly a week long and it was the first time any of us students and the teachers had participated in something like this. We did some team building activities which were especially helpful for me because I was from a different high school than the rest of the participants. We also organized some fundraising initiatives together which created bonding time. From Habitat for Humanity we received a handbook before our departure which discussed the liabilities and type of work we would be participating in, and what we should pack. Upon arrival we met up with a leader that was organized and supplied by Habitat for Humanity. He had gone on these missions a few times before, but was a volunteer like us.

There were challenges and/or weaknesses to this experience, but the main one was the language barrier. We received zero language preparation. At first we were told that we would be getting a couple of basic lessons from the Spanish teacher of the high school but they fell through. We had a translator for the week who came everywhere with us and made the experience that much easier. However, when we split up into our two different groups to build the house, our translator could only go one way. I was in the group that did not have a translator and it became very difficult because the people we were working with didn’t know any English and the family only knew a small amount. It was challenging to try and communicate with our foreman and sometimes felt like I was more of a burden then help because it would take so long to delegate tasks to us. One incident that I found the language barrier extremely difficult was during one of the days that we were at the site. I was working on creating the rebar (reinforcing bar) formation that helped reinforce the concrete and make the house less vulnerable to earthquakes. For the last couple of hours I had seen a young boy, maybe nine or ten years old, standing off to the side and clearly interested in helping and taking part. I wanted to ask him if he would like to help me as it was a menial and easy task where he couldn’t get hurt but I didn’t know how to speak. I was asking the group if anyone knew how to say “help” and other words so that I could convey my meaning to him. We finally managed to understand each other through demonstration and hand movements and I adopted a side kick. While we silently stood side by side working there were so many questions running through my mind that I wanted to ask him, “what was his name?”, “what did he like to do?”, “where he was from?”, but unfortunately I couldn’t express any of them. I felt very ignorant for not knowing any Spanish while down there. It is because of this experience that I decided to learn Spanish. I wish to one day return and go see our family again and be able to speak to them properly.

It was rewarding though for the following reasons:
•I was building a house for people who had worked for this opportunity. Habitat for Humanity makes sure that the families meet a level income that is necessary to keep up the house and pay bills and won’t take the service for granted. This made the families very appreciative to have our help and they themselves helped with the construction also.
•We worked with local construction workers and builders. So profit was going back into the community by paying the workers.
•We got to interact with the families we were building the houses for. It made it much more personal and genuine. It was amazing to be able to play with the children and talk/play charades with the parents. I never expected to become attached to the family and the experience and I surprised myself by balling my eyes out during the goodbye ceremony.

So that is the presentation that I would have given on Friday, but it likely sounds much better being read than being dictated. I hope you enjoyed it.

That is all I have to share this week. Hopefully next week I will be able to indulge you readers on more information about my upcoming trip. Thank you for tuning in!



  1. Olivia,
    It has been a while since I have seen you!

    I am glad you went to that event, it really sounded interesting and inspiring.
    I can definitely understand how you must have felt not being able to convey your questions. We take for granted the ability to be able to talk to anyone we want to, and simply speak out when we wish. It is the most difficult thing, not being able to express your feelings and thoughts.

    Nev ;)

  2. Yay! I can now join your happiness about making the first fundraising goal! I just gave in my money and it feels good to be able to do that! :) Your other trip sounds like it was an interesting time! This time it might not be so hard, what with your amazing spanish skills now! (Better than mine at least!)