Heidi Blair – Southern Chile
For my thesis, I am investigating the complexities and inconsistencies of the Hidroaysén dam project in Chilean Patagonia—a controversial proposal to construct five hydroelectric mega-dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers in the region of Aysén. Thanks to the generous funding of the Walker Grant, I had the opportunity to take my research outside of the library to spend five weeks in Chile. If I had to sum up the trip in one sentence, I would borrow a quote by Jeff Johnson: “The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask.” My experiences and interactions opened my eyes to dimensions of the conflict that had never crossed my mind, and I began to decipher and decode the complicated web of dynamics surrounding the issue—such as why protests flourished all over Chile but not in the towns closest to the rivers. I volunteered with an NGO in Pucón, observed private strategic planning meetings of the main activist group (Patagonia Sin Represas) in Coyhaique, and experienced the energy of the resistance firsthand by participating in marches in Santiago. I interviewed residents of Cochrán and Tortel (the towns closest to the proposed construction sites), attended alternative energy symposia in Temuco and Santiago, and analyzed the ways in which social media networks and advertising impact the project. I shared enriching conversations with activists, residents, an anthropologist, a woman whose land would be flooded by the dams, Hidroaysén workers, professors, environmentalists, my host family, and many other Chileans. I learned about the disconnect between locals and activists, the role of regionalism and Ayseño identity, the legacy of the dictatorship, visions for sustainable development, the feasibility of alternative energy sources, the dirty manipulation employed by the dam company, and what happens when a grassroots movement explodes. The passion-filled campaign to prevent the construction of the dams has evolved into the largest environmental movement in Chile’s history, and the “free river” demands have created a channel through which citizens express their general discontent with corrupt government processes. Not only did this experience help me organize ideas for my thesis, it also exposed me to new facets of the issue, and I am extremely grateful for the enlightening fieldwork in which the Walker allowed me to engage.
Left: A peaceful anti-dam protest in Santiago. Right: A section of the beautiful Baker River upriver from one of the proposed dam sites.
Molly Colman – Lima, Peru
This past month I volunteered with an NGO called La Casa de Panchita (LCP) in Lima, Peru. It is an organization that mostly helps female domestic workers and child domestic workers learn skills such as crafts that they can sell on the street (jewelry or knitting) or how to cook, as well as offering tutoring for homework. The organization also offers psychological help to younger workers. My main program of volunteering was at a location called the library in the shantytown of Pamplona Alta. At the library, I helped young children mostly with their math and English homework, as well as play games with them. On some nights I also went to schools with other LCP workers and volunteers to teach students about sexual education by asking them sexual myths and if they were true or false (i.e. Is it better to use two condoms?). On some other occasions we went to some other schools and handed out questionnaires to determine whether or not the students were domestic workers, what type of work they did, and if they wanted psychological help. Sundays are the biggest days at LCP, where hundreds of domestic workers attend workshops or come for homework help. I assisted with various programs on Sundays: homework help for children, jewelry making, learning to cook, and teaching English classes. Overall it was an eye-opening and amazing experience, and I cannot wait to go back and volunteer during my semester abroad in Lima.
Ellicott Dandy – Guatemala City, Guatemala
This summer I had the extraordinary fortune of experiencing Guatemalan culture through a unique lens. The Walker Grant funded my five weeks as a volunteer in the capital, where I volunteered for an organization called Safe Passage. Safe Passage is an “educational reinforcement center,” which means that it provides extra education for students whose families live and work in the Guatemala City Dump, usually making between $1 and $3 per day. The goal is to “combat poverty through education” and provide healthcare, hygiene, food, school supplies, and extra attention in addition through English, physical education, music, art, library, health, and computer classes, and homework help. My job as a classroom assistant was to help students with their homework, motivate them when they needed it, teach the occasional English class, make photocopies, retrieve classroom materials, and listen to the students when they wanted to talk.
I had the opportunity to visit the community where I saw tiny houses made of construction materials stacked on top of one another. I developed close relationships with the students I worked with and they told me stories of shootings in their neighborhoods and other drug-related violence, of joining gangs out of necessity as young as 13, of growing up in single-parent households with meager incomes. Despite the initial hopelessness I felt, gazing down into the Garbage Dump where my students’ parents sorted through the city’s waste, searching for recyclable materials, I was even more struck by the students’ determination, optimism, resilience, courage, and diligence. I couldn’t help but foster incredible respect for these children and especially for their mothers who do so much with so very little.
This experience opened up my eyes to the devastating reality of extreme urban poverty in Latin America, but also to a path out of it. I gained a deep appreciation for the power of education and human strength. I will certainly be back.
Amelia Fogg – Belize
I used a Walker Grant to travel to Belize to do research to complete an independent study on sustainable agriculture in the Mayan communities of Southern Belize. I traveled to the interior of the Toledo District and interviewed farmers of Mayan origin in the villages of San Pedro Columbia and San Miguel. I observed several different farming methods, including modified milpa farms and agroforestry systems based around cacao as a cash crop. Thank you to the Walker committee for making this opportunity possible.
Matt Klegon – Buenos Aires, Argentina
I am very grateful to have received the Walker grant that enabled me to spend three weeks this past January in Buenos Aires, Argentina to conduct research for my independent study. After returning from a year abroad in the same city, I undertook the independent study as a capstone experience in my Latin American Studies major at Colby College. Since I am writing about the importance of the Malvinas Islands to the Argentine people as well as the important place it occupies within both historical and contemporary Argentine culture, being able to talk with various people as well as utilize the resources of the city yielded extremely valuable information. I was also able to visit monuments, libraries, museums, and public exhibits. My project could not have come close to what it aspires to be without having gone back to Buenos Aires, and therefore I am very thankful for receiving a Walker grant.
Katy Wassam – Buenos Aires, Argentina
I can honestly say that the two weeks I spent in Buenos Aires with the Walker Grant for summer 2011 were some of the best two weeks of my life. I received the grant in order to do field research for my honors thesis on the experience of return from exile in Argentina. By the end of the two weeks, I had interviewed 13 people, and learned so much more from our conversations and their kindness than I could ever learn by just reading. At first I was really nervous because I started out with only one contact to interview in Buenos Aires. This nervousness soon dissipated, however, as my contact gave me the emails of her friends, who in turn gave me more names, until I had a whole web of connections that responded to my emails within hours and were more than willing to help me out. In my interviews, I learned about the conflict between exiles and those who stayed behind in Argentina, the identity issues that children of exiles face on their return to Argentina, and the tendency for exiles to get overlooked because of the priority given to other issues such as the disappeared. I was able to pull together common themes in my research and I even proved one of my original hypotheses wrong. Because of my Walker grant, I had the opportunity to talk to many Buenos Aires residents about themes that really interested me. I got to travel to all corners of the city to visit houses and workplaces, to places that tourists don’t usually get to discover. The people I met during my time abroad were so open with me, and so excited to collaborate, that I now feel I owe my thesis to them and the Walker opportunity that brought me to them.