UBC Okanagan Students Volunteer in Patagonia

Experience enriched their lives as students and as global citizens

Before heading off to study in Argentina, UBC Okanagan students Lindsay Wojtula and Jenica Frisque attended a presentation about the Cruzada Patagonica Foundation, hosted by Dana Reiter, UBC Okanagan International Advisor. Dana connected the students with the organization and this is their story:

When someone mentions Argentina, a tapestry of images comes to mind: sultry tango dancers, wild soccer hooligans, gorgeous natural wonders, and big juicy steaks. Perhaps even the recent images of political, social and economic chaos that followed the 2001 economic crises come to mind. However, do the indigenous peoples from rural Mapuche communities, vast fields, dormant volcanoes, magical rivers and breathtaking landscapes of the Patagonia come to mind?

Well, for us they do. We just returned from a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before our readings were assigned and classes were underway, we headed south to Junín de los Andes to work as volunteers at Cruzada Patagonica’s hands-on education centre — San Ignacio High School (CEI San Ignacio).

The Cruzada Patagonica Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1979. The CEI San Ignacio was built a few years later. Home to around 250 students from rural communities in the southern provinces of Argentina, this school is equipped with the basics to provide youth with academic, agricultural and/or technical opportunities for their futures.

We worked with other volunteers in an assortment of jobs, everything from organizing library books to pulling weeds from the strawberry patch! We helped prepare meals, water the new pine trees, assist students with their homework and even cleaned the eavestroughs! Throughout the three short weeks that we were there, we lived, shared and learnt with other volunteers, the staff and most of all with the students.

This experience enriched our lives as students and as global citizens, it taught us about opportunity, development and solidarity. It was a remarkable experience that we recommend to anyone and one that we will take with us for the rest of our lives!

One of the things that amazed us the most during our time at the school was the attitude of the kids there. Normally, studying and learning, working in fields and cleaning dishes after meals is one of the last things that teenaged boys and girls want to do. However, the kids never complained about math equations or enormous stacks of plates — well, to us at least. Instead, they were always willing to help us find brooms, always willing to share their maté, and ready to dance the Chacarera (a traditional gaucho dance) for us while banging on pots and pans as their background music.

Aside from seeing a beautiful city in the south of Argentina, practicing Spanish and doing chores, we were also able to participate in the daily lives of kids and teachers in the town. This, more than anything, enriched our experience there and allowed us to see a different side of Argentina, while having a great time doing it.