Alumni Update and New Intern: Welcome Carly!

Youth Challenge International is pleased to welcome Carly Court to the YCI headquarters in Toronto as the new Volunteer Program Assistant. Carly is a YCI alumnus, having spent 5 weeks in Guatemala in 2010 where she worked on a youth development eco-tourism project in La Florida, as well as participating in the activities of an organic farm collective. Carly is a recent graduate of McGill University, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Development with a double minor International Relations and Hispanic Languages. Welcome to the team Carly!

Carly in Guatemala

Carly in “downtown” La Florida, Guatemala

I first became involved with YCI in 2010 when I took a year off school to volunteer abroad.  I lived and worked with the campesinos of Finca La Florida, Guatemala, for five mindful and thought provoking weeks.  There, I was exposed to the successes and difficulties that come with collective living, as well as the fascinating dichotomy of hope for the future in the face of extreme poverty.  Volunteering with YCI offered me the unique opportunity to experience both the things I had learned about in school as well as the things that I had never imagined I would be exposed to. I am excited to be working as the Volunteer Program Assistant because I believe in the value of volunteerism, I believe in the power of youth working with youth, and I appreciate everything that I was able to take away from the project. After months of speculation, volunteering with YCI confirmed my passion for the development field, and motivated me to get back to school and finish my degree in International Development Studies.

My position as the Volunteer Program Assistant intern comes with a wide range of responsibilities.  My main objective in this internship is to work closely with Amanda, the Volunteer Program Coordinator, to ensure that our exceptional volunteers are placed on the project best suited for them, and see to it that they are properly supported in their fundraising and pre-departure endeavours. I work, more or less behind the scenes, throughout the entire process of the volunteer’s experience with YCI.  I process applications, interview applicants, help place them on the appropriate project, make selection calls, and provide them with fundraising support.  I have only been active in this internship for two weeks thus far, but I have already learned a ton about the administrative aspects of a not-for-profit organization.  So far, my favourite aspect of the internship is the inter-personal aspect of the interviews.  We have had some really awesome applicants who are now going to be some amazing volunteers!

My interests outside of work include, but are not limited to, the consumption of delicious foodstuffs, travel, dance, snowboarding, gallery hopping, pop-culture trivia, and general loafing (especially with my cat).

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Memories of Guatemala

I still remember arriving on a very bumpy dirt road in, what seemed to me, like the middle of the tropical forest. I had no idea what to expect for the upcoming five weeks. Since returning home last month, I can safely say,  my wonderful experience in Comunidad Nueva Alianza, Guatemala, was way beyond any expectations I had. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. The Community

The mural welcoming all visitors to the community.

During the last two decades, the community has been through a lot. During the 1990’s the plantation (coffee/macadamia) was privately owned, but due to the crash of the price of coffee and terrible management, the community was left with no revenue for nearly two years. A long process followed in order for the community to get back their land, but the path was far from easy. Finally, in 2004 they bought back the land and, since then, the plantation is privately owned and operated by 40 families, all from the community.

2. Kevin

Kevin was a community member; we called him the animal, the beast and he knew how to do everything around the community. He stuck with us for the whole of our stay and we became great friends! He never complained nor laughed at our lack of competence during different types of work.

3. The Hotel

The dining area in our hotel.

The hotel used to be the land owner’s house, but after the incident in the 1990’s, the community transformed it into a cozy hotel for travelers. The hotel was absolutely gorgeous. It was exactly what I would call “home away from home”. Decorated and painted with Mayan symbols and super cool paintings. I totally recommend everybody to check it out!

4. The Rooftop and the Volcano

The view from the roof on a beautiful day.

After a hard day of work, what better than to enjoy the sunset on the roof of the hotel? From one side, the sunset or sunrise, and on the other a spectacular view of volcanoes Santa Maria and Santiaguito, which erupts on average every hour. Almost every night, we lit a fire on the roof, listen to some music and look at the stars. Got to love those quiet Guatemalan nights…unless the dogs barked all night.

5. Miss Flori

Miss Flori, Alex, Christine and myself in front of the kitchen mural we painted.

We had cooks who prepared all our meals, and each day was always more and more delicious. I can not say I had a  lack of food in Guatemala, and believe it or not, I still eat rice and beans daily. Not only was Flori our cook, she was our Guatemalan mom; a gorgeous women with the most beautiful laugh that I had never heard.

6. Manual Labour

One of the ladders we built with bamboo trees.

For the first weeks, we worked a lot with machetes. Being a group of three girls, I felt like each time we came out of the woods all dirty with a machete in our hands, we made a statement. We proved how hard 3 Canadian girls could work!  I had never done a lot of physical work in my life, but now, I can proudly say that I can chop down a bamboo tree is less than 2 minutes!

7. Hide and Seek

The kids in the community were so lovable. We would usually meet up in front of the hotel, than play a bunch of different games  until it got dark. The game that I will never forget was “escondite” (hide and seek). In this community, the kids will hide 5 kilometres away, so bring good running shoes and be prepared to hide for a long time!

Kids in the community love to play. Here is the group with the kids after we finished building a playground.

8. Carnival

We were very fortunate, the Carnival took place while we were in the community. Carnival is a special day where the kids dress up to go to school (a little like Halloween), have a costume and craft competition, throw flour and sparkles at each other and have a good time. During the costume competition, we were the judges and we participated in all the activities!

