Tuesday, October 15, 2013

PiLA Fellowships Applications Opening Soon!

Applications for 2014-15 PiLA Fellowships will open soon.
 To get on the mailing list and be notified when the online application process opens for 2014-15 PiLA Fellowships, send an email request to: pila@princeton.edu.
 Like Princeton in Latin America on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/princeton.america
 Skype info sessions will be scheduled in late October for those who are interested, and signups will be announced to our mailing list.
• The application deadline is 5:00 pm, Friday, November 22, 2013.
 Applicants will be notified by early January 2014 as to whether they have proceeded to the interview stage. All applicants will be notified one way or the other, regardless of application status.
 PiLA’s partner organizations make the final determination as to placement offers to finalists; offers are made on a rolling basis beginning in early March.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Q&A With Michael Solis, Human Rights Watch Fellow 2008-09

PiLA fellows, applicants, and our supporters often ask: what's life after PiLA like?  What do alumni do, where do they live, how did their PiLA year impact their plans and decisions?  Here to give us a few insights into these questions is Michael Solis, past fellow at Human Rights Watch, Chile.

PiLA: Where are you living now and what are you up to?

Michael: I currently live in Managua, Nicaragua. I’m working as the Regional Institutional Funding Officer in Latin America for Trócaire, an international develop agency with headquarters in Ireland. Trócaire works in 28 countries across Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and addresses issues like poverty and hunger alleviation, human rights, empowering women, disaster management, HIV, and climate change. My role puts me in a position to access and channel resources for aid and development to our local partner organizations in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia, and Haiti. Our goal is to provide these organizations with the tools and resources they need to fulfill their missions and bring lasting change to the region and the people they serve.

PiLA: What kind of projects are you working on now?

Michael: I recently returned from Guatemala, where I was working with three organizations to develop project that will promote access to justice for survivors of human rights violations during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict, including a group of women who were subjected to sexual slavery between 1982 and 1986. Some 200,000 people, mainly Maya Indians in the country’s highlands, were killed and 45,000 were disappeared during the armed conflict between 1960 and 1996. With the current government denying genocide, access to justice and the fulfillment of human rights obligations remains a significant obstacle for the survivors of this dark time in Guatemala’s history.

PiLA: How did you end up getting to where you are now?

Michael: I’ve found life to be like a crazy, chained up dog that wants to escape and do whatever it is that crazy, chained up dogs do. Sometimes you can maintain tight control of life, but other times you just have to let it go. (Having been bitten by a crazy, unchained dog in Honduras, I can’t seem to get the image out of my head.) After my PiLA year, I received a Mitchell Scholarship to study International Human Rights Law in Galway, Ireland. While wrapping up my dissertation on HIV-related travel restrictions, I volunteered as facilitator and illustrator for an organization called Fighting Words that empowers youth through creative writing. After a yoga-filled summer in India and many a day reflecting on existence, I realized that I wanted to acquire more experience at the grassroots level rather than pursue a career in litigation. So to the dismay of many, I ditched my law school plans and moved to Honduras to work for the Organization Youth Empowerment (OYE). At OYE I ended up playing a key role in bringing financial security to an organization that promotes educational access and leadership development for at-risk youth. I also helped strengthen the organization’s capacity building, magazine, art, sports, and radio programs. On the side I ran a small yoga studio where I taught courses to locals (many of whom thought yoga was witchcraft) and trained three Honduran women as instructors. Speaking of witchcraft, while I was in Honduras a fortune-telling telling yogi predicted that I would be living in Bogota, Colombia within a few months. Lo and behold, a few months passed and I was in Bogota, carrying out a short consultancy with Ahmsa, an organization that seeks to reduce poverty and promote dignity in marginalized communities through entrepreneurship and innovation. When the offer came up to work with Trócaire, I decided to take it and moved to Nicaragua.

Q: How influential was PiLA in this path?

Michael: My PiLA year still ranks as one of the very best. It opened my eyes to the work of two different organizations (FLACSO-Chile and Human Rights Watch), providing me with the opportunity to interact directly with professionals in the fields of human rights and security sector reform. Outside of work, I found Chile to be a beautiful country whose mountains, shores, sunsets, and landscapes supplied me with what feels like a lifetime of inspiration. I met up with other PiLA fellows, took risks, and participated in a national movement supporting diversity and the rights of sexual minorities. The people I came across have challenged and supported me ever since, and the friendships I maintain are still strong. 

Q: What has been the biggest challenge?

