Reflections on life as a Jesuit Volunteer in Santiago, Chile

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ReO-DisO

Friends and family~

I recently returned from our annual “Re-orientation, Dis-orientation” retreat, which we were fortunate enough to share with the Peru volunteers up in Tacna, Peru. Cati, Adriana and I flew to Arica in the North of Chile and crossed the boarder to Tacna where the nearest other JVC volunteer community is located. We spent a week at the beach with the volunteers from Tacna and Andahuaylillas, processing the year and sharing experiences and struggles. It was a really wonderful break for all of us, and certainly helped us recommit to the values and commitments which we choose when we first applied to become international volunteers. The retreat itself was well done, but for me the highlight was simply being with other volunteers, laughing, sharing stories, and especially recognizing that the struggles I’ve faced this year with language and teaching are not unique to me.

Returning to Santiago has been bittersweet. On the one hand I come with renewed energy and also have recognized through the time away that it is really wonderful to have something to come back to…relationships that are meaningful, work that I value and a house which has become my home. On the other hand, we are entering now what will probably be the busiest part of the school year. Students will shortly be in the midst of end of the year evaluation, which means tying up loose ends, writing semester tests and submitting grades, as well as our end of the year evaluations of the academic year. Meanwhile, Adriana and I have begun planning and preparing for the arrival of the new volunteers, Emily and Carlos, who will be arriving to Santiago, December 8th (on our one-year anniversary). Between coordinating their welcomes at work sites, finding home stay families, and figuring out a plan to help orient them to live in Santiago we have our hands full.  We are, of course, supper excited to receive them and return the welcome which was showed to us upon our arrival to Santiago.

There is so much to be grateful for as I wrap up my first year in Santiago and prepare to begin anew with a new community and a second chance to be a better teacher and better volunteer. I would ask that you continue to keep us in prayer and I have a couple of special prayer requests during this time:

1) For Coni Carvajal, my host sister. Cony was diagnosed earlier this year with lupus and has been really up and down with health issues over the last several months. She is going to be hospitalized tomorrow to undergo some more testing which involves lowering her immune defenses, so she will have to stay in the hospital for a bit. She also may have to repeat the school year because of time lost. She is a wonderful girl with a very bright future, but she is facing some real challenges right now so please keep her in prayer.

2) For the arrival of Emily and Carlos. Planning in-country orientation for the new volunteers has taken me back to the feelings, hopes, fears, etc. I had when I fist arrived. Please pray for a good transition for them and that their idealism and excitement bring renewed energy for our community as well.

Thats all for now. Know that I think of you all often and keep you in my prayers from the other side of the world! Enjoy these pictures from Re-O Dis-O in Peru. The other volunteers are Asheln, Rose, Mo, Seamus and Greg (Tacna) and Sam, Mateo, Mallory and Cara (Andahuaylillas).

Hear Us!

I want to share with you all a letter that was written by Coni Carvajal, the daughter of my host family, about the current situation here in Chile regarding education reform. It was originally posted on the Chilean Jesuit blog called Territorio Abierto: Jesuitas en Formación (Open Territory: Jesuits in Formation), and has since been reposted on the San Luis Beltran (Coni’s High School) website and various other locations. I’ve translated it into English. If you’d like to read it in the original Spanish you can find it here: ¡Escúchanos! Territorio Abierto

Hear Us!

By Constanza Carvajal and Sebastian Poblete*

And the circle broke. High school representatives, after a gathering in Copiapó, decided to sit and converse with the government. But with the one condition of revising the proposals of said representatives.

We have shown that yes, we have the intention to dialogue, despite what many politicians and opinioned leaders say. And, please, hear us, because this movement has much to say and not only with words and petitions. Hear us, because this movement has awoken more than dialogue about a poor quality educational system: it has brought to the surface a profound civic discontent with a country that governs by a system that is slowly stagnating, that is slowly growing stale. A system that has dug an enormous trench between he who lives in Pudahuel and he who resides in Providencia, a model that measures happiness in percentage of profit and gross national product, that promotes consumerism and sells joy in a bottle of coca-cola while leaving hugs aside.

And we say this because those families that protest each night banging pots and pans are not only tired of the poor education of our country, but also of waiting in lines at urgent care and having little labor and social protections, of the deficient transportation system, of living in undignifying housing conditions, for the sole reason of having been born in one place rather than another.

These families are tired of a political class that doesn’t listen and that show themselves to be more preoccupied with this or that model, with this or that idea, and not with those that they represent…among them, us, shouting, as one, that a better education can break the circle of poverty.

We are all moving: of differing political colors, students of private, public and subsidized institutions. Adults, youth, rich and poor, teachers, students, moms, dads and siblings. It disturbs us that the press shows a minority of violent and unreflective youth, but not the dances and artistic demonstrations. It disturbs us that the government seems equally unreflective. If we ask ourselves, to what we owe the actions of these vandals, one thing is clear: the only thing they have known in their lives is violence, drugs, sorrow and misery.

