A Translator’s Story: Guillermo reflects

Hello Friends of SIA! As a busy summer comes to an end, the SIA community reflects on the wonderful work that has been done in South America this year.  One of our amazing translator’s, Guillermo Columbus Serpa, takes a moment to think about the impact SIA has had on his life…

If I were to write about my experience with Solidarity in Action and how much I have grown with their help, I would need to write a book. One of the things I thank God for is the privilege to be a part of  the life changing experiences Solidarity in Action volunteers go through.

As I have shared with some of them, my life is full of challenges. I have found a lot of hypocrisy, fake relationships and indifference in our society, and this left me with nothing but unanswered questions. As a response, I decided to move on and start my process of self-growth.

Not long ago, a friend offered me the opportunity to be a translator with her for SIA. I had never actually spoken in English for more than an hour, and suddenly I found myself  in front of forty unknown foreigners staring at me, expecting me to translate every single word they heard from the welcoming community who, by the way, did not seem to understand the concept of “They don’t speak Spanish”.

As my first week went by, I realized that I was not and could not be just a translator, I was involved. The reaction I could see in the look of every single volunteer reminded me of my own experiences, but the smiles in children’s faces seemed to be new. They were not only thankful because of the construction projects, or the English classes; they felt, they knew we could all be as one. That is solidarity. That is humanity.

I have found a lot of answers, and new questions too. I can say that more than translating, my job is to be a strong bridge between two hearts: a needed heart and a solidarity one, both willing to share everything they have.  I am so ready to be that bridge.


Guillermo in Pacifico de Villa this May

It Starts with Reflection: Backpacking Adventures in South America


Jenna and Natasha continue to share their beautiful stories, making a full circle back to where it all began, with Solidarity in Action in the community of Pacifico de Villa, Peru…

As many of you know, the work that Jenna and I have been doing in Peru for the last 4 years initially started with the impression that we would come here and be giving out selfless time and energy to a program that works in poor communities in Peru. This is still the impression we uphold however it has developed into so much more than that. The last two weeks have been spent sharing our experiences and building what solidarity means for 30 other participants who have embarked on this journey for the first time. Not only has Solidarity in Action been developing their programs to ensure that the community of Pacifico de Villa is maintaining projects and programs that we initiate for them, it has also been expanding the roles of past participants and leaders’ role to sustain the passion and drive we have for making this world a better place. Larry Shuttleworth, the director of SIA, has been an influential person in mine and Jenna’s lives the past 4 years. He has a special eye for potential in people when they, themselves are unable to recognize it. Needless to say, Jenna and I thoroughly enjoy the ‘work’ that we do to prepare for such trips because we have been privileged to see the impact it has on the hearts and minds of many. 

Jenna and I arrived in Lima, Peru just days before a group of 17 adults (ages 45-70 ) and a group of 5 high school students who would be pairing up with 6 Peruvian students for the next two weeks. Mine and Jenna’s main responsibility was to plan and implement a program for the 11 high school girls including an inter cultural component. Jenna and I have led many trips in the past. However, this was sure to be a new learning experience, having been the first time we ran a program with adults and high school students, and simultaneously. This year also marked the first year that we would be challenged to develop our roles as leaders and also take on logistics for the entire program. 

 After our long adventure to Lima from San Perdo de Atacama, Chile, Jenna and I managed to get a taxi to our very familiar and hospitable retreat house in Chorrillos. We were immediately greeted by familiar staff at the retreat house and within seconds by Larry. There was a rush of emotions upon us, seeing a Canadian familiar face after 3 weeks of being away from home. As usual Larry greeted us with open arms and a huge smile.  We excitedly took almost all of our clothes to be washed. You can imagine how awesome it was to receive our freshly washed and still warm package of clothing after 3 weeks of continuous wearing. We had dinner with Javier (our Peruvian SIA representative and whom I stayed with for 2 weeks last summer). Now after being refreshed, fed and informed and updated on the programs, rest was the only thing left on the agenda for our first day back in Lima. 

 The following day we spent the day finalizing the itinerary and looking closely at how we would tackle having a group of high school students for the first time, while in addition determining how we were going to facilitate having them participate in a program simultaneously with 6 Peruvian students. It would be a new and exciting challenge for both of us and it was only hours before their arrival so anxiety was beginning to build. 

 Given the experiences Jenna and I have had over the past three years, Larry, thought it may be wise to begin developing our roles independently. It has been a great privilege to work as a team with Jenna, I think we were both ready and excited to continue to build on our partnership in two different roles. Jenna would be taking on the logistics of the trip (coordinating transportation, payments, etc.) and I would be facilitating and guiding the group with the help of Mayra. 

