Although I'm less than halfway through my PiLA fellowship -- five months and one day to be exact -- I feel like I've become a member of both the community of Patzún, Guatemala and my host organization, the Women's Justice Initiative (WJI). To my surprise, it took only a few weeks for me to feel welcomed and settled as a member of the team, despite all the barriers I had created in my mind.
The PiLA Team is happy to report that all of our 2019-2020 PiLA Fellows have started their fellowship adventures!
When I received news a year and a half ago that I had been accepted as the PiLA fellow at the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, I felt a massive rush of conflicting emotions. I was ecstatic about the new opportunity, hopeful that I would learn and grow, but at the same time very scared to be doing this alone, as the only Princeton fellow in San José, Costa Rica.
**All names have been changed.
I realized I was in love with the Dominican Republic while I was waiting on the side of a street making googly eyes at a baby and the parents, amused and unafraid, offered me the child to hold and a chair to sit on. The love took a while to hit. From the start, living in the DR and working at the education and community development organization The DREAM Project inspired and pushed me.
I always struggle trying to describe my work to my family and friends. While my official title is “Leadership Director,” and while my contract dictates that my primary responsibility is directing our Voices of Youth, our youth leadership program, that is far from what I do.
According to legend, the Aztecs determined where to permanently settle based on a sign from the gods: an eagle, eating a snake, perched on a cactus. As they navigated the land that is today Mexico City, the eagle, eating a snake, on a cactus, sat on a tiny island surrounded by a massive lake. Recognizing the sign from the gods, the Aztecs expanded the island to make it habitable, filling the water with soil and sand.
When we applied to Princeton in Latin America, we envisioned ourselves in remote pueblos (towns), learning from la comunidad (community), and giving back to a region we deeply love and feel connected to in profound ways. To our surprise, we chose placements far closer to the U.S capital than we imagined, and we are actively supporting Latin America from the Worldwide Office of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
Whatever language we use to describe them, relationships are central to a sense of community and personal well-being. Reflecting on our first months at Pueblo a Pueblo, we find that friendships and partnerships are also important to our work here in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala.
Having wrapped up my first month at Adisa, I am inclined to reflect more carefully on my experience to date. While in many ways I still feel like I’m adjusting and figuring things out, I’m also surprised by how much I’ve already learned. I might still not know how to navigate all the callejones of Santiago without getting lost but I do know where to buy my avocados, how to introduce myself in Tz’utujil, and how to give a fairly informative tour of Adisa.
We are glad to introduce the 2018-19 cohort of PiLA Fellows! This diverse, dedicated, and talented group of 31 young professionals will be making significant contributions to socially responsible development work with 16 partners based throughout the Americas addressing issues such as accessibility/ inclusion, community health, conservation, education, and girls’ and women’s economic empowerment. You can see bios for the current year’s cohort here.
Dear PiLA fellows of the 2018-2019 class,
My witnessing your recent orientation program in Princeton, so beautifully organized by Sarah Town and Michael Stone and supported by Kim Gordon of the FAC and other alums, served to reaffirm the motives for my commitment to PiLA: you give me hope for the future.
I was just about to leave my office to get lunch on September 19th, 2017 when the building began to shake violently. Within a few seconds, panic began to set in as I realized this wasn’t a minor tremor like the one I had felt 12 days before. I had been in Mexico City for just 4 weeks and had experienced the strongest earthquake to strike the city in 32 years. But rather than be deterred, I went out to volunteer alongside my neighbors and coworkers.
“¡Angie! ¿Hoy vamos al huerto? ¿Hoy vamos a reciclar? ¿Hoy vamos a hacer Parlamento?” Hearing this daily chorus always brings a smile to my face, because these are the programs I work on at Fundación Abriendo Camino. Our mission is to provide alternatives for the protection and education of children, youth and families in a vulnerable urban sector, the barrio of Villas Agrícolas in Santo Domingo. These alternatives include the urban garden, 3R (recycling), and student parliament programs I’ve helped to develop during my two years here.
Former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, delivered the keynote speech at the celebration of PiLA’s 15th anniversary at the Princeton Club of New York on the evening of November 2 and spoke highly of the organization and its fellows.
“PiLA became a trusted partner and friend of the Arias Foundation. PiLA fellows joined what seemed like an impossible mission that the Foundation undertook in the 1990’s … they believed and they rolled up their sleeves and for that I am eternally grateful.”
It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing 7 months here in Cabarete, working with the Mariposa DR Foundation. I’m saddened by the prospect of having to leave this beautiful place in just 4 months. My time here has been invaluable, as I’ve had so many opportunities to experience both personal and professional growth, to meet so many different people, and to really be convicted about my desire and responsibility to serve.
Feliz dia del amor from post-Carnival Bolivia! My name is Nora Harless, and I am the current fellow working at the Unidad Académica Campesina (UAC) in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia in the region of Nor Yungas. Here are a few impressions of my experience working as external relations coordinator at the UAC deep in the Andes mountains.
La semana haciendo experimentos científicos fue algo inolvidable porque encarnó la diferencia en el concepto de servicio comunitario con DREAM y servicio comunitario para DREAM. Los estudiantes en el grupo de Cape Cod, no querían ser solamente unos “salvadores,” proveer útiles escolares y después salir olvidando de los que dejaron aquí a “pudrir.” En lugar de eso, ellos querían una experiencia de vulnerabilidad mutua y deseaban involucrarse en la comunidad y aprender de ellos igual que los estudiantes pueden aprender de los voluntarios.
My work at Adisa has made me think more deeply about the meaning of inclusion. Adisa's motto: "Por una comunidad inclusiva" (for an inclusive community) is much more than just a slogan. It is the motivation and foundation for our work. Whether it be our healthcare, employment, education, or empowerment programs, or just daily interactions, Adisa strives to create a community based in inclusivity.
When I guide visitors through the Starfish Impact School, I do my best to convey how special and revolutionary it is to see nearly one hundred young indigenous women sitting at school in Guatemala at an age when many would no longer have the opportunity to continue studying due to lack of financial resources or cultural pressure.
As Communications Coordinator, a huge part of my job is storytelling—whether that is telling the story of Starfish to visitors in person, or communicating with a broader audience through online media.
What do I say?