The government treats us as intransigents and believes it is in the right, but it does not recognize that its own surveys demonstrate otherwise. It is a government that seems afraid to put into effect the solutions that everyone approves: desmunicipalización (that control of school funding be overseen directly by the federal government rather than municipal governments), tax reform, ongoing evaluation of educators. We have a government that is not wanted and opposition parties that seemingly await votes silently. The opposition has contributed nothing constructive. It seeks only to discredit.

 

What we are asking goes beyond this or that ideology. It’s a bold shout for a country with less inequality and more genuine happiness. A Chile that wants to be heard and was to transform itself. Why is the response awaited by Chilean citizens still withheld? How long will we continue to see this level of educational inequality among institutions within the same country?  Or inequality in general? When will they truly hear us?

We do not choose one model or another; we very much want to dialogue. And they are right to call us “dreamers”: dreamers of the common good and tired of the competition, dreamers of a country where a public school student has the same opportunities as a private school student, where education is based in the passing on of values and knowledge and not in how to gain more students for the sake of money. Please hear the families that have, with difficulty, sent their children to university, but that later cry, filled with the pain of seeing the door close because the debt that consumes them equals or overcomes the effort they have made to see their children rise.

We are not thinking only about ourselves, we are thinking about future generations. Because they and everyone, no matter the sector, deserve and are worthy of quality education, education that we all know drives opportunity and real development. Of people not numbers.

Hear us because we are not a troop of intransigents and useless subversives, but we are dreamers of an egalitarian, just Chile, who dream not of false progress, but the happiness of our people.

* Constanza attends a private, subsidized High School, San Luis Beltrán, in Pudahuel, a member of the popular, holistic education and social promotion movement, Fe y Alegría. Sebastian is a senior in a private, paid, High School, San Ignacio El Bosque.

Winter Break

Hey all! While most of you are hopefully enjoying the warmth and beauty of summer, we, here in Santiago, are braving the cold of winter. For some reason, the other day we pulled out the packing list we received from JVC before we left and were reading the part about winter clothing and how there is no central heating in Chile. Catherine mentioned, what I think crossed each of our minds reading those words back in the States: “well, if there is no heating it must not get that cold…if they really needed it, they would have it.” Haha…not so. After 4 years of what I thought were rough winters in Boston, I’m learning a new way of surviving the winter which involves a lot of layers of clothing, indoors and out. We recently had our winter break and it was wonderful having some time to rest after surviving my first semester of teaching.  I post this (way overdue) update now, realizing that its been way too long, but also because there are many interesting things happening hear that I’d like to share with you all.

The first is that the situation with education in Chile has been pretty crazy recently. For the past two and a half months (or so) there have been massive student protests and strikes at the university and high school levels. In more than 300 high schools (including the schools where Cati and Adriana work) the students took control and had a sort of lock in, some for weeks at a time, where all academic activities came to a halt until administrations were willing to negotiate with student demands. As an American this has all been extremely interesting because this type of culture of protest simply doesn’t exist (at least at this point in time) in the US. It is difficult to imagine the student  government at my high school for example breaking into the school, barricading the entrance and squatting until administrators were willing to meet their demands. But this has been happening on a national scale here in high schools and Universities. University students are demanding free higher education, as exists in Argentina and existed in Chile before the dictatorship. Highschoolers are demanding a more even distribution of resources to ensure quality education across the board. Apparently the federal government doesn’t oversee how education funds are used at the municipal level and so many of the poorer municipalidades don’t funnel all the money they should into their schools. It seems there are also a variety of school-particular complaints as well. The student government at Catherine’s school was demanding, among other things, improved conditions in the bathrooms and school cafeteria. Though winter break brought an end to the “tomas” in most highschools, many universities continue in protest, as do some high schools. Instituto Nacional where Gonzalo, my host brother (7th grader) attends is one example. He hasn’t had class in almost 3 months. My school has not really been affected since it is a grade school. I’ve attached some videos which my host sister, Coni showed me–she is a leader of the student government at Catherine’s school–on the situation which you can take a look at. They are in Spanish, so I apologize for those who don’t know the language, but you can see images of the marches.  

The other big event in my life was a trip to Argentina during last week of July to construct “temporary” housing with an organization called Techo para mi Pais (A Roof for my Country) (I put quotations around temporary because in reality most of these families will probably live in their temporary homes for quite some time). Techo is a Jesuit organization that started in Chile. We spent 8 days in Paraná, Argentina building houses–really very simple one room mediaguas…almost like sheds–for families living in a trash dump. The people there make a living off of scavenging for recyclables amongst the waste. Needless to say it was an impactful experience. I think I can say for all of us that went, we were left with the feeling of not having accomplished enough. A mediagua seemed like little to offer Silvia, for example, one of the women for whom I constructed. A mother of 3 girls, with her fourth on the way, Silvia has lived her whole life in the dump. Her husband recently left her and the kids in their tiny home with a cracked ceiling, dirt floor and no bathroom or running water. Fortunately Siliva has family close by to support and hopefully their new mediagua will at least provide a dry place to sleep when it rains. But the reality is that Silvia and her kids continue to live in the dump. We talked a lot about the fact that access to quality education is ultimately the foundation of the solution to the situation faced by those living in the Paraná dump…a solution which we certainly couldn’t offer with what little time  and resources we had to offer, but I hope that we left something that will make life a bit easier for Silvia. Techo will, as I understand, continue to work with this community, now trying to promote community advancement programs.

