Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why I am Here

Yesterday was the most rewarding day of my service work thus far. The day began with a rocky start. I arrived to work right on time at 9 am. The door was still locked. I immediately noticed a phrase spray painted on the clean white wall next to the entrance. As I waited for the office to open, I watched strangers walk by and glance at the graffiti. I felt almost embarrassed as I stood outside. I still don’t know why I felt embarrassed, but that was how I felt.

When Ximena finally arrived, fashionably on time in Chile, at 9:25, she took one brief look at the graffiti and continued about her normal routine of unlocking the four locks that protect the center. I asked her what the words meant, since I had never heard most of them before. Apparently they don’t have much significance. They are simply names with “A la [C]alle” at the end.

The day was long. Jordan and I planned to stay for a class that didn’t begin until 6:30 pm and concluded around 9. I’m glad I finally attended a class.

During the day, most micro-entrepreneurs are working other jobs. We mainly interact with each other, the other Chilean interns that come several days a week, and the office directors during lunch. For the first week, it was difficult to see how our work could be useful.

At 6, the micro-entrepreneurs began to roll in. It was the first accounting course of program for these people. We met the volunteer teacher, Sergio, and took a seat at the small desks. The classroom was split fairly even between men and women, the old and the young. Most of the micro-entrepreneurs were energetic as they asked Sergio questions and clarifications. The Chilean Spanish was quite difficult to understand. The teacher and students interacted rapidly full of Chilean slang. This was quite a contrast to my class in the fall at a Madrid University. For the most part, I was able to keep up with the class without difficulties.

Halfway through, we took a 30 to 45 minute break (quite long!), where Jordan and I had the opportunity to interact with the micro-entrepreneurs for the first time. We talked to a nice older man, Fernando, for the whole time. In his spare time, he’s trying to start a business that makes alpaca sweaters, which, according to him are up to five times warmer than cotton sweaters. He told us about his sons and daughters, his expected grandchildren, and his niece in Chicago. He even asked me for my cell phone number because one of his sons loves speaking English and meeting foreigners. It was refreshing to see someone so excited to share his story with us gringos. The other micro-entrepreneurs chimed in about the usefulness of the courses and how diverse the businesses are. I was glad to see that my work this summer in improving the courses will help make a positive difference in these peoples lives and for many micro-entrepreneurs to come. These courses are practical. Even if the micro-entrepreneurs never really start their businesses, they learn skills that are useful in life, such as accounting, computation, and the production process. Ultimately, these micro-entrepreneurs are the reason why I am here, even if some days are long, cold, and solitary.

Afterward: I came to work today to discover the graffiti somewhat painted over. You can still see it, but it doesn't immediately draw attention.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Grant, Great post. I've really been enjoying reading your blog entries. --Annie Kao, Assoc Dir., Admin/Finance, DukeEngage.