EVS Volunteer in Colombia
A DIFFERENT SUMMER.
August is the Italian month of summer, so logging in on facebook I could see a bunch of photos of my friends relaxing or dancing on a sunny beach. Well here is winter, it is raining quite often and I am as pallid as if it was January….
That was just to say that time perception changes a lot around the world and I’m feeling a bit confused, especially because, going back home in December, I’m missing the first summer of my life!
No more chatting! During this month, I had the opportunity to get deeper in my teaching activity, improving my feeling with the students and implementing non-traditional funny classes, made of conversations, videos, karaoke and games.
During the first weekend, together with Margherita, we travelled to Tunja, capital of the department of Boyacà. We also visited Paipa and the amusing Paramo of La Rusia, at an altitude of 4000 metres, an ecologic paradise populated by the endemic plant “frailejon”, a water provider which capturing it from the fog, is responsible for a high quantity of available water of the country. We spent the night there, enjoying the spectacular view from our cabana and suffering the low temperature.
The month of august was much about projecting activity as the NGO is leading a group made of touristic operators, willing to form a new company, which would benefit from a public tax relief program “ZOMAC” (Zona mas aftectada por el conflicto armado). My task is mainly to study useful documents, make researches, and diagnostics, taking active part to the planning and decision process.
As always, I’ve hold meetings with the students involved in the GAL’s project “Jovenes Emprendedores”, coordinating their activities and evaluating advances. Within the project of the cabañita la libertad, together with the guys, we had two meeting with the cottage’s owner, dealing how to manage it, under which contract and defining the investment he is going to grant. For what concerns the project “Valle de Tenza” I have worked with the students in the information seeking activity, mostly functioning as a messenger between them and GAL’s associated.
I spent the second last week of August in Guayata, headquarter of Arraigo project, supporting the other volunteers with their activities. It was a pleasure to help them organizing their participation to the Mogolla festival (the Mogolla is a local product; let’s say a kind of donut without the hole). We managed the Arraigo stand, selling gastronomic products prepared by the families of the kids involved in the project. Also, we the volunteers were wearing the traditional peasants’ dress and sombrero, looking just as “campesinas guayatunas”. The kids’ participation was so great that we achieved a complete sold out! I had the chance to support Margherita and Carmen during their classes in the local schools and other activities. The time spent in the volunteer’s house has been great!
We spent the last weekend of August in Garagoa, where Marta lives and works, enjoying the biggest town of Valle de Tenza, definitely more animated.
JULY: birds, projects and English classes
As my colleague Eibar always says, I became a public figure in Santa Maria, and the month of July is much about this. During the first two weeks, I visited the local school, meeting different groups of different grades, thanks to the kind assistance of my host Nelly (also informatics teacher). Broadly, I happened to introduce myself to students from 11th to 17th years old, telling them about my education, my working experience and my interests. The idea was to show them the range of the existent possibilities in a wide-open world, namely the mobility programs such as Erasmus + and EVS, the traveling options and job’s opportunity. In addition, we used this time to consider the differences between South America and Europe, and more specifically between Colombia and Italy. The students showed a very positive attitude, asking all sorts of questions (about politics, gastronomy, habits, geography etc.), some of which sounds comic: Do the Europeans take shower every day? Or…Are there any fat people? This was a good occasion to point out some of the unique characteristics and products of Colombia and Santa Maria, to make them conscious of their heritage. In other two occasion I supported the local school, by assisting the teacher during an English class and by offering the professors a brief lecture on human rights (as they were interested in my previous experience in Amnesty International).
During these last weeks, I deepened my knowledge, by all the meanings. I got to know the territory: natural resources, local economy, networks, projects, local culture, this was only possible thanks to my mentor, my colleagues, my new friends and all the actors involved. One of the most interesting process is finalized to the consolidation of the birdwatching knowledge and activity in Santa Maria, channelling the community efforts towards the creation of a touristic destination focused on this theme. That’s why some of the people involved are benefiting from a birdwatching course, offered by the institute SENA and financed by the Hydroelectric company AES. I had the opportunity to participate in some classes, showing my very scarce talent in focusing with binoculars; by the way, now I can recognize some species of birds, obviously only by their common name in Spanish: mochilero, comequeso, azuleto, chulo, gallito de roca…. (Don’t ask me for the scientific Latin names please!).
I started following the graduation projects managed by some students in partnership with Descubrir NGO, they’re focused on the identity building, event organization and touristic guidance. On Fridays, I held meetings with the young entrepreneurs (inside the GAL framework and the microcredit program led by Karen), in order to develop their business ideas. One of these concerns the administration of a touristic cottage kindly provided by the owner to a couple of brothers (a girl and a boy) part of a family victim of the Colombian conflict. During the 22-23th weekend the other volunteers came visiting Santa, being the first guests of the cottage, called “cabaňita la Libertad”. We had some “rumba” at the local disco, and a funny after-party in the cottage, where Carmen and Margherita showed their dancing skills. We also went walking to the creek “La Cristalina” together with the hosting guys, Karen and her sister Ivette (also part of the cabanita project). Despite the rain, we had a kind of bath in the freezing, streaming water.
On the 24th started the English course provided by me and directed to two groups of students, composed of touristic operators and students involved in the process. Each group benefit from a class twice a week; the methodology of the course try to be as compelling as possible, focusing on direct dialogue.