In the meantime, I’m back in Santiago with renewed energy for my work, which is education in a low-resource school.  The encounter in Argentina reminded me why I’m here and helped me to break the daily cycle of planning and grading and reflect a bit on my first semester. Since the last time I wrote, much has happened. The start of the second semester has been busy, but also less stressful because I know a bit more of what I’m doing as a teacher, I have a few more resources in place, and I know my students and colleagues, which makes a huge difference. The first semester was a challenging in many ways and I’m hoping it gets easier from here on out (I think it will). But I have to say that I really love my school. It is a very special place with dedicated teachers and a wonderful student body. There are certainly troublemakers, but overall they are really good kids and I want so many good things for their futures. I think the library is closing now, so I have to get going. I hope this update finds you all well. I’ve included some pictures of our trip to Cajon del Maipo during winter break. It’s a canyon out side of Santiago with some cute little towns. It was awesome for me to reconnect with nature. Once you get past the smog in Santiago, it really is an incredibly beautiful place I live in. Enjoy the photos.

 

First Months…

Friends and family ~ I hope this post finds you all well and enjoying the new life that Spring brings in the United States. Here in Chile, fall is upon us. Yesterday, looking over the city and surrounding hills from atop the hill where the Benedictine Monastery is situated at the northeastern edge of Santiago, I noticed for the first time the shades of red, yellow and orange of changing leaves that I’ve been so accustomed to during the Fall in Boston. Lack of much foliage where we live and where I work has somewhat hidden this sign of the changing seasons. Still, the shortening days and cold nights would be hard to miss.

I write this update during a retreat I’m making with the girls, Adriana and Cati; a chance for us to step away from our work and our lives here for a weekend and reflect on what we’ve been doing and how we’ve been living during these months. I wanted to take some time to write an update because it has been hard from me to find time to do so with the business of school and also because, I believe, it is a good exercise in reviewing the past few months since I entered my position at Instituto Padre Hurtado (IPH) at the beginning of March.

I am sorry that this update hasn’t come sooner, especially for all those who might be wondering if I fell off the planet. The truth is that being a first year teacher, and doing so in a foreign language has been tremendously time consuming and exhausting. Time since March has gone by in a whirlwind. After a restful and gentle process of easing into life in Chile during the summer months, we hit the ground running. I was received at my school with open arms by both students and staff. There was a certain buzz of excitement about having a gringo teaching English for the first time at IPH. I tried not to let this go to my head. There is a fascination with US culture here, especially among the children, I think partly because of the huge influence of US culture through movies, television and music and partly because of an idealized though not entirely inaccurate image of the standard of living in the US and a view that English is the universal language.

So this fascination extended to me as well and I think it was increased by my height and blond hair, various factors that had nothing to do with my character or what I’d done (yet) in the school. That was interesting to think about and it made me want to do my job well and offer something real so that I could live up to this image based on what I’d accomplished not the genetics or culture that I brought with me.

I soon discovered, what I already knew (in my head but not experientially prior to March), that first year teaching is difficult. It’s difficult for anyone, but my situation presented some special challenges, the first of which being the language barrier. Prior to my arrival in Chile several people had assured me that it will be nice to be teaching English because I’ll mostly be able to talk in English to the kids in class. Yeah…not the case. The level of English in my school is pretty poor. At IPH they teach English from 5th to 8th grade and prior to my arrival they’d had primary education teachers who’d filled the role of English teacher but didn’t really know the language. So I brought this expertise with me, which is nice, but also a lack of real fluency in Spanish. I grew confident early on that I could run a class in Spanish (I also have the help of a Chilean colleague in class)—which by the way was a tremendous landmark in my growing knowledge and confidence with the language—but deepening my ability with Spanish is also a constant goal to aid in communication in the classroom and my effectiveness as a teacher, and also to allow for greater depth in relationships with the Chileans who are my colleagues and friends.

As I said, I’m teaching 5th through 8th grade which I’ve learned (or remembered) is a very challenging age group. The fifth and sixth graders are still interested in everything though they struggle with attention spans. Seventh and eight grade are more difficult because they’ve now reached the age of being “bacanes” (that’s Chilean for “too cool” for everything). It seems also that there is a little disillusionment with English for the older kids. The lack of a good English program at my school means the kids haven’t advanced much and many seem to have the attitude that it is just too difficult and that they can’t do it. So motivating is integral to the teaching process as well. I suppose it always is. Once the initial excitement over my presence wore off, I had a number of kids, especially in 7th and 8th who began acting out. When they don’t understand they just give up and begin being disruptive. The class sizes here are quite large. My smallest class is 28 students and the largest ones have 42 each. Keeping all the students engaged has proven challenging and made more difficult by trying to keep discipline in a foreign language. The kids sometimes find it difficult to take me seriously when I raise my voice in Spanish (not without reason…I can only imagine what I must sounds like sometimes).