Michael: I don’t know if I can say that there’s just been one. Coming into contact with people in the NGO world who lose sight of what it means to work for beneficiaries is a huge challenge. Learning to live life based on my needs and desires and not those of others is a shared struggle that many people combat while growing up and challenging systems – familial, patriarchic, classist, heteronormative, racial, religious, etc. Getting bitten by a dog wasn’t fun either, nor was bathing in buckets with water that might come on every other day, as was the case with my first home in the scorching town of El Progreso, Honduras. Thankfully, wounds heal and spirits adapt.

Q: What has been the most amazing moment?

Michael: Latin America has so much to offer in terms of nature, people, cultures, and histories that it’s nearly impossible not to find something amazing in it. One of those moments for me involved going on a hike in Honduras, watching my boss get bitten by a poisonous coral snake, rushing said boss to the hospital, having our car break down along the way, and then having perfect strangers save the day by picking us up and bringing us the rest of the way over (thankfully my boss survived!). Another was teaching yoga. Among my students was a woman who broke down once in the middle of a class, unable to carry on with the psychological turmoil that came as a result of her husband’s infidelity; a widow whose husband, a former supporter of the NGO I was working at, had been shot and murdered by a gang member; and a group of former street children who had recovered from drug addictions and were reclaiming control of their minds and bodies through the practice.

Q: Do you have any advice for students or PiLA fellows who are interested in remaining engaged in Latin America?
Michael: There are definitely many ways to remain involved in the region. I ended up finding two of my jobs on idealist.org and Relief Web, so getting familiar with the online search engines related to your field of interest is a must. For any young professionals looking to acquire more experience in development in Colombia, the Atlas Corps Fellowship provides a way to do that with incredible in country support. Taking risks isn’t a bad thing, and they can often pay you back in kind, even if you fail. And ask questions! You won’t always get what you want by keeping secrets, so feel free to share what you desire with the world. I am still amazed by how much the universe is willing to give when you just let it know where you stand.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa, Bolivia

Un Recuerdo de Bolivia: Living the Global Locality
Josh Meuth-Alldredge
Living and working at the UAC-CP is often feels like exploring the innards of a paradox. This place is fundamentally defined by what is local, just as it is essentially characterized by its global engagement. Every day I learn new things both about the university and the village in which it was founded. Carmen Pampa is a mostly Aymará community of two hundred people that dedicates itself primarily to the cultivation of coca, coffee, bananas, and the raising of livestock and chickens.  At the same time, this village is home to 700 students of the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa.
The UAC-CP is one of the premier accredited undergraduate institutions in rural Bolivia, and represents one of five such Campesina Academic Units within the Bolivian Catholic University system. Situated in a mile-high jungle valley, our university offers B. S. degrees in Agronomy, Education Sciences, Veterinary and Zootechnical Medicine, and Nursing. Additionally, we offer a 3-year technical program in Ecotourism and a one semester Pre-university preparatory program.
Our students hail from across all of Bolivia, and most of them come from low-income families as the first member to attend university. Studying in the UAC-CP, for them, is a unique gateway to a rewarding and empowering professional life. But just as importantly, it allows them to gain the skills necessary to return to their communities and empower the entire population. In a very real way, these graduates sustainably develop their communities: They often return home and improve the local schools through their teaching, implement and share new crop technologies, bring higher quality medical attention to their communities, and make animal production more safe, efficient, and humane. Through these actions, they help to integrate and advance rural Bolivia in the global economy. In short, our empowered graduates become the next generation of development in Bolivia.
                Through our five majors and diverse projects, the students we serve are entering the global marketplace as nurses, vets, teachers, sustainable farmers, researchers, and ecotourism guides. The uniquely local-global aspect of the university exists most visibly within them; coming from rural, poor, and often isolated villages, they receive a heavily subsidized quality education, which helps them seek new opportunities in a developing Bolivia and a globalized world. Crucially, though, the graduates strive to remain involved in their localities, either working within their communities to effect change or improving their region by pursuing careers in the nearby cities and countries.
Working within this university context as the External Relations Coordinator is truly eye-opening. Every day runs the gamut from tasks such as advancing international collaborations, grantwriting, and coordinating international visitors to local jobs like advertising our guest speakers, scheduling traditional dance workshops, and introducing campus staff to newly engineered water facilities. The work is never boring, and there are always new projects and crises to be approached (and hopefully handled!).
Best of all, the local, intimate, real aspects of this community permeate my life, and hold the pressures of our globalized work system at bay. Making it to Skype meetings can become a novelty when the tropical downpours cut power every other day.  Twenty feet from my front door is a trail that winds through the jungle for hours of hiking, accompanied by good-natured hunting dog.  “Commuting” to and from my home to the upper campus, where I work, involves a thirty-minute trek up Uchumachi mountain through coffee plantations, groups of livestock, and forest.  But it’s the people, and getting to know them, that really solidify the connection to this locality of rural Bolivia. Walking down from upper campus the other day, I came upon the washed-out remains of a log bridge crossing a stream. On my side, watching the flow, there was a stooped and elderly chola (cholas are indigenous women who wear a distinctive outfit of multiple skirts, elaborate shawls, and tophats).  Clearly unable to balance on the few wooden poles that remained of the bridge, she turned and muttered a few phrases to me. Together, hand in hand, we managed to walk her across one of the logs. On the other side she loudly thanked me in Spanish, grabbed my hand again, and said a few words in indigenous Aymará, ending with “waliki.” Waliki is one of the few Aymará words I know, and it means good. Little things like this give me strength and perspective, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t appreciate this link with “the local.” It balances my stressful workdays, and it helps me understand better the reality from which the UAC’s students come. And that perspective is sure to be the most lasting lesson of my time here in Bolivia.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Casey Harrington at the Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer in Parramos, Guatemala

