A Letter Home from the IHP Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy program:
Hola folks at home,
On November 10th, we took our first steps onto Chilean soil. It was one small step for humans, but a giant leap IHP-kind. The first few days in Chile came with the exhaustion of adjusting to a new place, but also with the exhilaration of a new culture that is colorful in new ways. For a lot of the Spanish speakers in the group, being able to communicate with people was empowering after being in countries where many of us felt that communication was a challenge. After a few days in the hotel, we went to *drumroll* HOMESTAYS. Because everyone has a different homestay experience, it’s difficult to summarize in this paragraph, but the one thing that sums it up well is the morning activity the next day: everyone went around the circle and shared a short story or anecdote that started with the phrase, “I knew my homestay was going to be awesome when…”
After moving into the homestays, we spent the first week in Santiago visiting a variety of places that hold both historical and political significance in Chile. For our first site visit, we went to the Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Here, we learned about not only the history of the Pinochet era, but the impact it had and continues to have in Chile. In addition to the Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos, we went to Londres 38, a site of torture during the Pinochet regime. Together, these two experiences helped shape our understanding of human rights and their formation in Chile.
The following week we began an excursion to Southern Chile with an overnight bus ride to the beautiful, mountainous Alto Bio Bio region. There we met up with Jose Alywin, a prominent human rights advocate and lawyer of the Observatario Cuidando, an organization that began to promote and protect indigenous rights but has expanded to include general citizen’s rights in Chile. Jose and numerous local officials and leaders of Alto Bio Bio spoke to us about the issues confronting the Mapuche of that region. We did numerous site visits to hydroelectric dams installed in Mapuche territory. After Alto Bio Bio we went to the city of Tamuco for a few days and spent time at the Observatario Cuidando office where we heard lectures from lawyers, journalists, and administrators which gave us a broader, deeper narrative on indigenous rights in Chile. On one of our last nights in Tamuco, our IHP group came together for a special community building session and saw the new Los Juegos de Hombre (The Hunger Games) film at a Tamuco theater. This, of course, resulted in many Katniss-related discussions on human rights.
After Temuco, we made our way down to Curarrehue on a series of overcrowded local buses to spend a week with the Mapuche indigenous community. During our week in Curarrehue we got to experience a taste of the local culture during our time with Mapuche homestay families. A central value of Mapuche culture is a relationship with the earth and many of our families practiced subsistence farming in order to provide for their families. A few of us even got to milk cows. For many, the highlight of our week in Curarrehue was the Thanksgiving celebration we had with the local community. We started the day with a lecture and by going around in a circle and describing each other in one word and then moved to the location of our Thanksgiving celebration. There we observed a community women’s organization meeting and shared a feast with our Curarrehue families.
After returning back to Santiago, most of us realized that our Comparative Analysis Projects (CAPs), that ecompassed all of the research we had been collecting over the semester, were due in a little over a week. Amidst the stress and struggles of writing our papers, many of us explored new parts of Santiago and found new cafes and libraries to work in. We still had lecture and site visits to attend in our last week in Santiago, including a visit to the regional Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. After visiting the UN in New York, it was interesting to see how the regional office worked in Chile and surrounding countries. The most exciting part of the week was going to the launch of the Chilean National Human Rights Institute’s annual report. We heard the president of Chile speak about the advances Chile has made in human rights and witnessed resistance from civil society as people held up protest signs, voiced their dissent, and walked out during his speech to show their dissatisfaction with the state of women’s rights and indigenous rights in the country.
For the final days of not only our time in Chile, but of our time on the program, we took a bus to Isla Negra to enjoy and appreciate our time together. The first day we all rejoiced in the conclusion of our CAP presentations, celebrating that night with a bonfire on the beach. It was amazing to learn from our fellow students and see the final product of the work they had done all semester. The second and third days we looked back on the past four months through a series of reflections and discussions, amazed to see all that we have experienced and how much we have grown. We also began to look forward to our transition back to our homes and schools. Although we are reluctant to leave each other and the environment we have created amongst our group, we are immensely thankful to know that these experiences will bind us forever and someone is always a phone call away. With all of our schedules completed, assignments written, and bags packed we leave with more in our minds and hearts than we could have ever imagined the first day in New York.