Posts Categorized:

Local Heroes Series

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    [post_date] => 2021-08-20 14:44:06
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    [post_content] => Valentina Campos, who has served as our Homestay Coordinator in Tiquipaya since 2011, is moving on from her role with Dragons to pursue artistic and cultural projects in La Paz. She has been an essential part of our programming in Bolivia, and her presence in Tiquipaya will be dearly missed. Undoubtedly, she will stay connected to Dragons in the years to come, and we look forward to coordinating with her during future visits to La Paz.

[caption id="attachment_157988" align="alignnone" width="1478"] Homestay mamas Doña Leticia and Doña Carlota with my (Julianne) daughter, Inara, and Valentina (right)[/caption]

Valentina is well known in Bolivia as a painter, traditional chicha maker, and for her work with Andean cultural affirmation. Her striking paintings depict imagery of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and the rituals of planting and harvest that shape the Andean calendar. These ancestral rituals help forge an intimate bond of reciprocity and respect for the natural landscape, a defining component of Andean spirituality and worldview. Valentina is a powerful embodiment of that relationship, and the reproduction and celebration of Quechua rituals and traditions informs every aspect of her life.

The tapestry of that way of life is rich and varied, and is central to what captured my own heart when I first moved to the Andes. For Valentina, cultural affirmation includes the traditional elaboration of chicha, an ancient fermented corn drink; collective child-rearing and the construction of communal spaces of reciprocity and exchange; documentary work to preserve and share Andean wisdom and ritual; the practice of weaving and textile traditions; and participation in agricultural cycles and production. Like the mesmerizing layers of her paintings, these practices are interwoven seamlessly into her daily life and relationships.

I feel deeply honored to have had the chance to be a part of these cycles and practices over the past decade, as Valentina and I have worked together to build and nurture the Dragons community in Tiquipaya and Cochabamba. In the late northern summer of 2011, we walked the dusty roads of Apote, Totorkawa, Colpapampa together to set up our first homestay families. Sitting in shaded patios and adobe kitchens, we explained the concept of a “homestay” to confused families and scouted potential program houses tucked away in agricultural fields. It was not a likely site for a student travel program, and that is precisely what makes our community so unique and dear. All these years later, our homestay siblings have grown from young children to adolescents, having grown up with Dragons students at the family table.

Those exchanges, conversations, misunderstandings, and unexpected friendships shaped their formative years and their worldviews, just as we hope the experience of cultural exchange will shift the lives of our students. Together, Valentina and I have hosted countless homestay gatherings and celebrations, received hundreds of calls from worried homestay mamas when students are late to arrive home, and coordinated innumerable independent study projects. With Valentina’s eye and guidance and seemingly endless collection of contacts we’ve breathed life into 7 different program and staff houses, coaxing plants out of parched earth, building kitchens and composting toilets, and laughing over Q’oa rituals and community meals, and weaving workshops on the grass with Doña Carlota and Doña Leticia and their children.

[caption id="attachment_157989" align="aligncenter" width="1366"] A  ritual Q’oa  offering to give thanks to Mother Earth[/caption]

None of this would have been possible without Valentina’s grace, her deep-rooted relationships in this place, without her joy and creativity. When we talk about the work done “behind the scenes” in the field of intercultural education, we are talking about a lifetime of bonds and rituals and community building carried out by Valentina — and so many other homestay coordinators and community contacts — that give meaning to our work and tenderness to the experience of a student walking into a home in a new community and language and way of life. When those students create connections with an independent study mentor, when their hearts are pierced by a simple moment of understanding with a homestay sibling, when they are moved by the afternoon light cascading across the Tunari mountainside as they make their way home, Valentina is there.

In no small part, Valentina is the reason I moved from the city to semi-rural Tiquipaya 8 years ago. She was in the room when my first daughter was born, and her wisdom and friendship have greatly enriched my life. I always believed that Valentina would never leave Tiquipaya, that her dark long braid and old fashioned bicycle would inhabit these streets forever. However, she is a creator and community-builder and it is time for her to plant seeds into the earth elsewhere. In a brief moment of pause between quarantines, she packed her easels and giant ceramic cantaritos for fermenting chicha into a truck and headed for La Paz. I am excited for this next chapter in her journey. And her presence on these country roads still lingers in the air.

