The following blog was written by Aryana Bolourian, a rising Junior in the Bonner Leaders Program at the Campus Y. Aryana works at the Teen Center as a Bonner; she is working with AISEC in Santiago Chile this summer through the Bonner International Summer of Service internship.
After a flight cancellation, a delay, and a connecting flight in Panama, I finally arrived in Santiago, Chile at 11PM on June 3. This summer, through AIESEC, I am volunteering with Protectora de la Infancia, an NGO that aims to improve the present and futures of at-risk Chilean youth by providing them with educational opportunities and services. The NGO has several sites around Chile, some of which act as preschool and kindergarten programs, others that serve as orphanages. For six weeks, my job is to assist the teachers and caretakers of the children as well as play with, care for, and provide educational activities and lessons for the youth.
First Days on the Job
I, along with three other AIESEC volunteers, was placed in a Jardin Infantil, or pre-k/kindergarten, called Buen Pastor. The center is located in La Pintana, a community in southern Santiago. On my first day of the job we were warned that the area is known for its gang violence and heavy drug use. However, it is for these reasons that the center relies on volunteers. Job recruitment is difficult because many people do not want to work in the neighborhood. Buen Pastor lies in the center of La Pintana, gated off from the streets with cinder walls, metal fencing, and a security guard at the main entrance. Inside the walls, children run free, laughing and waddling through the campus. Playground equipment sits in the middle of the courtyard and colorful posters are plastered on the doors of the classrooms. Buen Pastor is a safe-haven for these children, many of whom come from broken families, have one or both parents in jail or in a gang, and/or are surrounded by drugs, violence and abuse.
My first week, I worked in two different classrooms—the one for two-year-olds and the one for three-year-olds. On day one, I observed, not wanting to overstep my boundaries and not knowing what my place was. But, the staff and children immediately welcomed me, and by day two, I was playing with the kids and helping with activities.
A typical day includes song, dance, art, snacks, lunch, and naptime. I cannot express how incredible it is to relive pre-k while making an impact on the lives of these children. The kids call the staff members Tía and Tío, which translate to aunt and uncle. We are supposed to act as an extension of their families, so that when the kids are at Buen Pastor they feel comfortable, safe, and at home. I was amazed that by day 2 and 3, the kids recognized me, asked for me by name (Tía Aryana), and listened when I asked them to do certain tasks. It has been a pleasure working with these children, and I am excited to see what the rest of my time in Santiago has in store.
About Santiago, Chile
Living in Santiago is incredible, and I strongly recommend visiting if possible! Right now, it is winter and because mountains surround the city, it is pretty chilly (no pun intended), but despite the cold the views are absolutely gorgeous. I am living with a host, a 25-year old woman who lives in her parents’ house—but her parents live at the beach. She is hosting both myself and another AIESEC volunteer from England, and the three of us have formed our own little family since we’ve arrived. She lives in a suburb in Santiago, and the main part of the city is a metro and bus ride away. My first few days, I spent time sight-seeing and visited the Palacio de la Moneda, the headquarters of the Chilean president; San Cristobal, a statue of a saint on top of a hill; and Costanera Center, one of the tallest buildings in South America. This weekend, I left the city to visit my host family at Maintencillo, a stunning and tranquil beach town. So far, the experience has been incredible. Check back next week for more on my Chilean Adventure!