2011-2012 Academic Year

Jan Plan

Dana Salomon - Valparaíso, Chile

I received a Walker Grant to do volunteer work in Chile this past Jan Plan.  The program with which I worked is called Talleres de Acción Comuntaria (TAC) and is located in an area of the city of Valparaíso where poverty and crime are prevalent.  Although I had studied abroad in Chile previously during my junior spring at Colby, I had never before experienced such levels of poverty and the struggles that the area’s inhabitants must face on a daily basis.  In my first week volunteering, TAC set up a sort of summer camp (January is summer in Chile) and welcomed over one hundred children from the surrounding area.  For many of these children, this one week is the only time all summer that they are not stuck at home alone all day, often with nothing to eat, while their parents are out.  During this week at TAC, these children can select from a variety of educational programs, including theater, cooking, sports, environmental education, and more for both fun and instructive classes.  I worked with several other volunteers to teach a group of children ranging from ages seven to sixteen about the importance of protecting our environment.  The week was filled with activities from planting trees on a nearby street corner to spending an entire day exploring at a national park.  As an environmental education minor and a Latin American Studies major, it was unbelievably rewarding to apply what I have learned in a variety of classes to the real-world experience of teaching Chilean youth how they can help protect our environment.  In my second week with TAC, there were daily academic discussions and activities geared towards an older audience of high school students and those who had volunteered the previous week.  Discussions varied daily and ranged from themes such as understanding the impact of TAC to an intense conversation about the recent education strikes and violent protesting in Chile.  In the final days of Jan Plan, I worked with other volunteers to help keep the TAC site clean and worked in their beautiful green gardens that cover the entire site.  By the end of these four weeks volunteering, I could hardly believe it was already time for me to pack up my belongings and head back to Colby.  TAC is run by some of the friendliest and most welcoming volunteers I have ever met, and I feel honored to have been a part of such a wonderful, life-changing community.

This is a photo of me with one of my campers from the environmental education program.  Each program was assigned to a team (red, yellow, blue, green, or white) to represent for a parade around the neighborhood.  In case it isn’t obvious, we were team rojo (red). 

Alli Nolan – Lennox, California

During the month of January, I had the awesome opportunity to complete an internship as a teacher’s assistant at a bilingual elementary school in the low-income city of Lennox, California. Almost all of Lennox’s residents are Latino/a so Spanish is used just as often, if not more frequently, as English. This means that the schools in this area play an even more important role in the community as they have to focus on the development of their students English and Spanish language abilities. I was able to experience firsthand the challenges of being a teacher in the field of bilingual education by spending time in two classrooms: a crazy first grade Spanish class and an adorable second grade bilingual class. This internship was the first part of a semester-long independent study research project that I am undertaking this spring. My goal for this project is to analyze different methods of bilingual education and determine if employing the most effective methods can contribute to a decrease in the achievement gap between Latino students and their white counterparts. Through my internship, I was able to observe firsthand the approach towards bilingual education that the Lennox School District follows and was able to begin to understand its level of effectiveness through conversations with the teachers who employ these methods. During the three weeks I spent in the classrooms I learned an immense amount, and also had so much fun spending time with the kids, especially because I was able to practice my Spanish with them while they were able to practice their English with me. I’m an education minor and have always had an interest in teaching one day, and this opportunity really allowed me to experience the field of bilingual education and see that although it is a challenging job, it’s a vitally important one, especially in Latino/a communities like Lennox.

Clase de Arroyo: The students of the first grade Spanish class.

Kayla Chen – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Through the very generous support of the Walker Grant, I spent my last JanPlan back in Buenos Aires, Argentina—where I studied for a semester during my junior year.  I interned at the office of CODESEDH (Committee for the Defense of Health, Ethics, and Human Rights).  CODESEDH is a sister organization of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, with which I worked during my semester abroad in Argentina.  Although similar in their overarching mission—the protection and preservation of human rights and social justice—my experiences at the two organizations were enriching and memorable in different ways.  I thought that the bulk of my assignments at CODESEDH would involve translating documents from English to Spanish and vice verse, I was pleasantly surprised—and privileged in a way—to have had access to rather confidential material (federal court documents, and speeches and presentations by renowned Argentine social and human rights activists).  Of course, I needed these materials to complete two particular research assignments: the first concerned witnesses of crimes against humanity committed during the previous dictatorship, and the second was an investigation on violence against women throughout Argentina.  As a Global Studies major, I sincerely appreciate the Walker Grant and the Walker Committee for allowing me to continue to turn my interest in Latin American studies—and particularly in Argentina—into a beautiful and eye-opening reality.

