If I had been told 3 months ago that I’d be working on my group DukeEngage Chile project from home instead of Neltume in the midst of a global shutdown, I wouldn’t have believed it for a second. I always knew the world has an interesting way of bringing people together through strange experiences, but I never would’ve thought this year was destined for travel bans, quarantines, Zoom meetings, and toilet paper shortages.
Nonetheless, my experiences in this first week of online service have only reinforced in me the notion that our world is more deeply united by large-scale hardships.
As I sat in the backseat of the car on the way back from my mom’s surgery, frantically trying to log on to Zoom to participate in our first weekly group meeting, I was overcome with a unique sensation — I felt accompanied. I was comforted in knowing that I was not alone, that everyone else in the world was also experiencing hard times, and that most importantly, I could do something productive to help others.
Throughout the course of this first week, our program director has explained to us what the goals of our project are. We’ve familiarized ourselves with the Huilo Huilo Foundation and Biological Reserve, seen photos of the beautiful geography and tourist destinations, and learned about the three foundational pillars (conservation, culture, and sustainable economic development). We’ve researched other biological and biosphere reserves, and worked on developing an online system for local ID cards. We’ve discussed local artisan projects and assessed the need for websites and translations. But most importantly, we have developed a genuine sense of community with each other and our community partner. We have gotten to know each other better, understand our backgrounds, develop our motivations, and foster an environment of growth. Despite not being together physically, we are communicating constantly to help each other, and building off of each others’ strengths.
I am excited to experience our program’s focus shift from biological conservation to local economic development. I look forward to learning more about Neltume’s people, culture, and endemic biodiversity. And most of all, I am excited to see our group continue to grow!