 The week quickly got underway with visits to the placements and an outline of the program and the expectations. For this group, we had arranged for the students to choose from placements at Laura Alva Saldana (a facility for children and teens win exceptionalities), construction at PRONOEI (the daycare we frequently work at in Pacifico de Villa), assisting with English classes for mothers in the community, child minding for the mothers’ children, after school homework help at Virgen de Carmen (the orphanage we renovated last summer) and assisting the adult group in various activities throughout the week. As per usual, the students were able to get a true flavor of the Peruvian culture with evening activities that included trying traditional foods and visiting local tourists sites. We really tried to facilitate the wonderful opportunity to digest their emotional and physical experiences by interacting and communicating with the Peruvian high school students. Often, one of our biggest challenges for participants is understanding and adapting to Peruvian culture, we had hoped that this inter cultural experience for both sets of girls would teach each other about their culture and subconsciously the positives and negatives. I thought a lot about this – many Canadians who participate in this program find it difficult to be patient while waiting for Peruvians. ‘Peruvian time’, as we call it, often has people coming 20 minutes late to an arranged meeting or event or Peruvians can seem a bit sluggish when they get some where as fast as us. Despite being viewed by many as a weakness and frustrating, I think we can learn a lot from this. Western society constantly has us running around and rushing places. Maybe we need to take more time to see the beautiful things around us and with more time will come a better and more mindful appreciation for these things. 

 The week of placement was quite a success! Despite being two very differently designed programs the students and adults were able to build a relationship and partnership that opened their minds to many new perspectives. They worked effortlessly to build their relationships with the adults and the Peruvian girls but to also dig trenches and then fill them with cement for the classroom and washrooms they are adding to PRONOEI. Beautiful new artwork was added to the daycare on our Day of Solidarity when we invited more students from Cristo Rey (the school the Peruvian students attend) to come and see what poverty looks like in their country. As always, the community welcomed us with warm hearts and showed their gratitude by offering us traditional dishes from the coast, the Andes and the jungle. It never gets easier leaving the community that we continue building relationships with but it is reassuring to know that SIA is developing sustainable projects and relationships so that their community can have the strength to overcome the hardships they are faced with on a day-to-day basis. Even though it is difficult for our participants to say goodbye, it’s always easier knowing that they have the beautiful city of Cusco in sight. After a farewell dinner with friends and the students’ families,  at our retreat house,  a presentation from both Peruvian and Canadian high school students on their respected countries was presented. Who would have thought Peru has over 400 varieties of potatoes? Or that they celebrate and get a holiday for almost anything – they have a day to celebrate the chicken, which happened to be the following day.

 Off to Cusco we went with 30 participants to take in the wonderful sights of the Plaza de Armas and Machu Picchu. Always a beautiful sight, Jenna and I enjoyed the afternoon away from the group while they were taking the tour, to reflect on just how lucky we are to be viewing one of the 7 new wonders of the world, for the 4th time. With many of our participants falling ill to the climatization adjustment, we had our hands full for 3 days. We are very thankful that our group of participants were so flexible and caring during the unfortunate event when our bus broke down and while they waited nearly 2 hours for another one to come. 

 Jenna, Larry and I said our goodbyes and travelled back to Lima, Peru together on Wednesday morning. Jenna and I were anticipating a calmer two weeks ahead and some rest after only sleeping about 10 hours in the span of 3 days. Jenna and I had planned to leave Peru today. Some what of a brief sketch was drawn out while Jenna and I were in Cusco about our travels to Ecuador in between now and the next program. As always, Larry had some other plans perculating in his head.  He recommended we leave Saturday instead, so that we can revisit the community we have been working in (Pacifico de Villa) and set things up for our August group. That conversation quickly turned into a discussion about the possibility of postponing our Ecuador plans until the end of our backpacking adventure. Jenna and I hashed out the positives and negatives to this and decided it would be best for our August program if we spent time planning and speaking with the community to make sure there are concrete plans in place. We are trying to recruit the youth to be more active in their community and create sustainability in relationships and projects amongst them. In order for this to be effective, Jenna and I need to work on building a relationship with them. So for the next two weeks we will be planning our August trip and visiting various locations to finalize details.

 Solidarity in Action, Larry and the experiences that I have in Peru have shaped who I am, over the past 4 years. Jenna and I work very hard to support the programs and despite the time, energy and lack of sleep, we could never express how grateful we are to work alongside such an amazing team. I hope that this blog has given you a small taste of the effort that goes in to make a difference in our world. Travelling to a developing country in the world or making a difference in your own backyard – you can make a big difference little by little. It starts with reflection. Reflect on the world you want you children to grow up in, reflect on the politics that shape our society and the world around us. Don’t always buy into what they tell you. Investigate it yourself and believe that YOU can be the change you wish to see in the world. Western society is far to concerned with shaping our lives for us, it’s too influential. Start with what you believe in your heart and mind, this knowledge is far more powerful than anything dictated to us!