Thanks to the kind teaching of Karen, I learned how to cook the super typical Arepa, a kind of corn pancake, made with rennet. By the way, the best ever is still the don Victor’s Arepa, available at the “asadero” settled in front of the NGO office, place of constant temptation. Don Victor’s little daughter Sharick is a 7 years old honeybee, always strolling and snooping around in the office. She captures random English words, quickly memorizing them and, at the end of the class, she leaves very impressive drawings of birds on the blackboards.
EL MES DEL DESCUBRIMIENTO
One page is not enough to report all the events occurred during these first two weeks, neither the feelings nor the discoveries. That Air Europa flight brought me to another dimension, another world living seven hours in the past. 15 days of shifting changes, as we arrived in Bogotá everything was going a thousand time faster, our tongues were suddenly speaking differently. We got to know each other, within volunteers (Carmen and Margherita) and Liliana, who’ll be my supervisor in a week or so, we appreciated a cold shower, we shared a room as if we weren’t strangers, bizarrely ready for a brand new day. The day after, Bogotá looked even bigger, coming and going by bus and taxies, at a point we were up on a panoramic street and the city appeared spread over the entire plateau. When Marta arrived, we were complete and we could leave the metropolis, towards Guayata, the real starting point of this exiting experience.
If I have to choose three words to describe this first intensive staying, then it would be people, coffee and… ants. Let’s start from the ants, we ate them, and they attacked me. The “hormigas culonas de Santander” are a delicious appetizer if you dare to try them, except for the little crunchy paws. By the way, Carmen owns tapes to prove our courage, and our enthusiasm obviously. The other part of the story is way less funny (or maybe not), it deals with my passion for ant’s nests. The first I stepped on was the lethal one, hundreds of ants biting my ankle while I was jumping and throwing my boots, as if it was a shark attack. Soon after, it was all over, although my feet persisted being fatally attracted by every nest on the path.
Coffee, coffee and coffee. Coffee trees, coffee factory, cafeteria. El Café Fonzaque is a unique product of Guayata, our visit at the “Finca” was amazing, as we learned about the stages of the production process, we tasted it and made a discovery: Coffee is NOT black, not before its roasting! That same coffee is the one we have tasted every day in Cafeteria Fonzaque, managed by Benjamin, a cheerful, proactive man, with a past tied to the Colombian complex history, a bright mind and a positive attitude. Coffees. We drunk 5 during one lunch, at the Finca of Don Armando in SutaTenza, where we met all the actor tied to GAL Valletenzano, enjoying a great time and a warm, warm welcoming.
Here’s the moment of the people. Paola and Quique did a great job to integrate us in the local context, also spoilering what Marta and I would have found in Garagoa and Santa Maria. We deepened our knowledge of EVS, Younic project, GAL Valletenzano and got all the logistic information. We finally met Mario, manager of the GAL and our only kind – of- mythical contact with this Colombian adventure up until a couple of weeks ago. We met Jehiner, coordinator of Arraigo project. Moreover, I met my host Nelly, my mentor Karen and Liliana again, who took me in Santa Maria to my new home. As I write these lines, a week has passed since my arrival in Santa. Nelly’s family, my host, welcomed me so warmly, with a cup of aromatica, a rich dinner and some Guateque’s craft beers we got on the way. I met Eibar, an associate of Descubrir ONG, who taught me the first notions of the local wildlife and a beat of indigenous history. The day after I got to know Santa, strolling the streets and meeting Karen’s family, which is giving me lunch and a great time every day. On Wednesday the 28 th I had my first encounter with nature, the very early awakening definitely worth the touristic walk given by Descubrir for a group of three hikers from Antioquia. Together with Liliana and Carol & Dayana, two 15 YO treinees from the school, we guided them to the
awesome waterfall “Cascada de la 70”, to the “Embalse la Esmeralda” house of the Chivor Hydro Plant and finally to the “Cristalina”. The week ended by cleaning and settling the new NGO’s office, a wide space with a great aggregating potential. For the weekend the volunteers’ team came together in Bogota, to enjoy a crowded, heated journey made of heavy metal concert, busy buses, street food, hipster urbanity and a super hosting from Jehiner’s family in their apartment.
In a nutshell, June was definitely the month of the discovery, o sea el mes para Descubrir!
“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view”.
Rome, Friday 16th June 2017
Far from being just another sententious quote, this is drawn from one of my favourite novels: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This simple, short sentence perfectly represents that impulse underlying my motivation. EVS in Colombia is an opportunity for exploring, by living a direct experience and plunging into a diverse community. My expectations are a messy mixture of imagination, envisages, desires, energy and emotions, which is hardly describable. Let’s give it a shot:
I expect to go through a growth experience
I expect to learn from each other and to act as a group
I expect to develop a constructive program achieving significant results for everyone involved
I expect to familiarise with the local community
I expect to enjoy people, the places and the nature
Some say fears are mostly composed of conjectures and self-deceptions, nevertheless it would be abnormal not to feel any uncertainty! As every change and every adventure is a source of uncertainty too, I feel it in a way but it does not scare me. I believe difficulties such as language, different habits or possible misunderstandings can definitely be overcome.
Can’t wait to be there!