Working on my first assignment, which required me to look for specific information about witnesses of crimes against humanity during the last dictatorship, and record it in an Excel spreadsheet.

Kelly Carrasco – Lima, Peru

Thanks to the Walker Grant, I was able to spend this JanPlan in Lima, Peru as a volunteer for La Casa de Panchita (LCP), an NGO that works to promote the rights of child, adolescent, and female domestic service workers. In their office in the district of Jesús Maria, I taught an intermediate English class on Sundays with the primary objective being that the students knew for themselves that they could learn another language, not that they mastered English. LCP places a premium on the reinforcement of self-worth and capacity because domestic service work can correlate with the detrimental belief that the worker does not have the potential to support themselves in any other occupation. In conjunction with other volunteers, I also went to the library “a space to grow” in Pamplona Alta on the outskirts of the city, part of the district of San Juan de Miraflores, where we would spend time with the children of this low-income district helping with homework, reading, doing puzzles, and playing many rounds of an improvised ball game: Mata Gente. The library is part of LCP’s effort to increase awareness within the community to the risks inherent in child domestic service work. On certain Sundays we also visited central Lima and it’sMuseum of Art and theMuseum of Italian Art, with about 30 adolescent girls from districts outside of the central zone. Some of my most memorable times in Lima were at the library with the kids, and in the kitchen at the office where I would help as the cook made the most delicious food. I plan on returning to Lima this summer to start my junior year abroad as a student at la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru with the IFSA-Butler program. 

Volunteer Anali and I at the library, after a waterfight.

Heidi Blair – Patagonia, Chile

This January, I traveled to Chilean Patagonia for a second period of field research for my honors thesis about the human impacts of HidroAysén, a project which seeks to construct five hydroelectric mega-dams on two pristine rivers in the region of Aysén.  Through interviews, I learned how residents of the small towns closest to the proposed construction sites react to the presence of this multinational powerhouse in their backyards, coming to better understand the details of social, economic, and environmental factors that meld together to form different visions, opinions, hopes, and frustrations.  I learned how people conceptualize this project as part of the system of global inequality, and I was exposed to different concepts of conservation and how they inform beliefs, judgments, and actions.  The trip challenged my previous assumptions, proved and disproved hypotheses, and introduced me to new complexities of the civil society reaction to the project.  Simply living the Patagonian lifestyle for the month helped me comprehend people’s dreams, demands, and preoccupations as they relate to the rivers, the company, and the government, and I am extremely grateful for the generous support of the Walker Grant to my honors thesis.

On a hike to see a water supply outside of Tortel.

Katy Wassam – Santiago, Chile

With the generous funding of the Walker Grant, I was able to spend this past Jan Plan in Santiago, Chile conducting field research for my honors thesis. After having completed a fall semester of library research at Colby, it was gratifying to finally explore in-depth the topic of my thesis in its home setting. My thesis studies the return of Pinochet-era exiles to Chile and the positive and negative aspects included in this long process of reintegration. In Santiago, I visited the National Library of Chile, the Library of Santiago, and the Museum of Memory to utilize the newspaper archives and other publications on return housed there. For me, the most rewarding research conducted over January was my interviews with 16 different individuals about their experience of returning to Chile years after having left in the 1970s. One of these individuals was the President of the Committee of Returned Exiles–Chile, a man who has been fighting for nearly two decades to get the Chilean State to recognize and compensate the returnees. Speaking with exiles confirmed that the difficulties I had read about last semester – the economic hardship, the disillusionment with Chilean society – were realities for many returnees. Yet my conversations with a diverse range of people also opened me to new avenues in which to view my thesis. For example, I realized that the topic of the current Chilean political system is an extremely relevant issue to returnees in Chile, and is something to incorporate into my thesis. I felt privileged this past January to have been able to listen to and record Chileans’ life histories and testimonies. The challenges of return from exile are an important yet overlooked effect of the most recent dictatorship in Chile. My Walker Grant was special because it enabled me to contribute to the process of preserving memory in Chile.

A view of Santiago from above, taken from Cerro San Cristóbal.

