“To study human rights you shouldn’t write so much, you should feel and listen.”
– Raquel Marillanca, Mapuche leader
Resistance. Welcome. Reciprocity. Community. Solidarity. Looking back. Moving forward.
No words can fully do justice to our journey in Chile, from the moment we arrived in the cozy Dominica Hostel to our departure from the serene Kurarrewe and retreat bonfire. We have received an overwhelming amount of love in this beautiful country as our trip draws to a close. With the hope of providing you small pieces of what is going through our minds, we have shared small journal entries below:
During our stay in Chile, we had the opportunity to stay in two different places. For about three weeks in Santiago, we were exposed to topics very particular to the Chilean history, such as student movements, transitional justice against the dictatorship, women’s movement, and many more. The more we delved into those topics, we felt more connected to the Chilean culture. Two weeks after our arrival, we moved to Kurarrewe for a week and a half. There, we learned about the resistance of the Mapuche indigenous community against destroying their lands and resources. We also felt connected to that community, and even more so there by the nature of being on the Chile country team. The question that haunts me now is; how can we show solidarity to issues we cannot, no matter how hard we try, relate to? How does solidarity look like in those different communities, for us as outsiders? Cross cultural barriers will still exist, even harder to break when there is a language barrier as well, like in my case. How can we not perpetuate the savior complex, but still help through our privilege ?
-Haneen Abu Al Neel
The past month in Chile has had its ups as well as its downs. This past week in particular has been marked with many due dates and high stress levels. It has been a stressful last two weeks trying to put the finishing touches on our research projects as well as our final assignments for other classes. Some of the group members, myself included, have had it not so lucky and have gotten sick on top of all the stress.
However, these issues were short lived and have been resolved. The Chile country staff has been extremely helpful with scheduling doctor appointments for those not feeling well and continuously checking in with the emotional and physical well-being of the students during this intensive time in the semester, and we are grateful for their continuous support. Most of us have been managing our stress by finding the light at the end of the tunnel, whether that be the retreat that we have our last week, or the fact that we will be reunited with family in a couple of days. We have also been getting in homework groups in cafes, parks and in homestays to help motivate each other and share the work that we have to do.
I can proudly say that today we all finished presenting our research findings, submitted our papers and are packing for our retreat and our final relaxing week of the program before heading home! We had some bumps along the way but we made it!
Being a student who has grown up and studied in the United States, my knowledge of Chile before arriving was very limited. After my time here, my knowledge about the country has expanded exponentially. One thing that has made a significant impact upon me is learning how often the United States have played a determining, usually negative, role in international events and policies, such as in Chile.
Given the Cold War-context, the United States was fearful of the growing spread of communism. This fear heightened when socialist Salvador Allende was elected as president of Chile. The military coup that instituted direct dictatorship rule and grave human rights violations was supported by the US. During this time, new policies were established that negatively affected Chilean society. Today, these policies manifest themselves in extreme inequality, a devaluation of welfare programs, exploitation of natural resources and the eradication of indigenous ways, and privatization of education amongst other detriments.
The United States continues to ignore the role it played in Chile. Being in Chile has shown me how necessary it is to realize how much the United States is to blame for human rights violations that continue to exist today worldwide.
From the moment we touched down on the runway in Santiago’s airport, I was bursting with enthusiasm about the city. It was truly love at first sight. My research project investigated how access to public green spaces within cities impacted public health. Moving into plaza-filled Santiago de Chile, I felt overwhelmingly ready to research! However, conducting research in Chile wasn’t as easy as I had initially supposed, especially with finals and travels.
Nevertheless, the city offered its abundance of resources, and somehow (thankfully) everyone’s projects were completed with huge success. On December 7th and 8th each one of us presented our Comparative Analysis Projects to our IHP staff. I was extremely excited to finally be able to present the research I’ve been producing all semester! Although I experienced some of the typical nervousness and butterflies about presenting, I truly felt like I could speak with authority and expertise on my project having done this thorough, global, comparative study.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to pursue a topic so interesting and personal to me. Although conducting an independent research project was challenging and involved some tough sleepless nights, I gained so much from this process to carry with me in the future.
In Santiago, I lived with a same-sex male couple in a beautiful apartment for about three weeks. They were both in the field of theatre, working as actors, directors, and playwrights, and I was fortunate enough to go to one of their absolutely incredible plays. They kept their household vegetarian and very organic, which meant the food was always very fresh and delicious. I already miss them so much and hope I can see them again in the future!
In Kurarrewe, I lived with a Mapuche family for about a week. The entire family consisted of some of the most generous people I have ever met in my life. We lived on a farm, as many people in this area are farmers, and had a lot of fun walking around the farm and working on it. During our stay, we also learned about the many issues facing this community regarding big companies attempting to invade their natural resources (i.e. water), and some of us were fortunate enough to partake in creating a video and website to raise awareness about this issue.
Our experience here is unique because we’re not just in Chile – in some ways, our hearts are still in Nepal, Jordan, and at home. It doesn’t quite feel like I’ve left – when I check Facebook, my feed lights up with pictures of me with my friends in Jordan, with loving messages from my Nepali host mom, and with the statuses of my friends back home. I’m reminded of how there are events going on around the world that impact me and the people I care about – my global family.
I’m still reading news stories about India’s blockade of the border to Nepal cutting off access to gasoline, food, and medicine for my Nepali friends. I’m following election campaigns and discussing them with my Chilean host family. I’m learning about the refugee debate in the US and how it’s not some vague issue that impacts people I’ve never met – it’s affecting the lives of refugees I literally spoke to only a month ago.
When we were speaking to Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, we asked them what they wanted people to know back home in America. Many of them asked if we could help them get their papers to come to the U.S. sooner. And now, with so many of our elected representatives turning them away, we have just thrown those hopes right in their faces. During our last week in Chile, many members of the group got together to write a statement and film a video that we hope will spread the words of the families we met. I’m so proud of my peers, who have taken the initiative to use our voices to advocate for the rights of refugees.
When we first began our solidarity initiative in Kurarrewe, we had already met as a group and discussed our hopes and goals for it. One of our goals was to begin organizing around a community radio station to be headed by the Walung organization. However after our first meeting with community members in Kurarrewe, we realized that this goal of a community radio station was not one that would be easy to accomplish. It would not simply come to fruition through fundraising and grant initiatives, nor through only community meetings. Rather, this goal was imbued with a Chilean history of broadcast privatization, discrimination towards Indigenous people, and the silencing of freedom of expression. The goal of a community radio station would be one that would be met only through a complex understanding of Chilean history, Mapuche history, and the laws that govern media in Chile. Another assumption that we began our project with was that we would be able to complete a video, website, and fundraising initiatives by the end of our time in Kurarrewe. However, after meeting with Anita she warned us to not put too much on our plates as she wasn’t sure that we’d meet each and every task. While we are proud that we completed most of our goals, we are also proud that we listened to Anita’s advice.
As we come to the close of our IHP trip, each of us look to the past as well as the future to try and make sense of what this experience has meant for our lives. One thing that truly surprised me as I sit and chat with different IHP friends is the diverse range of impacts this has had on each of our career aspirations. Among us there is such a diversity of anticipated career paths. A scholar. A community organizer. A human rights lawyer. A young adult author. An environmental justice advocate. An elementary school teacher. For each of us, there is an exciting opportunity to think about how human rights can be practiced in our own lives. Although this journey has not necessarily meant clarity for each one of us in what to do after our rapidly approaching college graduations, it has inspired us each in our own way to consider what role human rights can have in daily lives and careers. I cannot wait to see how this journey continues as we part ways from our immediate IHP trip.