My buddy PJ and I arrived in a small Patagonian town called Junín de los Andes last Sunday with the intention of working with an organization called Fundación Cruzada Patagónica for five days. They run a number of programs including rural development and a school called Centro de Educación Integral (CEI) San Ignacio where students receive secondary education free of charge. The school provides an education a well as food and shelter for nearly 200 students at a time. Beyond basic courses such as mathematics, history, language, and science, the school is also an Agro-Technical Secondary School that sits on a large plot of land where pigs, sheep, llamas, etc are raised and many vegetables are grown. Students graduate as "Professional Technicians in Agricultural Production". In other words, CEI is as much a farm as it is a school.
After two days of volunteering at CEI, PJ and I reevaluated our original plan for traveling through Patagonia. After our five days at the school we had planned to head south and hit a number of spots of interest on our way to "El Fin del Mundo" - "The End of the Earth" - a town called Ushuaia that sits at the very bottom of the contitent. Not only is it very difficult to get to, but it costs more money and time than we were willing to surrender. If we were to take a bus directly from Ushuaia back to Buenos Aires, which very likely would have happened due to our time constraints, the ride would last three entire days!
As we sorted out the details of the journey south, we saw Ushuaia and our chance to cross the Magellan Strait (PJ´s namesake) begin to slip through our fingers. We decided that spending another week at the school would be a more meaningful experience (not to mention exponentially less costly) than passing through five guidebook-suggested destinations on the way to Ushuaia. Two weeks of volunteering allows us to better get into the flow of life at the school and figure out how we can be of help. This is something that I have come to realize in the last month and a half of traveling and finding organizations to work with here in South America. I originally envisioned working with as many organizations as possible to share a very wide range of experiences and get the word of these organizations out to other people. It is impossible, however, to acquire even a topical understanding of the issues these organizations address in a matter of days - even two weeks only begins to scratch the surface. It seems the most important lesson I´ve learned so far is that seeing less means doing more.
I have lots of pictures and some video from the last few weeks that I want to get up, but the only access I have to Internet is through locutorios (Internet shops) here in the center of town (which is 7 km away from the school). Bear with me and I should be able to get a lot of material onto the website after the end of our stay here.
P.S. Happy Valentine´s Day (they don´t seem to celebrate it here)