            Since moving in July to the small, rural town of Parramos, Guatemala to carry out my Princeton in Latin America fellowship, my world has gotten a lot smaller and a whole lot bigger at the same time.  Parramos has just under 10,000 residents and is located in the central highlands of Guatemala, about a fifteen-minute drive from Antigua.  Living and working in the confines of a small town has required me to adjust to living out the majority of my days within about a three block radius of my host family´s home. While the geographical space which I occupy has shrunk significantly since moving here, my knowledge, skills, connections with the projects and people of Parramos, and my desire to become even more involved in this community in the coming months have expanded beyond what I thought possible. 
While I am involved in a number of projects here in Parramos, my primary work site is at Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer, a school in Parramos where I work with elementary, middle, and high school students teaching English. It has been a rewarding and challenging experience finding ways to engage kids, even those who think they will never be capable of learning English, through singing, Total Physical Response, and various games. I have learned that it requires endless amounts of energy and creativity to be a successful teacher, and everyday I gain more knowledge about how to provide that energy and creativity to my students.
In addition to teaching at Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer, I have worked the past few months with a team of citizens to coordinate a summer school that will take place in November and December, when the Guatemalan school year ends. In addition to recruiting volunteers to teach Mayan culture, physical education, dance, math, and English, I have been working hard to advertise the school to the children of Parramos. It has been really rewarding to see the kids cheering and clapping when I enter classrooms to talk to students about the vacation school, and I am excited that they will have productive, interactive activities to participate in during their vacation months.  Another benefit to coordinating the summer school is that it has allowed me to develop connections with dozens of citizens in Parramos and given me an opportunity to learn the strategies I need to use to organize projects here in rural Guatemala. I realize now, for example, that going directly to someone´s home and talking to them face-to-face is a hundred times more effective than calling or emailing them.
                  In Parramos, I have had the privilege of engaging in projects not only in education, but also in public health through my work at the town´s local health post.  During my first few months at the post, I have had the opportunity to learn how to vaccinate and supplement patients. Now that I have spent a few months working on those skills, I am currently transitioning into learning how to provide patient consultations with the health post´s doctor.  She is teaching me to diagnose basic illnesses and to decide which medications and dosages to use to treat patients. Given the large Kaqchikel indigenous population in Parramos, it has been interesting to see how cultural perceptions of health and well-being affect medical care and strategies for patient education. This newly acquired knowledge regarding how to provide culturally sensitive patient education has proven to be very useful in talks I have given in a public school here in Parramos on family planning and substance abuse.   
                  I did not expect to find myself this deeply intertwined in the Parramos community this early in my fellowship, but the collaborative nature and warmth of the town´s residents make it so easy to get involved. Life in Parramos is wonderful.  Between waking up to mountains and fog every morning,  drinking fresh blackberry and pineapple juices, and getting to say Buenos días” about fifteen times to acquaintances during my two-minute morning walk to work, I´m really learning that I need to savor every moment I spend here. I can´t wait to see how my perspectives, relationships, and work in this small but vibrant community will grow and change in the next seven months.

    Casey with two elementary level students at Centro Educativo Trilingüe Nuevo Amanecer 

    Casey working at the health post in Parramos

    A beautiful view while hiking a volcano

    A street in Parramos very close to Casey’s house