Classroom management has been a constant point of anxiety as it is a skill I’m learning in process, not one that I arrived with. I feel like we’ve lost much time simply trying to gain order in the classroom. It has been nice to hear that it is an issue across the board and not just with my classes. I spoke with my principle—who by the way is the best, most supportive and inspirational woman that I could have asked for as a boss—about the discipline issue a while back and she put things in perspective for me. She told me about the reality in the surrounding schools in Huechurraba. Sure we have kids who act out in class and don’t listen from time to time (or all the time as the case may be), but some of the nearby schools are dealing with knives being brought to school and real fights between students and students simply not showing up. I read recently about a school in Renca where a group of highschoolers who’d been terrorizing many of their classmates actually took over the school by force (with weapons, etc.) and the ministry of education had to go in and take control. These are not the type of problems we face at IPH. Our students show up. We have a pretty impressive attendance rate actually. Overall they want to learn. They roughhouse, but I have yet to see or hear about, much less break up, a real fight. Sure, classroom behavior affects their education and needs to be addressed, but if, at the end of the day the kids leave having learned nothing in class, but having had a safe environment and having been feed and shaped a little more into respectable human beings we’ve accomplished an important purpose, I suppose the most important purpose. I keep try to measure my success by how much English is being learned. Claudia certainly cares about education, but speaks with true pride that none of the kids go home hungry because we don’t know what or if they’ll be fed once they leave the school. In reality many of the students do go home to challenging family situations. I’m trying to learn patience and how to maneuver conversations around discipline because often these are the ones that act out the most and if I constantly loose my temper with them, which would be easy to do, I defeat the purpose of why I’m here in the first place, to work with and for precisely them.

Overall I have to say that I really do love my school. I work with a very good supportive and committed staff who have really taken me in and cared for me during this time of transition. And it is evident that they are grateful for my presence. The kids are wonderful, albeit rambunctious. It has been really beautiful to see relationships slowly forming with them in and outside the classroom. Despite whatever challenges with discipline I’ve faced, they are really good kids and overall pretty respectful. Claudia mentioned recently that one of the graces of children is that they rupture and repair friendships so quickly, which allows for a difficult moment or confrontation in the classroom to be forgotten once the bell rings.

There is much more that I want to write, but if this gets much longer you aren’t going to read it. I will try to post some more stories and reflections soon, also about my social work placement with at risk youth in Cerro Navia. Thank you to all those who have been praying for me and my community and continue to do so. It has been felt. Know that I am doing well and I’m hoping the hardest part is now over as I become better at my job and better with Spanish each day.

The South

Lago Todos Los Santos

Hey everyone! I suppose it’s about time for a new blog post. I’ve been meaning to do it for a couple of weeks, but I thought it would also be good to wait until after I started work to share a bit more about my school and work with Hogar de Cristo, but, after typing this I’ve realized I have way to much to say and so I’m going to break it into two parts anyway for the sake of time (and so that you’ll actually read it). This post will be about our travels in the South during February and the next (to come very shortly I hope) will be about the beginning of school and work with Hogar de Cristo. For now know that all is well in my work placements although they are challenging for sure.

First, I wanted to inform all of you that it appears as if someone has hacked my gmail account. I got a notice when I tried to log in last week that Google had frozen my account and it appears that a virus or something sent out an e-mail on my behalf with a link. I’m so sorry if you received it…it wasn’t from me. I seem to have fixed the situation with Google, but if you received that e-mail please delete it and don’t open the link. I’m sorry for the junk mail. Believe me when I say getting the account back online was even more of a pain for me!

So the past month has been filled with many wonderful (and some stressful) experiences including trying to get our house in living condition, traveling a bit in the south of Chile during February vacation, preparing for and starting work at Instituto Padre Hurtado in Huechuraba, and celebrating my first birthday in Chile with a surprise party thrown by my Chilean host family (thank you, by the way, for all the birthday wishes via e-mail and facebook…it was meaningful to receive all the love and feel connected to all of you on that day).

Market in Valdivia

Throughout this e-mail and at the end I’ve posted some pictures from our travels in the South. February is vacation month in Santiago and a large percentage of the city heads to the beaches or to the South to beat the heat. Since this is the time we had to travel a little before starting work, Adriana, Catherine and I took an 11 hr., overnight bus to the Lake District. We visited Valdivia first and then moved on to Puerto Mont where we stayed with the family of our friend Pablo (a student at the Jesuit University in Santiago, who lived with Catherine last year).  Valdivia was cool. It is a town built at the intersection of two rivers, which feed, a little bit outside of town, into the Pacific Ocean. We visited the botanic garden of the University there, the Kunstman Cervecería (brewery), the historic coastal Fort of Niebla, and did a little boat tour down the river, to the ocean, to the Island of Corral and back. It was so nice to see vegetation and breath the fresh air after being immersed for 2 months in Santiago smog. The German influenced food was also a definite highlight.

