Visiting my first community

Today Diego, my supervisor, and I drove to San Bernardo to have a weekly meeting with the leaders of this community. The Area Social de Proyectos, the sector in which I am working, has been focused on developing creative ways to encourage people of the communities they work with to be more involved in the relationship between TECHO and their respective towns. In order to encourage involvement it is critical to have consistent interactions, be verytransparent and also find ways of demonstrating progress. Diego thought it would be important to meet with the team of leaders, all of who have their own specific role to play as a leader, to discuss the different duties and responsibilities that each individual role has. This way everyone can be on the same page and have a better understanding of each position. He created several activities to engage these leaders such as identifying the position that is responsible in specific scenarios and creating a timeline of roles. I helped him before departing on making the posters but for this activity I would be primarily an observer.

When I entered my first community here in Santiago I was a little nervous because I had no ideawhat to expect. In my courses prior we had discussed the exclusivity and unfriendliness members of poor communities sometimes have when interacting with foreign volunteers. I feared that the people I was going to meet would see me as an intruder, especially since I would only be interacting withthem for a very short time. My nerves immediately vanished with my first encounter with a resident, who turned out to be the president, of the community. She greeted me with a friendly kiss on the cheek and seemed excited that I would be joining them today. We walked to the smallshack, the TECHO headquarters, located at the entrance of the town and started to set up for the meeting. As peoplebegan trickling in, asking who I was, everyone was extremely welcoming offering me sandwiches, juice and cookies and asking me questions about my stay in Chile.

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There were six leaders, two team members who work at TECHO and one volunteer (plus me) in the meeting. All of the representatives from the community were women. After asking if this is typical in the other communities TECHO works with, Diego informed me that most of the communities are traditionally patriarchal societies; men would never be caught in a meeting like the one we had today. So the roles are filled primarily with women.

I learned a lot just from listening and observing the interaction between these individuals. It appeared to me that the leaders didn’t seem to have a clear understanding of the distinct roles that each member of the collaboration held. The roles discussed were the president, the treasurer, the secretary, the director, the architect, the volunteers and the social center. It is important for the community to know who the right person to call would be if there ever is a question or a problem. The meeting seemed to be a success because the members were given to space to openly discuss who might be best allocated to different circumstances. There was a lot of good discussion; however, this meeting was only the beginning, there are still more defining characteristics of each role that need to be clarified. In our short meeting we didn’t have time reach the next step, creating a timeline of responsibilities that will demonstrate a more concrete definition of each role for the future.

TECHO has the ability to serve as a wonderful resource but community members must know what is available to them in order for this resource to be utilized to its full potential. Leadership, in a group setting, is about being cohesive and coherent. TECHO and the communities they partner with must be in constant communication (which they are as long as members of the communities are willing to participate) and the role that each individual and each team plays must be understood by everyone. This meeting, as well as the one that will follow next week, is about defining the latter.

So far, my second day on the job, my biggest struggle is communication. The office has been very courteous and patient with me but the process of learning another language can be rather exhausting. Almost everyone in Chile speaks very quickly, often combining worlds and clipping them short. In addition to this struggle, the families in the rural towns speak Castellano, a different form of the Spanish language that is not taught in schools in the U.S. In order for me to stay engaged in conversations it requires my complete attention leaving me extremely tired when I arrive back home. I just hope it will get easier with time. 

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