[caption id="attachment_157990" align="alignnone" width="1718"] The Wallunka festival, celebrated in November of each year after Todos Santos. Valentina has organized an annual Wallunka celebration in the community for many years.[/caption]

Interview with Valentina Campos (translated by the author, Julianne Chandler)

You have been coordinating homestays and independent study projects for Dragons participants for almost 10 years. Can you describe some highlights of that experience? The homestay experience has been exciting for me, receiving each group was a completely new experience. The work has always been very integrated with our own lived experience with the community, in coexistence with the shared upbringing of our wawas (children). It has been very rich in various directions, especially for me and many of the families/friends and our children, now teenagers, who have learned and have opened up to relate to the difference and diversity that enriches us. And some challenges? It is true that it has not always been easy and fluid to relate with one another. All of us have had some degree of challenges with students who came with certain personal conditioning that sometimes when mixed with our social situations complicated the coexistence. But we have all learned a lot from those experiences! Your two children never attended school, and you have raised them using methods from the Unschooling Movement. Can you briefly describe the upbringing of your children? Do you feel that it has any relation to the "experiential education" methods promoted by Dragons? It has been very enriching for everyone in my family, even for the grandmothers who initially opposed the idea! Now we all realize that it has been the best decision and personally the best one I have made in my life after the decision to give birth at home. The most important thing about their upbringing through natural learning has been allowing them to grow up with their imagination as intact as possible so that they now know for themselves what they want to be, what they came to life for. It has been a true path of unlearning for us adults. What they value most in life now as young people is living in community and that makes me feel fulfilled, happy. Yes, I think there is a strong relationship, such as the attitude of mutual learning, reciprocity, cooperation and community coexistence that Dragons has promoted in many experiences and shares a lot with our form of natural upbringing. You recently moved to the outskirts of the city of La Paz to deepen your work in collective cultural affirmation. What does this work consist of? Our project Uywana Wasi is a community of shared knowledge and learning experiences. It was created by compañeras-os (friends/comrades) from diverse Bolivian contexts 12 years ago in the town of Totorkawa, Cochabamba. Our space is centered in community upbringing which is a principle of Andean worldview. The spirit and intention is focused on cultural affirmation, comprised of people from different contexts to reclaim autonomy and responsibility for our own knowledge and learning towards "Allin Kawsay" or Living Well. From the beginning, we have focused on creating spaces for exchange and reciprocity of knowledge, wisdom and everything that is created through the experience of coexistence. In recent years, through our documentary “Wallunk'as Program,” we have deepened relationships with several communities in La Paz to the point of becoming very attached to the families. So we decided to relocate, coinciding with various personal changes that some of us have gone through, to be able to continue solidifying projects. On our website we share a little of everything we do and live. You are a renowned painter and artist, and your work represents feminine symbols and rituals of planting from Andean cosmology. How would you describe your latest collection that is currently on display in California? The series of my paintings is called "Siembra de Mamalas," it is an affectionate name to describe the spirits of the seeds. Most of them are feminine and are treated as human. I have always been inspired by seeds, plants and all the myths and archetypes of nature. That is why I feel that this is an open/unfinished series because it is impossible to paint our biodiversity in its totality. At the same time, painting each species is like trying to immortalize them (many already in danger of extinction) and I try to manifest all their power. My gallery is: https://www.uywanawasi.org/pages/pinturas.html [caption id="attachment_157992" align="alignnone" width="1712"] The Wallunka festival, celebrated in November of each year after Todos Santos. The Wallunka swing is believed to be a portal between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Valentina has organized an annual Wallunka celebration in the community for many years.[/caption] Now that you are leaving Dragons, do you have a message or any advice for the Dragons community? First, I would like to thank you all enormously for the opportunity you have extended to me and my family all these years. My brother Tim was the one who extended his hand and made the connection between communities. He also connected me to Julianne as a fellow sister, collaborating in complicity for many years so that we’ve had unforgettable experiences together. I feel like we have joined our communities mutually and I hope we don't take this “leaving” thing seriously. Here I am —you have us, and we would like to continue sharing our experiences from where we are, whenever possible. To all the students with whom I have had the opportunity to share, I send my gratitude. And to the instructors and wider community with whom I’ve built a friendship, we will continue to share and be in contact with each other. I wish everyone times of regeneration, healing and growth. With all my love from the Andes, Valentina   [post_title] => Local Heroes Series: Valentina Campos, Bolivia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => local-heroes-series-valentina-campos-bolivia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-09-07 12:17:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-09-07 18:17:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 776 [name] => Local Heroes Series [slug] => local-heroes-series [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 776 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 3 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 776 [category_count] => 3 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Local Heroes Series [category_nicename] => local-heroes-series [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/local-heroes-series/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. 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    [post_date] => 2020-10-06 12:24:13
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    [post_content] => I want to tell you about my extraordinary friend Sushil Babu Chettri from Nepal. He’s an inspiration for a whole number of reasons, not least for his remarkable life story. His full firsthand account can be found on the Learning Service blog.