Pablo's House

After Valdivia we moved on to Puerto Mont, another coastal town a bit farther South. Pablo’s parents and sister live there in a house which they have constructed by hand and is still in the process of being finished. The house is south of town in the forest about a 5-minute walk from the bay. I think all of us were inspired by the simplicity of the way they choose to live off the forest. Much of their furniture was constructed by hand from wood found nearby. They use a woodstove to heat the house and cook with when they can (though they have a gas stove and oven as well). Spending time with them got us thinking about how we want to live “green” as a volunteer community in Santiago, which is something that has become more and more important to me over the past couple of years and especially through my work with BC immersion trips in Puebla, MX. Though living in the city we will have to get creative with what this looks like, I think it is something that Cati, Adriana and I are all committed to, so we’ll see how things unfold. Pablo’s family also happened to have some extended family in the area so had a big celebration one day with a Curanto, a traditional way of cooking seafood from the South of Chile, which involves heating rocks in a fire and burying them in the ground with all the oysters, clams, etc. Yum.

From Puerto Mont we visited Los Saltos (waterfalls) de Petrohue which sit near the base of Volcán Osorno. I think the pictures will speak for themselves, but it was incredibly beautiful. Right near there in the same national park is Lago Todos Los Santos. The lake was this incredible turquoise (no I didn’t alter the color of the pictures) apparently produced from copper sulfate that sits at the bottom of the water. The beach consists of black and red volcanic rock from Volcán Osorno. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in my life. Our day at Petrohue was absolutely my favorite of the trip as anyone who knows me well knows how much I love being out in nature. It was rejuvenating being able to escape the city for a bit and see some of the beauty of the rest of Chile. I think traveling was a very special time for us to bond as a community as well since we are still in the early part of our time together. I think has helped create a foundation of support that we will carry with us into the challenges and joys of work this year.

As I said, I hope to post again shortly about the beginning of school so stay tuned.

Peace and Love from Chile,

Jake

New Beginnings

Valparaíso at Sunset

Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. I’ve been caught up in a million things. A Happy New Years! is in order. I hope the new year finds you all well and flourishing in your respective jobs, classes and places in life. Here, 2011 has been a great year so far, filled with much celebration and love. We spent New Years in Viña del Mar, a beautiful coastal town due west of Santiago, celebrating with both Chilean friends and some other gringos. Catherine’s sisters were visiting from the States and two volunteers who just finished in Peru were also in the area beginning a tour of South America before returning home. Some of the Chileans affectionately referred to us as the US embajada (embassy) because we were a group of 8 gringos. It was wonderful to get out of the city a bit and see the coast, not to mention that New Years was unreal. Viña and Valparaíso have basically South America’s version of Times Square with tons of people on the beach and an incredible fireworks show, easily the best I’ve ever seen in my life.

Returning to Santiago, reality set in a bit more. When I last posted I was living with a Chilean host family, who have truly become my family here. The Carvajals have not only welcomed me into their home, but into their hearts. Saying goodbye when I moved out in the beginning of January was surprisingly difficult. Fortunately I’ve been able to see them regularly. We celebrated Cony’s 16th birthday last week and she asked me to be her padrino (godfather) for confirmation. I felt honored and am excited to begin this journey with her. Since I moved out, I’ve been living in a house which is an intentional Christian community of Chilean students and also where Catherine and Isabel (the JVs) had been living the past year. For the past several weeks we had been searching pretty heavily for a house of our own, but without much success. A bit of stress and discouragement was setting in because, besides taping internet resources and newspapers, Adriana and I were literally going door to door in cornerstones in some of the communities in which we were interested in living and finding nothing—the joys of being a JV in a still developing volunteer site. There are houses for sale but, few to rent and even fewer which are the size we need, in the type of community we want to be in for the sake of solidarity, that will be safe for us as foreigners and affordable on a volunteer budget. Well, to make a long story short, after weeks (and months for Catherine) of searching, because life is ridiculous and God works in strange ways, three houses basically fell in our lap the same day, a little over a week ago. For various reasons we we’ve decided to go with the one located in Estación Central. Now we are in the process of cleaning, and purchasing everything we need for the house because, Chile, being a new volunteer site has absolutely nothing. Although we signed the lease last week we haven’t moved in yet because we don’t even have beds, a refrigerator, or stove. Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll have secured these basics. Thank you to those who have been praying for our house search. We are all very happy with the house and feel like it has been an answer to prayer and will be a place where the volunteers feel at home, hopefully for many years to come. More on the house and pictures to come…

For those who have been wondering about my mailing address here, we finally have a house and therefore an address. The thing is, I don’t know how mail works exactly. I think they probably throw it inside our gate which means things could possibly blow away if it gets windy, so, if you have something important and especially a package to send it is better to send it to the office of Fe y Alegria which is the following (I’ll get it here, I just don’t make trips down town to the office every day):

"The Refuge"

Hills of Valparaíso

Jake Schneider
Attn: Guillermo Soto
Fe y Alegria Chile
Alonso Ovalle 1480, piso 3
Comuna de Santiago
Chile

The address of the house is:

Jake Schneider
Av Manuel Rivas Vicuña 460
Estación Central, Santiago
Chile

 

Mail seems to be taking about a month to get here from the US right now. Apparently this is very slow compared to earlier last year. On another logistics note, we’re in the process of securing visas to remain (legally) here in Chile once our tourist visas expire in March. Again, since Chile is a new location, we’re trying to figure out exactly how to do this. Since Cathrine is here with a work visa and Fe y Alegria gets taxed heavily, although Catherine doesn’t actually get paid, Adriana and I are applying for religious visas. Hopefully it works. If not we might be making a weekend trip to Argentina for my birthday…no, we should be fine by the time March roles around.