-Jenna and Natasha 

Sobriety of our Existence: Backpacking Adventures in South America


Solidarity in Action representatives Jenna Canning and Natasha Farrugia continue to explore the many wonders of South America.  Here is the next chapter of their journey…

Upon last writing to you all, Jenna and I were leaving Brazil behind us and crossing borders to Argentina. The Brazilian side of Cataratas, as mentioned was a soaking experience. Our spongey minds and bodies absorbed every moment of the breath taking views with our friends from France. The Argentina side, as advised, was stunning.  We had a much more tangible experience IN the falls on the Brazilian side and the Argentinian side proved to be a visual appreciation of our existence.  A woman we met on our tour in Puerto Iguau (the Argentina side) captioned the views we were taking in that day with the expression “sobriety of our existence”. It stuck with me and has so much truth to it. The beautiful sights Jenna and I have been observing truly serve as sobriety to our existence and appreciation for our visual and auditory existences. 

That fast-forwards us a day to our arrival in Buenos Aires (B.A).  We embarked on a self guided tour of Palermo, the city where our hostel was located, and found a patio to sit on and enjoy lunch. It was lovely to see many locals enjoying each others company on a patio, even in the early season of their winter. We went back to the hostel with high hopes of dolling ourselves up for an elegant evening at a Tango show. Some may think we were crazy but we navigated our way through the city streets bus system. We were pretty excited about our tango lesson and show, so we had arrived quite early.  Our tango certificates are proof that we successfully completed our lesson with excellency. With the rhythm still pulsating within us, the show had us mesmerized and tango’ing our way home that evening. The rest of our evening was spent exchanging Canadian tourist locations with some Uraguay men.

 We successfully located our American friend that we met in Puerto Iguacu, Colin,who had made his way back to B.A. for the final leg of his adventure.  We spent Sunday walking, what felt like the entire city of Buenos Aires touring popular locations.  Continuing our walk to San Telmo for the 2km long market of artisans and food vendors, paired with local musicians, made for a very culturally rich afternoon.  While at the market, we had asked a tourist looking individual to take a photo of us which led us to adding another person to our group and having him guide us to Cementario de Rocoleta. This is a cemetery with large room-like graves containing notable people like Eva Peron.   We said goodbye to our new friend shortly after getting some guidance to a restaurant that came highly suggested. La Cabrera was suggested to us by some Canadians we had met at our tango lesson.  Jenna and I shared a well needed and deserved steak dinner with yam, rice, onion, fries and a fried egg…oh and of course a bottle of wine.  Our new hostel, Milhouse, was very large hostel had many people from all over the world with many amenities. Here we would meet up with two Brits, Will and Dill,  that we had previously met in Foz de Iguazu. The night was filled with exchanges of British and Canadian accents. 

 Our bus for Mendoza would depart in the evening so we took it slowly on Monday, visiting La Boca, having lunch and returning to the hostel. La Boca is known for its colourful streets and Caminito where many tango performances can be enjoyed while eating. We remained at the hostel until we would leave for the bus terminal where we would purchase our bus ticket for Mendoza. Our friend Colin came to see us off. We spent some time at the bus terminal after purchasing our ticket. 

 This morning we arrived in beautiful Mendoza. A city known for its wine and scenery. We drove into the snow capped Andes mountains and are staying at a beautiful hostel called Mora Idiomatic Hostel.  We visited a couple of plazas or better known to us as parks in the area. While walking around the Plaza de Indendencia, the scent of one of our favourite snacks led us to a street vendor who was selling peanuts covered in sugar. We were fortunate enough to have him tell us how they are prepared as we cooked them. It was such a wonderful cultural experience. Of course, we purchased our creation and enjoyed the warmer sun Mendoza has to offer. This evening we cooked our own meal and enjoyed the complimentary glass of wine. We were able to participate in a free Mate class, introducing us to the presentation and culture of this tea drinking ritual originating in Argentina. We are spending a couple days in Mendoza to make sure we don’t rush the beautiful scenery and wine, of course. Tomorrow we will head to some thermal pools and Thursday we will do a bike tour to some local wineries. Updates in the next blog on whether we make it back on our bikes or not.

 Thank you for taking the time to be apart of our journey. Despite the difficulty of describing the colours, tastes and sounds of South America, we hope you can get a glimpse of our experience. Please take a moment to reflect on features of your daily lives that reflect a sobriety of your existence. This is such a powerful reflection, I am so thankful that travelling the world helps me have a better grasp on what this means for me when I see things that many people dream of seeing and/or may never see in their lifetime. We can do this daily in our neighbourhoods and within ourselves without having to step outside (although, I believe true sobriety lies within mother nature’s finest assets).

Until the next time….