Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Catching up: Alumni Reunion

I apologize for the blogging hiatus the last several weeks in Chile. We were all busy with finishing our projects. However, now that I’m home, I have a little time to wrap up some loose ends.

Alumni Party
One of the highlights during our last two weeks was the Alumni Party. Liz and Rachel’s primary project was to strengthen alumni connections and host a second annual alumni gathering in Puente Alto. The party was held on Thursday, July 3rd at 6 pm. Turnout was in the neighborhood of 50 people, which included micro entrepreneurs, interns, and AE staff. There was food, decorations, mingling, speakers, and a 20-minute video produced by Liz and Rachel.

The beginning of the party was plagued by technology difficulties. The 20-minute video was on Rachel’s Mac, but no one had the proper cords to connect her video to the projector. Puente Alto director, Daniel, didn’t want to show the video if it could only be displayed on the laptap. His concern showed AE’s emphasis on quality and high standards. Fortunately, with the help of Karna, they were able to burn the video to a DVD in time to show by the end of the reunion.

A provincial governor attended the reunion and was the keynote speaker. He talked about the importance of staying in contact with AE as an alumnus, since AE could still provide support and future micro entrepreneurs could benefit from insights of more experienced micro entrepreneurs.

At the end, the girls played their video. Liz and Rachel created the video by asking a few additional questions to the micro entrepreneurs that were interviewed for Elana and Karna’s project. In the video, micro entrepreneurs stated their name, business, and gave one consejo (advice) to current AE students. The micro entrepreneurs loved seeing themselves in the video, with some crying. The video will now serve as an additional motivational video for AE by showing incoming micro entrepreneurs the benefits of the program.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Streamlining the teaching process

I apologize for the blogging hiatus. We’ve been nearing the completion of our projects, with Rachel and Liz putting the finishing touches on the alumni party, Elana and Karna conducting more interviews than ever, and Jordan and I finalizing our instructors manual and PowerPoint presentations.

Stemming from an idea between Jordan and Joe, Jordan and I have started working on creating a brief, 2-hour workshop for volunteer instructors. Since many AE volunteers are professionals who don’t necessarily have teaching experience, we believe that creating a workshop would be a helpful way to increase the quality of AE’s courses. From first hand experience as a teaching assistant back in Public Policy 55 back at Duke, I can say that teaching a course is very challenging, if you haven't taught in a classroom setting before.

I’ve spent several days researching some basic teaching strategies, especially for adult learners. Unlike young students, adults take classes for different reasons. In the case of AE, adults take classes to improve their knowledge about running their own micro-enterprises. From our experience attending classes and talking to volunteers and AE staff, we feel like focusing on the connection between the instructor and students would help the micro-entrepreneurs pay better attention and further enjoy their classes. Engaging the micro-entrepreneurs, rather than lecturing to them can go a long way in helping the classes run smoothly and effectively. Helping bring consistency to the way that volunteers are briefly trained should improve the courses across the board.

Unfortunately, we only have two weeks left. In the time we have left, we hope to lay the groundwork for a trial program at Norponiente that future interns can expand, including informational videos with advice from former instructors.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mid-Project Update

It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the half point of our work with Acción Emprendedora. On Friday, we had a meeting with a few of the directors to present our work thus far and plans for the future. Here are some excerpts from our presentation and the one-page handouts that we prepared:

Elana and Karna’s field research project:
-Their project consists of interviewing micro-entrepreneurs and gathering qualitative and quantitative information about the successes and failures of the micro-enterprises. Karna is also working on developing a template for web profiles for ideal candidates.

-As of July 2nd, they had conducted 15 interviews and have many more scheduled. The interview questions focus on descriptions of the micro-entrepreneurs’ businesses, their monthly profits, revenues, number of workers, etc. They also ask questions about hypothetical services that AE could offer in the future. The interviews are filmed using flips cams, while the results are complied in an excel spreadsheet.

-Eventually, Elana and Karna plan to statistically analyze the data once they have a bigger sample size and report their findings to AE.