I haven’t said much yet (in the previous post or this one) about how the experience here in Chile has been for me so far and so I wanted to share some observations that I’ve been making in the month and a half of being here. First, Santiago is different, I think, from any other international volunteer site in our program. When I first applied for international service I pictured myself living in a more rural setting, serving in a location where there is just an utter lack of resources, perhaps even to the point of basic material needs. In this respect, there are certainly places in the world much “worse off” than the Santiago. Not that this matters. There is certainly great need here which is visible in the schools and services sites where we work and in the community we live. But what is striking here is the contrast which exists (not unlike many areas of the US). Last week, for the first time since I arrived I ventured to the East side of Santiago (we live on the far West side) to Providencia and Las Condes. We went to attend a certain Mass, but when we arrived I was hit by a wave of what I think was probably reverse culture shock. Coming up out of the metro I was taken aback first by the grass and trees. Where we live in Pudahuel there is just dirt and lots of it. You walk in it—your shoes or feet are always dusty—you breath it, it settles on everything in the house when you have the windows open. I never really considered grass a symbol or indicator of wealth, but it makes sense. At least in Santiago’s climate it indicates access to excess water. Walking around looking at the beautiful houses without graffiti and parks and then the incredible campus of the Jesuit school where the Mass was held (much nicer than my highschool) and just the clothes people were wearing, I began to feel overwhelmed. Also people’s skin was whiter, like mine, which meant I didn’t stick out nearly as much. I was surprised because each of these facets were no different from the culture from which I came just weeks ago yet I felt like I was in a dream. It was in a way familiar and comfortable. Part of me longed for the comfort and the beauty of intentionally designed and landscaped neighborhoods and malls and money to spend at restaurants and on clothes, while at the same time feeling a bit guilty and knowing this is not why I’ve come to Chile. I’ve come to know the poverty that many people live here and to offer what I can in the work of empowerment and liberation.

This weekend we (Cati, Adriana and I) had our first real community retreat at a Benedictine monastery here. We reflected on what our life together will look like when we move in to our new house and how we are being called to live, particularly, the JVC pillar of simple living in our volunteer context. I think what came to the forefront for each of us was that in Santiago, unlike in some other locations where we might have gone to serve, the choice of a simple lifestyle and solidarity with the communities in which we live and work is truly a choice that we, individually and as a community, need to make. It isn’t a lifestyle that is going to be dictated simply by lack of options or lack of access. In some ways, this makes it more difficult to proceed and calls us to greater discernment of who we want to be as Jesuit Volunteers, but I think there is beauty in that, that hopefully looking back we’ll be able to say that our lives witnessed to an alternative way of living because we chose to live so. That’s what real discernment is about: freedom.

¡Bienvenidos!


Well, it’s been a little over a week since we arrived in Chile and it is about time for a blog update. I intended to send out an e-mail before I left home, but as you can imagine things got pretty crazy in the final days and then I was caught up in the whirlwind that has been my life here so far. Though it’s only been ten days I feel like there is much to share. Honestly I feel like I’ve been here for a much longer period of time. In order to fill you in on some of the details, this post will be mostly informative. I hope to be a bit more “reflective” in the future. So where to begin…

Travels here were incredibly smooth. I anticipated running into some sort of difficulties along the way—between US security screening, international travel and luggage packed to maximum—but there wasn’t a single glitch from the departure out of Denver on Tuesday, 12/7, to meeting Adriana Moreno (fellow volunteer who will be with me in Chile for the next two years) in Atlanta, to arriving to a warm welcome in Santiago on Wednesday morning, 12/8. Catherine Curley (Cati), a volunteer who has been here for the past year and will be living with Adriana and I, met us at the airport and took us back to her current house where we began “phase 2,” our in-country orientation.

Orientation here has consisted of a variety of activities, from getting to know the area, to getting to know our work placements and the community which Cati has been apart of for the last year. Adriana and I are currently staying with host families. It has been a wonderful way of getting to know the culture and (especially for me) the language. My family, the Carvajals, have taken very good care of me. They are all such warm and loving and funny and patient people. I feel really blessed to be building relationships with them that I’m sure will last throughout my time here and beyond. I live with David and Eli, their children: Nico (20), Coni (15) and Gonzalo (12), Eli’s sisters: Andrea and Juani, grandma Rosa, and Nico’s girlfriend Belén who came to live here when her family’s home in the south collapsed due to the earthquake. Needless to say there is always a lot happening in the house and never a dull moment. We live in a suburb (so to speak) of Santiago called Pudahuel. This is where Cati has been living and working for the past year although it looks as if we will be moving out of this area in January after our home stays have finished. We are still looking for a house. It has proven rather difficult to find a house big enough, affordable enough, for rent, and in an area which will allow us to remain in solidarity with the people we are working with. Please keep this in prayer as it is becoming more pressing as our time to move grows closer.

