When I heard about the Principal’s Go Abroad Funding I immediately contacted my worldwide network of friends to see if anybody knew of an interesting project or organization that needed help. From the responses I got, I chose Chile, and an NGO that, very basically, restores abandoned parks in poor neighbourhoods. My Chilean friend had done a university project with them, so he knew that they were a trustworthy and reliable organization, and he helped me out a lot in preparing for my stay.
Thanks to my friend’s support, and being generally well travelled, there was very little that I worried me. The only thing may have been the language, i.e. I was – ironically – worried that the three weeks wouldn’t be enough to refresh my 5-year-old high school Spanish. He had told me that very few people spoke English though, so I’d be likely to speak a lot of Spanish.
The little I spoke at work was in Spanish (with a few English sentences here and there when I didn’t understand – or to clarify important things), but my job was to apply for international grants to support their general work and green space related research, so the majority of my job was, so to speak, in English.
One of my two supervisors, me and some other employees on picnic on my last day to celebrate the birthday of one of the employees.
Although the office work taught me a lot about the organization, their wider cause and effects, and made me realize how valuable my grant writing was to their continuing work and research, I think the most rewarding part of it all was joining the team of volunteers on my last day in town to see when they constructed a park. It was both fascinating and amazing to see so many people from the neighbourhood, from literally every age group, gather to create the new green space in the matter of just 2-3 hours (256 volunteers in total!); trees and plants were planted, grass laid, sand and gravel distributed, playground placed… Everyone was so excited, and an old woman who lived just by the new park said it was like an old dream come true for those living there.
Isoldi, an old woman I met living right by the park (and her dog and front-yard in the background) who said the park construction was a dream come true for the neighbourhood, and me
During my stay I learnt a lot about Chile and its history; the previous dictatorship and its legacy does not go unnoticed in news, culture and daily life; for example, the people living around the new park had previously stayed in illegal camps, if I understood correctly, due to conflict during the dictatorship. Spending time with my friend and hosts, I also got to know a new culture, and practice Chilean (very different from Spanish, mind you!). Having worked in such a distant place, too, is an experience that will prove useful in the future, and I want to thank the Principal’s Go Abroad Funding and my crowdfunding supporters for having helped me make this real.
Kids dressed in national dresses and neighbours at the formal opening right after the construction of the Jardín Plaza Benjamín Reineking, in memory of Benjamín who helped get the people out of the camps, into proper houses.