He was born in a remote village in the west of Nepal, but ran away as a child and ended up on the streets of Kathmandu. At the age of eight, he learned how to beg from tourists and avoid getting addicted to drugs, while enduring the violence of street gangs.

After some time a tourist “rescued” him and brought him to an orphanage, but unfortunately, the place was corrupt and abusive. The children had no-one to care for them and had to cook and clean for themselves. They did not go to school and had no healthcare. The kids were not even fed enough and were sent out to beg for food. The owner collected donations from various sources but the money never reached the children.

 

Volunteers would come in and out of the orphanage, never suspecting that they were contributing to the exploitation of the children. The volunteers showered love and gifts on the orphanage kids, but the children found it traumatizing to have a conveyor-belt of caregivers, and when they left the hardships resumed.
At the age of twelve, Sushil was the oldest child in the orphanage and felt responsible for getting the children out. He eventually exposed the situation to an American lady and then made a police report about the conditions in the orphanage. The children were all rescued and it slowly their story came out – none of them were orphans, they had all been trafficked there.
The children all went to an organization that cared for them and tried to reconnect them with their families. Sushil felt he was too old to start school but instead he learned skills like how to use a camera and started making short films. He started documenting the lives of street children through film and raising awareness of social issues such as getting children of Kathmandu’s slums into schools. He only reconnected to his family and returned to his village when he was an adult, finding out for the first time that he had a younger brother. The issue that Sushil campaigns on most passionately is orphanage trafficking. After experiencing firsthand how orphanages are run as businesses in order to attract donations, with children stolen from rural areas like where he grew up, he now hosts talks and workshops with tourists and volunteers – and Dragons students! – to share his experience. Recently he has been trying to draw attention to the plight of children trapped in abusive orphanages during the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, Sushil has been back in his remote home town documenting the situation of migrant laborers as they pour over the border from India despite the strict lockdown. He has been active in campaigning for aid for them, but also for aid to be given in the right way and to not be tokenistic or vanity-driven. He is also launching a project to build a well in his village in order to support vegetable growing there.
Throughout Sushil’s life, he has demonstrated remarkable resilience. He is friendly, positive, and fun, and is always willing to use his time and voice to help other people. He is an enormous inspiration to me – and as close as they come to a living legend.
Sushil Babu Chhetri is a freelance photographer and filmmaker who is based in Kathmandu, Nepal. His films include Flowers in the Dust and Letter to God. He is also an activist campaigning on behalf of children living on the street and in orphanages. You can follow him on YouTube and Instagram.  
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Inspired? Join us on a Summer Abroad, Gap Year, or Custom Travel Program and meet more heroes like Sushil! [post_title] => Local Heroes Series: Sushil Babu Chettri, Nepal [post_excerpt] => I want to tell you about my extraordinary friend Sushil Babu Chettri from Nepal. He’s an inspiration for a whole number of reasons, not least for his remarkable life story. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => local-heroes-nepal [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-11-10 19:58:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-11-11 02:58:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 776 [name] => Local Heroes Series [slug] => local-heroes-series [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 776 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 3 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 776 [category_count] => 3 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Local Heroes Series [category_nicename] => local-heroes-series [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/local-heroes-series/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 80 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 80 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/from_the_field/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 53 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 53 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 ) [3] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 14 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 14 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Local Heroes Series, From the Field ... )
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    [post_date] => 2020-08-18 11:00:41
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    [post_content] => 

