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Throughout the course of week 2, I’ve watched our group come together and take initiative. We divided up our tasks, assigned group leaders, and either translated a short story or helped populate a nature reserve database. We also had the pleasure of chatting as a group with a community partner staff member about her experiences working with the Huilo Huilo Foundation.

So — did you notice my repeated use of the word “group”? That’s a word that I tend to use fairly often (and loosely) when describing my experiences working with Huilo Huilo. “Group” project, “group” effort, “group” experience… What does that even mean?

Simply being one of multiple participants who all fall under the same title makes you a member of a “group”. Often times, it doesn’t take much to be a member; a simple title designation does the trick. For instance, I am a member of Duke Engage Chile. Along these same lines, a group is also a relatively broad and bland concept; any crowd of more than about 3 people is a group. These words induce a sense of passive and docile involvement, and are quite dull and colorless.

It’s important to note that being a group member does not imply any sense of genuine belonging or integration. That’s where the word “community” comes into play. You can form a group, but you can’t just form a community— you have to build it. A community relies on trust, honesty, and interdependence. A community shares common struggles, motivations, and experiences, and grows stronger together as a result of hardships. Thus, a true community requires its members to not just be accepting of each other, but to willingly help each other develop and construct an environment of inclusivity; an authentic and heartfelt sense of belonging.

It is precisely when groups hunger for inclusion and a sense of community that they start bringing about change. The driving force for change is the desire to belong. We always hear that humans are social beings who need the approval and support of those around us to keep moving forward. That is exactly why when we feel unfulfilled or inadequate, we instinctively seek change. We want to be welcomed into a community of like-minded people who care about the same causes, feel the same pains, and seek the same unity. And when we see others, too, who are not fitting in, we are instantly motivated to help them out. Once we realize that we all share the same deep desire of belonging, beyond a simple “group” recognition, real change comes about.

In retrospect, I should have started this blog differently. Instead of talking about our “group”, I should’ve talked about our new sense of community. In these past 2 weeks, we haven’t just worked on our computer screens: we have worked together to effect change. We demonstrated our interest in learning from each other to create a sense of common unity. And, most importantly, by getting to learn more about a crucial member of our partner organization, we formed a community bond with Huilo Huilo and the people of Neltume. Now, our mutual understanding marks the real start of our journey together.