As part of my work with Natik, I helped coordinate and facilitate a 10-day intercultural exchange between students of Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin and students of UNICH in San Cristobal. It was a challenging experience and I have a new found gratitude for all those in-country partners the Experiment office works with. Seriously, it is a lot of behind the scenes coordination and work. And even though I love doing exchanges, I am very grateful that it is over.
The first few days were filled with activities in and around San Cristobal. On Saturday we went to Chamula and Zinacantan. It was fun to have Caitlin come along for a little bit of it - and we had the students volunteer at Yo'onik with us.
In Chamula they have a Catholic church, but the priest has been kicked out of the city - and they do their own religious rituals inside. They burn millions of candles and have chickens that they use in their prayers/healings and all sorts of other interesting things. You are prohibited from taking pictures inside, but it was quite the experience. After Chamula we went to Zinacantan to see the difference in cultures and there is a stark contrast between the two - especially in the way they conduct themselves inside the church.
We also had a videographer come with us for a lot of the trip, and afterward I made a short video clip of some of the volunteers working in Yo'onik. That was probably one of my favorite parts of the exchange.
Another big element to the exchange was a service project. These were coordinated with students from UNICH studying sustainable development. And we settled on two projects, a garden/compost project and a playground project. I went to the playground project all 5 days of the service and had a blast. We worked with Rise Now, an organization that helps build parks all over the world. Their crew was amazing and I loved working with them throughout the process.
The park was made of recycled materials - mainly tires. So we spent a lot of time cutting and painting tires. We also spent a HUGE part of our time digging holes for the elements, and also digging and filling a trench to drain water from the park area.
I wasn't in charge of any of the large elements in the playground, but I did get to participate in a few cool playground related tasks. My favorite was brainstorming with the children and coming up with a name for the park, the park rules, and the design for the park mural.
They were so much fun to work with and in the end we named the park, El Parque en Las Nubes, which means The Park in the Clouds.
The mural after it was completed. A few of the Edgewood students improved on the students design and painted the mural and put all the rules of the park on the back.
The other thing I helped design was an entryway for the park. We decided to plant flowers all around the park, so one of the UNICH students and I went to buy all the plants one day and they decided what to plant and where. We also planted fruit trees around the park (although I only helped buy them, I didn't plant any of them).
One cool thing about having a videographer with you is that you get really cool shots. Like my hands planting a flower. So sweet!
By far, the most rewarding aspect of building a playground was being able to see the kids play on the structures that we helped build. They had so much fun and imagination in the park. Even without telling them what things were, they got on the motorcycles and starting making engine noises, and then they got on the horses and had races. Children are way more imaginative than I am, I wouldn't have known what to do.
Building a park was such an amazing experience. I'm really grateful to have been a part of it.
|The group that helped construct the park.|
And of course, it wouldn't have been possible without the UNICH students. They are amazing. There were so many times during the semester and the exchange where I would've pulled my hair out if I hadn't had the support of these students. Seriously, so grateful for them and their help.
If you're interested in building a playground, you can contact Rise Now on their Facebook page. They do parks all over the world. Literally. And they are a blast to work with. I would highly recommend volunteering with them for a week or two. Best vacation you could have.