-The process isn’t always easy. Many times, they don’t have the correct contact info for the micro-entrepreneurs. Other times, micro-entrepreneurs don’t show for their interviews. To combat these problems, the group now phones the micro-entrepreneurs to remind them about their interviews, or they interview people already at the Puente Alto center.

Liz and Rachel’s alumni association project:
-Liz and Rachel are in charge on planning the 2nd annual alumni party, as well as improving current AE alumni relations. They hope to establish a collaborative sense of community, where alums can share ideas and mentor micro-entrepreneurs currently enrolled in AE courses.

-Working with Elana and Karna, they are creating a video to show at the banquet. This video highlights AE’s work and the advice of micro-entrepreneurs. They are also creating an alumni directory, which can aid projects like Elana and Karna’s in the future.

-In addition to contacting micro-entrepreneurs about the reunion and creating the video, Liz and Rachel are hoping to attract some sponsorship and speakers for the event.

-Like the other groups, they have faced difficulties, including editing videos and deciding what content to include in the videos.

Grant and Jordan’s educational consulting:
-The primary aim of Grant and Jordan’s project has been to create an instructor’s manual for the course on production, which includes lesson plans, examples, practice problems, and an accompanying PowerPoint.

-To begin, the two designed a questionnaire to send to former teachers of the production course. Additionally, they attended several classes to meet micro-entrepreneurs and study the style of teaching. Finally, they researched various aspects of production online to gain a better understanding of the material and how it can apply to micro-enterprises.

-Now, they have completed a preliminary, 35-page draft of the instructor’s manual in Spanish. Currently, they are working on the PowerPoint slides.

-Progress has moved along quicker than they anticipated. The former volunteers replied fully and prompted. Unfortunately, there have been problems with accessibility and compatibility. Some computers have trouble dealing with the sheer size of the document, as well as some of the graphics.

Overall, all three groups are progressing quite well in their respective projects. There is quite a bit of overlap between the projects. Elana, Karna, Liz, and Rachel work together in their interviews, even though they are searching for different data. Grant and Jordan collaborate with Elana and Karna to find useful case studies for the production course. The next four weeks will certainly continue to be exciting!

Tertulia #2: Guillermo Núñez y Soledad Bianchi - Torture

Sunday evening we had our second tertulia. The DukeEngage group met with painter Guillermo Nuñez and his wife, Soledad Bianchi, who is a writer. Nuñez was subjected to torture during the Pinochet military regime. While he wasn’t physically tortured, he was blindfolded 23 hours a day, forced to witness others’ torture, and subjected to psychological torture for several months. Eventually, he was exiled to France until the end of the Pinochet regime in 1989.

His art recreates the pain and suffering of torture. This is his manner of coping with Chile’s dark times. Because of the dark themes of his painting, including the distortion of bodies, blood, and violence his art isn’t widely purchased. Instead, his art acts as a reminder of the atrocities committed during Pinochet’s Chile and the costs of modernization. Additionally, Nuñez has painted and collected photographs that show the suffering encountered in the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. A controversial exhibit explicitly depicting the violence of the early Pinochet regime led to his imprisonment and exile.

Bianchi brought up an interesting theme regarding art and writing in Chile. Few Chileans actively collect or purchase art. Art museums here lack collections compared to those found in Buenos Aires or Europe. Writers struggle to make a living as only recently have writers signed contracts before publishing books to earn more money. For Nuñez, his personal paintings are not his livelihood, but a necessity. He works for the various museums and designing souvenirs for Pablo Neruda attractions and books.

Now, we have seen two sides to the Pinochet regime: Manuel Valdés’ pro-modernization vs. Nuñez’s torture that resulted from the economic progress. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Chile did make important progress during the military regime, but there were numerous humanitarian costs, including the murder, torture, and exile of tens of thousands of citizens.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Argentina's election

I'm going to link to another Duke student's blog for a post about the elections in Argentina. Chris has been in Argentina for several weeks this summer researching the elections.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Weekend in Buenos Aires

The six of us headed to Buenos Aires for a long, holiday weekend. I was especially excited for the trip because I’ve wanted to visit Buenos Aires for a long time. More importantly, I thought visiting Buenos Aires would help serve as a comparison for Santiago. Even though I’ve been to Peru, I never left the Lima airport.