Last week we visited our future work placements. In Chile all the volunteers (meaning the three of us because we are the first ones here) work for Fe y Alegria Schools 4 days a week and 1 day a week with a community center in Cerro Navia which belongs to Hogar de Cristo, a Catholic Chilean social service agency. It is nice to finally have some certainty about what the next two years will hold in terms of work. It looks like I’ll be teaching English to 5th through 8th graders at Instituto Alberto Hurtado, a Catholic grade school in Huechuraba and helping out with extracurriculars, tutoring, etc. Adriana and I got to watch the kids perform their end of the year Christmas program on Friday. It seems like a beautiful community with a very dedicated faculty and staff although resources are obviously limited. In Cerro Navia I will be working with an outreach program to street youth. I will meet with the director of the program to work out details after Christmas, but I will be accompanying full time staff in engaging, building relationships with, mentoring, etc., boys who live off the streets. It promises to be a very intense but meaningful ministry.

Meanwhile, we’ve been getting to know Santiago and attempting to build some community as well. Santiago sits in a valley with the snow capped Andes to the east and “the hills” to the west. The surroundings are gorgeous but there is a lot of pollution which causes haze on most days obscuring the view (I hear its even worse in the winter). The city has some very beautiful parts, but many which are also run down and with a lot of trash and graffiti. Slowly we are exploring more of our surroundings, recognizing that we have two years so we don’t need to do everything at once. Adriana, Cati and I also made a day retreat last weekend at the Santuario where San Alberto Hurtado (a Chilean Jesuit Saint) is buried. It was a fruitful time of getting to know one another more deeply as we prepare to build our own community. We will move in together in the beginning of January once our homestays have finished.

One last thing before I cut off…Spanish is coming along. It is by no means easy. It takes a lot of concentration for me right now which is exhausting and I’m getting used to never understanding 100% of what is said to me. Group situations where many people are speaking or there is a lot of background noise are still super difficult and also when microphones are beings used. That said, I can tell that it is improving each day which is encouraging and motivating. My family has been a huge help as they are really patient and continue to engage me even when we have difficulty understanding one another. Every day I’m learning new words and expressions and my use of grammar is becoming quicker. We start language school tomorrow so hopefully that will help a lot.

That’s about it for now. After the holidays when things cool down a bit and I am a bit more settled I hope to post again with more reflection on the experience thus far. I’ve attached some pictures taken over the last week and a half. To give some context, I attended two end of the year award ceremonies for Gonzalo and Coni because they received recognition for highest grades in the class and student most committed to the spirit of the school respectively. At the award ceremony they had a performance of a native Chilean dance. We also recently had a fiesta at Cati’s house to celebrate her birthday. The rest of the pictures are just hanging out with the family. At some point (when I take some) I’ll post pictures of Santiago and the area where we live.

Thank you all for your support and prayers. So far so good!

Colorado

Now approaching the end of my time in Colorado, I’m amazed at how these months have flown by. My work has kept me busier than I originally anticipated, but has also enriched my time here in so many ways. This will be my last week at Imagine and I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to say goodbye (in case you haven’t read the previous post, I’ve been working in a residence for adults with developmental disabilities). I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that these individuals, whom I’ve cared for and who also have shaped me and taught me so much about ministry of presence and patience and attentiveness, have left an imprint on my heart. Still, I know this was meant to be a time of preparation and anticipation, not a permanent state of being, and now I must begin looking more seriously toward the next chapter: Chile.

As my departure draws closer daily, I find myself looking back and looking forward. I left orientation back in August with such energy and excitement about my volunteer placement. Chile has never been far from my thoughts, but I’ve found a rhythm of life here which I feel may make the transition more challenging in certain ways than if I had simply left with the momentum of orientation. So I’ve been looking for ways to regain that momentum. It has come in the form of conversations with good friends who have inspired me and who continue to do so, including volunteers who are presently in the field and still here in the states (two of my best friends, Charles and Crystal, are currently serving in Micronesia and the Philippines and hearing the joys and struggles of their work during these months has meant a lot). I’ve been able to communicate with some regularity with Adriana and Catherine, my future community mates. I’ve also found inspiration in my parents who will certainly be difficult to say goodbye to, but who have raised me to want to do this sort of work and who continue to encourage and support me. The beauty of Colorado has brought me great consolation and peace and, though it would be nice to stay for a while, it excites me to think of the beauty of a new country and a new people that awaits. I don’t yet have cold feet about leaving, but then I still have three weeks (the departure date is now set for Dec. 7th!). I’m sure nervousness will come. In the meantime I’ll finish off my last week of work, followed by a week of wedding celebration with my brother in Florida, and a final week of preparations and goodbyes.

I’ve posted these pictures which I’ve taken around where I live so that all you who are far away can enjoy the beauty of Colorado too. I’ll try to post some pictures from Rocky Mountain National Park if I make it up there before I take off.

