© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
After six weeks in Guatemala, UPEI student Eliza MacLauchlan is now back in the swing of things at home and translating into English a Spanish research paper on volunteerism that she and a team of Guatemalan students compiled.
This summer was an up- close and personal study in Central American culture and language for UPEI student Eliza MacLauchlan of Charlottetown
From July 8 to Aug. 19, the fourth-year arts student and varsity field hockey player joined five other Canadian students and 13 Guatemalan students at the 66th International Seminar, the theme of which was the impact of volunteerism on sustainable development in Guatemala.
“I think one of the first bonding times I had with the Guatemalan students was them showing me bad words in Spanish and getting me to say them . . . ,” jokes MacLauchlan, who is the fifth student from UPEI to represent Canada at the seminar, which is supported by World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and managed by the Uniterra program.
Her interest in this specific volunteer experience was piqued when Doreley Coll, associate professor in UPEI’s Department of Modern Languages, introduced her to the culture of Central and South America.
She had also taken a couple of courses in Spanish so she was keen to practise and expand her new linguistic skills.
It turned out to be a learn-as-she-went affair.
“I had just come from Spain where I spoke a lot of English there and then going directly into Guatemala, where it was all Spanish, was very overwhelming,” she says.
“I definitely had a breakdown about two weeks in: ‘Why am I here? I can’t understand anyone. I can’t talk to anyone.’ But once people became accustomed to my level of Spanish and used their hands more when they spoke I got more comfortable. It ended up working itself out and by the end my Spanish was much better, too, so I could clearly speak more with people and understand them.”
MacLauchlan, the other four Canadians and all 13 of the Guatemalan students worked with two agencies that directly match volunteers with appropriate groups within the community, such as water purification or stray dog control organizations.
“So they’re almost like a go-between,” she says.
The students’ goal was to help generate new ideas for recruitment and develop the volunteer scene.
“We did surveys and interviews (for more than four weeks) and went to different workshops in the region we were in. We ended up putting a research paper together and then presented our findings to the groups we were working with.”
Because the regions they were in have an abundance of people under the age of 40, one of the student team’s recommendations was that the agencies tap into that potential volunteer pool.
“And also that they really need to advertise themselves better — just even having a sign on their door saying this is who we are
. . . , just putting themselves out there more. And also being more appreciative of the volunteers that they do have,” says MacLauchlan, who is currently working on translating the report into English.
Most of the financial costs for the 2013 International Seminar were covered by the Uniterra program, with support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
However, participants still had to fundraise and contribute $3,500 towards the program for related costs.
For MacLauchlan, the best part of the international seminar was the chance to get to work with Guatemalan students.
“The similarities were that we were all interested in a volunteer experience such as that.
“The difference was that the Guatemalans were more likely to be part of the development issues (in their country) compared to us in Canada,” she says.
“Although we had very different lives, at the root of it we’re the same people . . . .”