Burton Gildersleeve – Florianópolis, Brazil

The Walker Grant was a uniquely rewarding experience for me, and for this reason I am extremely grateful to the Latin American Studies department and Walker Grant committee.  For approximately three years now I have been very interested in learning Portuguese.  My first objective was to learn Spanish. However, after returning from Uruguay this fall of 2011, I was very anxious to develop in Portuguese. To do so nevertheless truly requires that one study abroad, in a country where the language is natively spoken.  The Walker Grant opened this door for me, allowing me to have the opportunity to travel to Brazil, and there develop my Portuguese language skills. On return, I can now honestly say that my Portuguese has developed to an advanced level.  Without the Walker Grant experience, I would not have achieved this goal, which was always a priority of mine throughout my college career. However, the effects of the program will surely outlast just my college experience, as I truly hope to utilize Portuguese not only with friends and new acquaintances both from Brazil and the U.S., but I also in my career after graduation.  In this way, the Walker Grant has made a serious impact on both my academic undergraduate experience, as well as my path as a future Colby graduate, and I am sincerely thankful to the Walker Grant committee for having such a life-changing opportunity.

The view from a hiking trip in Brazil.

Oscar Mancinas – Lima, Peru

During my month in Lima, I worked with the NGO La casa de Panchita on several projects, from each project I experienced a different scene of Lima, and, combined, these scenes formed an image of a city, who’s traditionally marginalized actors now seek more prominent roles. During my first two weeks I spent half of my time at the main office, translating documents—case transcriptions, laws regarding domestic workers, and even an anthology of poetry written by children from the most impoverished district of Lima—and the other half of my time I spent working in the San Juan de Miraflores Library. San Juan de Miraflores, as one of Lima’s most impoverished districts, serves as a microcosm for many of the social issues confronting Peru as a whole: shortage of potable water, underfunded public schools, and gender inequality; yet one wouldn’t feel any of these strains by visiting the library in the heart of the district. The children I had the privilege to work with—most of whom were between the ages of six and nine—had about them an enthusiasm and energy that amazed me. This energy, coupled with a thirst for knowledge (apart from wanting to always explore a new book of tales or learn a new game, they would often asking about my personal life, where I had grown up, what are my hobbies, even, what the tattoo on my forearm signified), made my time at the library nothing short of delightful.

When not at the library, during my third week, I assisted in the central office of LCP, serving as a translator for Micaela Alfred-Kimara, a representative of the international NGO Anti-Slavery. Ms. Alfred-Kimara came from London to Lima to host a five-day-long conference regarding the plight and prevention of child domestic workers (CDW) in Peru. Serving as a proxy between Ms. Alfred-Kimara and the participants of the conference, many of whom had come from distant parts of the country—and some who had themselves once been CDW—I learned a lot about the contradictory laws in place which prolong, or impede altogether the process through which citizens may identify and denounce unlawful practices of child domestic work. Through extensive dialogue, I helped introduce Ms. Alfred-Kimara into the base principles of Peruvian Culture and History and how the social institution of CDW remains pervasive in contemporary society. Thus not only were ideas and proposals exchanged but also cultural assumptions. I served, to put it simply, as ambassador between Anti-Slavery and La casa de Panchita, and I walked away from the conference with newfound feelings of appreciation and intimidation for the work LCP does within and outside of Lima and Peru.

I concluded each week at LCP by assisting, Sundays, in their hosting program, during which young girls, at risk of becoming CDW, would come to visit Downtown Lima and tour the art museum (MALI) and other sites. Again, during these visits I served as a sort of cultural ambassador for the girls, teaching them about their nation’s history and their rights as citizens of this country: their entitlement to partake in the beauty created by their fellow Peruvians and put on display to be appreciated as such. The girls would depart by 4 pm or so, and I would then shift my focus to my last duty of the week: a workshop in Basic English. Every Sunday I would teach English grammar and vocabulary to a group of women, all of whom worked as domestic workers, seeking to improve their status in life and in their country by learning the language of international affairs and commerce. However, inevitably, my students would ask me to talk about my country and how life is in the US. In turn, I we would exchange stories about our families and how it is we found ourselves in Lima despite having roots in places much farther away.

I would like to express my undying gratitude to the Walker Foundation for this incredible opportunity.

In front of the Library of San Juan de Miraflores

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