Meet Lin Theik

Lin is a 29 year old tour guide, educator, and entrepreneur from Myanmar. The ninth of ten children, Lin has a contagious enthusiasm for travel, learning from differing perspectives, and environmental entrepreneurism. Linn is a hero on many fronts - from exposing local youth to a variety of cultures within the borders of his own country to finding creative solutions for reusing plastic.

Lin’s Story

Lin had been working as a guide with a tour company leading young American students throughout Myanmar when he asked himself, “Why not do this with local students?” This question inspired him to found an organization, called Promised Land, that brings local youth on trips within Myanmar that exposes them to differing cultures and perspectives found within their own country. Lin teaches Myanmarese youth how to travel, guiding his students to reflect upon their own experiences and helping them to build a cohesive group dynamic. Students learn leadership skills, oversee the group budget, engage in trekking, and have discussions with local community members. Lin tries to give them, “what they cannot get from the city.” He says, “I’m trying to let them see what you really need to see, trying to get them to think outside the box.” Through these immersive and hands-on travel experiences, Lin aspires to cultivate a combination of confidence and respect within his students. Lin shares that one of the biggest obstacles in working with the youth of Myanmar is in fact their parents! Culturally, parents aren’t accustomed to being apart from their children and have high expectations for consistent communication and a low tolerance for separation. Lin surmounts these obstacles by posting daily messages on social media for the parents as well as keeping the trip length to a maximum of four days! Over the years, two prominent figures have influenced Lin’s approach to life. The first was his late father, whose wisdom shaped Lin’s heart-centered manner in which he approaches people. His father taught him,
'People will forget what you say and what you give, but they will never forget how you treat them.' The second was a former boss, who taught Lin, 'When you talk to the people, you talk with your heart, not with your brain.'
Those words of wisdom have a visible effect on the way in which Lin interacts with others; he exudes a zest for life and heart-centeredness that permeates all of his encounters. Lin states, “Traveling is important … to see the world in a different perspective.” He surmises that traveling is akin to standing in front of a mirror; it provides the opportunity to reflect upon one’s life and also to see from another person’s perspective. He shares, “The youth can change the world, if they try to know each other. If you want to know each other, you have to go to the place you’ve never been, talk to the people you’ve never talked to, and eat the food that you’ve never eaten.”
Forever the entrepreneurial spirit, when Lin isn’t busy guiding, he is developing a project to collect plastic and recycle it into bricks to be used for construction.
The idea came to him after watching local pagodas integrate straw to fortify the clay in the creation of bricks. He thought why not use plastic for the same purpose. He is in the process of creating this project and aspires to collect plastic gathered by people in his community by trading a prescribed amount for a t-shirt. We’ll end with Lin’s words of wisdom: “Walk the way you’ve never walked. Don’t judge people, go the road the people go so you will see it. Go travel and learn. You can have fun and see what is there.” Lin believes that meeting new people and seeing the world through different points of view is the key to understanding and true happiness. Lin's Film Recommendation: The Lady Lin's Book Recommendation: Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess Lin's Favorite Myanmarese Food: Mohinga: rice noodle soup served with beans, egg, and banana stem. An essential part of Burmese cuisine that is eaten in the morning and evening. To learn more about this inspiring human and his organization, please visit Lin’s website: Promised Land Myanmar.
 
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