Saturday, February 28, 2009

Priceless Patagonian Experience

Extending our stay at the Centro de Educación Integral (CEI) San Ignacio (part of the Fundación Cruzada Patagonica organization) in Junín de los Andes proved to be the best decision we could have made. Even after the end of our extra week, we were just beginning to get to know the students and understand the overall functions of the school. Naturally all volunteer projects differ, but it seems that two weeks is a minimum amount of time needed to get the feel for a place, figure out what is needed and how to be of help, and make a meaningful connection with the people. During our time at the school, we were able to accomplish a number of tasks that were mainly focused around outdoor manual labor such as pulling weeds, cleaning and organizing areas around the school, and building a shed for their recycling center. The latter will certainly be our lasting legacy to the school. Even though it is not the finest, sturdiest building, nor an exercise in precision, we were proud to be of help in its creation. We would like to send out a big "Gracias" to our mentor Don Segundo. Even though we couldn't understand what you were saying to us, your assistance, patience, and amusing chuckles made the process quite enjoyable.

One of our tasks consisted of sorting through a room full of loose papers and books to salvage the good books and trash the rest.

With the help of some of the other volunteers, we completely cleared the room and salvaged this pile of books along with about three boxes.

One of our more regular tasks included pulling weeds or 'yuyos'.

While some of the weeds look quite beautiful up close...

...they all seemed to have spines that easily penetrated gloves.

Speaking of gloves, thanks MaB for my Christmas gloves! They got so much use during our two weeks at CEI that they were reduced to bedraggled rags.

The majority of our time was spent working on the recyling shed. We had to improvise quite a bit, which meant using our head. I took it literally.

We finally got the roof on our creation on the last day at the school. PJ and I were quite satisfied and relieved to have finished before we had to leave...

...though a bit sick of each other's company, haha. I'll miss you buddy!

It may not look like much, but it will serve its purpose - mainly covering all the trash that is sitting out in front.

Our man Don Segundo. Thanks so much jefe!

Aside from our manual labor tasks, we also had the opportunity to work with the students during study hour from 8:00 to 9:00 PM on weekdays. Exams happened to coincide with our visit, so hopefully our assistance with English studies helped ace some tests. It was a nice mixture of elements to have outdoor tasks, some even related to farm work, as well as opportunities to help out with academics at the same location.

Apart from the work that we did, just living on campus is a unique experience that I really enjoyed. Volunteers get the chance to explore the local area at times as well. Weekends are pretty relaxed, and volunteers can head into downtown Junín de los Andes, hit up nearby San Martín de los Andes for some hiking or camping, or just relax by the Chimehuin River that runs just behind the campus. The volunteer house is comfortable and has a kitchen, refridgerator, hot showers, and an incredible view from the backyard.

The view from our room included our little backyard, some cow pasture, and volcano Lanín in the distance.

I took this picture after wandering out into the cow pasture behind our house in sandals...I wouldn't recommend doing that unless you have to get a picture with a volcano and two eagles perched atop opposing trees.

All in all, our time with CEI San Ignacio turned out to be a very positive experience. My biggest lesson has been in regards to how much time I spend with volunteer projects. I spent a week or less at the first three volunteer projects I worked with in Argentina and didn't have enough time to really have an impact or understand the organizations. I leave Argentina tomorrow for Uruguay, and my challenge is going to be how to implement this new knowledge. Knowing I need to spend more time with the organizations that I choose while still keeping to some kind of schedule adds a degree of difficulty in logistics. It wouldn't be an adventure if it were easy.

There are a lot more pictures from my time in Junín de los Andes with Cruzada Patagonica and the school here:
Pictures from a trip to a Mapuche community where Cruzada Patagonica works.
More Pictures from CEI San Ignacio

I also have pictures up from the other organizations that I worked with while in Argentina:
Plan Techos (Buenos Aires)
Voluntario Global (Buenos Aires)
CILSA (Santa Fe - I didn't take many pictures...)

I hope to be able to write a more thorough account of my experience with these three organizations soon, but for now I'm on the move - three-hour ferry across the river delta to Uruguay early tomorrow morning for my first border crossing.

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