 

 

In The Field

Periodically JVC International publishes a newsletter entitled “In The Field,” which gets sent to all the volunteers abroad (as well as those of us still in the states). I wrote this reflection for the previous edition which went out in early October, and I wanted to share it with you all…

The challenge of the late departure volunteer is discovering how to walk the line between living in the present and anticipation of the future. By the end of orientation back in July I couldn’t help the overwhelming sense that now I am a Jesuit Volunteer and, still, a month and a half later, thoughts of my departure for Santiago (and what awaits there) never seem to far from my consciousness. Yet, here I am, back in Longmont, CO, the home of my childhood, trying to discover the meaning that these next three or four months hold for my life. For me, finding that balance between present and future has often taken the form of reflecting on how these months are preparing me for what lies ahead. So, I wanted to share briefly about one way I’ve found myself being equipped for my life and my work in Santiago…

I recently began working for Imagine!, a local organization which provides a variety of services to individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities. It was a natural choice for employment during this time since I’d worked for them before, albeit in a different capacity. Whereas previously I’d helped with a recreational program for kids, I am now working in a group home for adults. What surprised me throughout my training was how often there arose rather difficult philosophical questions around the grey area between being a service provider and being an educator who empowers the residents toward greater independence, freedom, and ownership of their lives.

I imagine it would be easy go into this work with a condescending attitude (whether or not its verbalized), i.e., to see the residents primarily as individuals who can’t care for themselves and therefore need someone else—me, I suppose—to figure out what’s best for them. Matt, my supervisor, challenged us, while there is no shortage of people in their lives telling our residents what is important for them, it is equally critical, perhaps even more so, that we be asking what is important to them. What gives them meaning in their lives? What are their goals for themselves? And how can we be a support in helping them realize those goals?

I think part of the reason this all struck me so deeply was that I a recently finished reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I picked up after orientation. Although the DD community is not an oppressed population in Freire’s sense of the term, the parallels in his methodology of education and my role at Imagine!, as I’ve seen it so far, are striking. And I can’t help but feel that I have much to learn from the residents with whom I work about the right attitude I should be bringing with me to Chile. Mostly, I think this involves not allowing my education or perceived status get in the way of recognizing the equal dignity and, especially the free agency of another human being, no matter how “lowly” or “simple” by worldly standards. It takes real humility to empower rather than impose solutions. As Freire puts it,

“A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust. Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly…. To affirm this commitment but to consider oneself the proprietor of revolutionary wisdom—which must be given to (or imposed on) the people—is to retain the old ways. The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of liberation yet is unable to enter into communion with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as totally ignorant, is grievously self-deceived.”

~Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 60-61

I hope that I can continue to carry this lesson with me and begin embrace it more deeply.

A Callarse (Keeping Quiet)

Ahora contaremos doce                             Now we will count to twelve
y nos quedamos todos quietos.                and we will all keep still.

Por una vez sobre la tierra                          This one time upon the earth,
no hablemos en ningún idioma,              let’s not speak any language,
por un segundo detengámonos,              let’s stop for one second,
no movamos tanto los brazos.                  and not move our arms so much.

Seria un minuto fragante,                           It would be a delicious moment,
sin prisa, sin locomotoras,                          without hurry, without locomotives,
todos estaríamos juntos                              all of us would be together
en una inquietud instantánea.                  in a sudden uneasiness.

Los pescadores del mar frío                       The fishermen in the cold sea
no harían daño a las ballenas                    would do no harm to the whales
y el trabajador de la sal                                 and the peasant gathering salt
miraría sus manos rotas.                             would look at his torn hands.

Los que preparan guerras verdes,            Those who prepare green wars,
guerras de gas, guerras de fuego,             wars of gas, wars of fire,
victorias sin sobrevivientes,                       victories without survivors,
se pondrían un traje puro                           would put on clean clothing
y andarían con sus hermanos                   and would walk alongside their brothers
por la sombra, sin hacer nada.                   in the shade, without doing a thing.

No se confunda lo que quiero                   What I want shouldn’t be confused
con la inacción definitiva:                          with final inactivity:
la vida es solo lo que se hace,                     life alone is what matters,
no quiero nada con la muerte.                   I want nothing to do with death.

Si no pudimos ser unánimes                     If we weren’t unanimous
moviendo tanto nuestras vidas,                about keeping our lives so much in motion,
tal vez no hacer nada una vez,                   if we could do nothing for once,
tal vez un gran silencio pueda                   perhaps a great silence would
interrumpir esta tristeza,                             interrupt this sadness,
este no entendernos jamás                        this never understanding ourselves
y amenazarnos con la muerte,                  and threatening ourselves with death,
tal vez la tierra nos enseñé                          perhaps the earth is teaching us
cuando todo parece muerto                       when everything seems to be dead
y luego todo estaba vivo.                             and then everything is alive.

Ahora contare hasta doce                           Now I will count to twelve
y tu te callas y me voy.                                 and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

~Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda is a famous Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. I first encountered this poem as part of an evening prayer during JVC orientation. It really struck me so I wanted to share it.

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