9. Soccer Sunday

Each Sunday, all the closest communities gather up at different soccer fields and play against each other. The event lasts the whole day, people dress up in their nicest clothes, and all kinds of food and beverages are being sold all around the field. They were waiting anxiously for this event every week. Little traditions like this one made the community so special.

10. Transportation

The bus fills up fast!

Always a surprise! Whether is was the back of an old truck, a bus or chicken bus, it was a guaranteed good time.  Overloaded with people, loud music playing and crazy heat, the rides were filled with interesting adventures.

Our group with high school girls after one of our “Go Girl” workshops on girl's empowerment.

From the second we got in Nueva Alianza, we felt right at home. They wanted us to be part of every activity happening in the community (school, church, holidays…). Everyone welcomed us with smiles and were very grateful of our work. I had never seen such hardworking people; whether it was the men out in the fields, or the women washing the clothes and cooking, they always took great pleasure accomplishing their daily chores. It was beautiful to see how proud the members of the community are of what they accomplished during the last decade, you really notice it the second you come in Nueva Alianza.

– Renee Claude Poirier, Youth Ambassador, Guatemala 2012

YCI is currently recruiting a team of 6 volunteers for our July Guatemala projects. Click HERE for complete project details. 

World Teacher’s Day 2011

For many years I have worked as a teacher all over the world. This has afforded me many wonderful memories with my students and insightful exchanges with my fellow teachers. Also, these experiences have given me an insider into teachers and students and their struggles with education in developing countries.

Education is of the utmost importance for helping empower and enable youth to find new opportunities, explore new ideas and have the option to look at the world through a more informed lens. On the other education can also be used as tool of indoctrination which can suppress ideas and opportunities for change. This is why teacher training and support are so necessary especially in countries that suffer from a look of classroom resources.

Unfortunately, lack of teacher support and training usually goes hand in hand with lack of material resources. From my experience in Guatemala, I see how much students are disadvantaged by this dual scarcity. Teachers lack technical support and find their jobs difficult, undervalued and underpaid, which in turn diminishes the quality and consistency of the national education system.

During my time teaching in two public schools in rural highland Guatemala, school has been cancelled numerous times; due to strikes against the government, teacher rallies and general time mismanagement. Often when I come to school children and playing outside or teachers are mulling around. Teachers have only a loose curriculum to work with and the teacher training has not given them the tools to create one themselves. This is not to suggest that they should have to create their own curriculum or to disparage their conduct as teachers. Even the most trained of teachers would find it difficult to work under these conditions and I applaud my fellow colleagues for entering this field with little pay, support or room to grow professionally. Nonetheless, these conditions must change within the public school sector because increasingly, here and all over the world, a two tiered public/private school system is being expanded and intensified. While I was in India they said it wasn’t a two-tiered system but a seven tiered system, reminiscent of the caste system that is still embedded in their society. Living in a society where the equality gap is so great, it is scary to think that free education will be devalued because of a real and perceived concern over its quality.

Free education is not enough; governments must invest in their teachers. First, so that they received adequate teacher training that will help them to work within schools that may or may not lack adequate teacher resources. Second, teachers should have room to grow within the profession. Since, educational administrators and directors are lacking within this school system so giving teachers the option to fill those roles could help to motivate them to continue with their training and improving their CV’s.  These middle management positions are desperately needed to ensure oversight of teachers and greater assessments into the school conditions so that targeted and purposeful improvements are made. Lastly, teachers need to feel they are being adequately paid for their employment. Salaries are contentious in developing countries and I have spoken with many locals who do not believe teachers earn their wage. This is similar in India and elsewhere where nationally funded jobs are prized.  Nonetheless, the national school system could build in incentives so that teachers can raise their wages based on classroom goals and merit, training and professional development efforts.

The purpose of all of this would be to fortify educational system through the teachers who are currently struggling to do their jobs effectively.

Why I believe that a focus on teachers would be effective is that I see how much their students’ lives and wellbeing means to them. From my experience I can say that the disarray of the classrooms and schools here in Guatemala is not due to apathy on the teachers’ part. Actually, I am always astounded with the amounts of unabashed love and care the teachers give their student. Many have raised funds to supply their schools with daily lunch program that is currently being underfunded by the government as well as bringing in food, and party supplies for special school functions. Furthermore, I’ve had teacher come house to house with me to do needs assessments so that their students could possibly by eligible for scholarships next year.

Focusing on and investing in teachers as human resources will have a twofold benefit. First, it will provide students with well-trained educators who are capable of handling classrooms that may be lacking in material resources. And by specializing teacher training they will also be able to provide relevant and useful education that will cater to their students’ social and cultural needs.  Second, by giving teachers adequate wages and professional skills and tools there will be greater job satisfaction and it will professionalize the status of teacher. This in turn will attract citizens who are serious about putting in the time and effort to enter into this field of work. The secondary, long term benefits of investing in teachers and education are vast and are harder to quantify. Yet we do know that educated populations enjoy greater civilian stability, higher employment, better health and longer lives, to name a few.

Teachers’ need to be celebrated for the role they play in shaping formative minds, creating social order and strengthen nations. We should remember that all great minds once had great teachers and that this process will be cyclical. At this point in time we are at a critical stage where we need great minds to unite and fortify our world that at times seems in disarray.

-Julia Rao, IYIP intern, Guatemala 2011

YCI’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) Interns are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Our IYIP interns spend 7-9 months working with YCI’s partner organizations in Latin American, South America and Africa. The application process to become an IYIP intern is highly competitive. Applications for our 2012 internship positions will open in early November.

For more IYIP blogs, check out our IYIP section.