Buenos Aires is sometimes called the Paris of South America. After visiting, I don’t really think that’s a fair comparison – more on that in a separate post. This post will briefly chronicle our weekend.

We were delayed a bit leaving Santiago due to a mechanical problem. We landed in Buenos Aires in the afternoon and unsure how exactly to get to our hostel. The airport is about 40 km from the city center. We opted to take a van, which ended up being our own small bus. When we arrived at the hostel, we ended up with an incredible room on the roof overlooking the city.

Views from the hostel on Monday morning when it started to rain

That afternoon, we walked from the city center near el Congreso past the Pink House to Puerto Madero.
The "Pink" House

Puerto Madero is probably the nicest and most modern area of Buenos Aires. It’s also quite American, with a Hooters and a TGI Fridays.

Puerto Madero

We went to an Austrian (after Austrias, Spain) near our hostel for dinner. Afterward, we explored the nightlife of the city at a club in Palermo, the trendy district.

I spent most of Friday with my friend Rachel, who has spent the past semester studying in Buenos Aires. I was sick, so unfortunately, I had to spend a lot of the day inside cafes. I still managed to buy a leather jacket in Murillo. Leather is very inexpensive in Argentina. I also saw Rachel’s university. It was a huge building with probably 7 to 10 floors. It felt like a mini city with people selling food, books, art, and other goods inside. The walls were covered in political posters and event advertisements. I also learned first hand that Buenos Aires has indoor heating! I’m going to devote another post to the topic of heating and why Chile lacks it.

The rest of the group spent the day learning Tango in the colorful district of La Boca.

I slept for 12 hours Friday night, so I was feeling better on Saturday. I no longer had a fever and was ready to explore more of the city. I had to pick up my leather jacket, which needed to be lengthened. I met back up with the group in Recoleta. We spent the late afternoon exploring a crafts market. I purchased a Mate set (Argentine tea) and a neat flattened wine bottle to hang on the wall.

We all met up with my friend Rachel and her friend, Dillon. We set out for a Parilla (grill), but ended up at a different one than the one she had been to before. The meal, however, was excellent. For about 50 pesos per person, or $14, most of us had a steak dinner, with a delicious salad bar, and a glass of red wine. The steak prices in Argentina are incredible. Not only was the slab of meat nearly twice the size of what one would expect in the States, but it also only cost a quarter of the price.

There was a liquor ban beginning at midnight until 9 pm the following day in anticipation of the congressional elections on Sunday.

The congressional elections were held on Sunday. The streets were empty and many shops were closed. I heard that voting is compulsory, but I’ll need to check on that for the entry about the elections. The group met up with Karna’s friend, Chris, who is living and working in Buenos Aires for part of this summer. He showed us el Congreso, which is their capital building.

He then took us to the famous San Telmo market. The craft market stretches blocks along a street in the oldest district in the city. Antique and art shops line the street. We ate at a cheap Parilla for lunch, where I once again had steak. I needed to make up for the several meals of Italian food I had on Thursday and Friday.

Entrance to one side of the market

In the afternoon, we went back to Palermo and the Zoo. Instead of visiting the zoo, we took a horse drawn carriage around the parks in that area of the city. The open parks and small lakes surrounded by tall, elegant apartment buildings was my favorite part of the city.

For dinner, we wanted to try a restaurant that Chris had recommended. However, the restaurant was closed, so we went to a delicious restaurant next door. This time, I opted for sirloin and caramelized sweet potatoes.

We woke up at 8 to make the trek back to Santiago. Flying over the Andes is one of the most beautiful flights I’ve ever taken. I had a great view of Aconcagua, which is the tallest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres at nearly 23,000 feet.

The tallest peak is Aconcagua in both photos

In the coming days, I hope to post several entries on specific aspects of Buenos Aires, including the heating situation and the election results. If you have any other areas you’d like me to cover, let me know!

Monday, June 29, 2009

More to come!

Hi everyone, I just got back from a long weekend in Buenos Aires with the group. I need some rest since unfortunately I finally got sick, but I'll have several entries about Buenos Aires and Santiago up in the next few days.