August 15, 2012
Samantha Paul, a junior from Bloomington, Indiana, is doing a summer internship with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) on the first international literacy brigade in El Salvador. She is majoring in creative writing and Spanish and received a Richter Scholarship to participate in the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) Literacy Brigade.
Tell us more about your internship.
I worked as a brigadista with the CISPES on the first international literacy brigade in El Salvador. We worked to support the literacy program through public relations by meeting with dignitaries, preparing press releases, and leading press conferences. We also supported the literacy program in more hands-on activities, such as collecting a census, participating in literacy circles, and leading workshops. We traveled to different communities throughout El Salvador to provide support to the literacy program and observe their work, after which we provided a report to the Ministry of Education on our observations. The brigade consists of 24 brigadistas and four coordinators so we all participated in each activity.
Describe your day-to-day experiences so far.
So far we've met with the vice president of El Salvador, crossed over to a rural community on a Huckleberry Finn-style raft, and engaged with a number of individuals who have chosen to give their education another shot. This government-funded program offers three levels and finishes with the equivalency of a sixth grade certification. We heard the stories of these men and women and went to their homes, where we saw firsthand how they overcame the challenges of poverty and the distractions of daily life. One woman facilitated a lesson for her husband with a workbook in one hand and breastfed her infant in the other. Our day-to-day activities consisted of listening to the people around us and learning from their rich culture.
Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom experiences at Knox have benefited you during your internship?
Within the classroom my Spanish courses, particularly those based on Spanish culture, were invaluable. In our work in the community, we operated in Spanish and conversational fluency in the language was a requirement for the brigade.
How do you think this experience will benefit you in terms of your education and future career plans?
This has been a completely life-changing experience. I have seen and experienced so many things I would have never believed possible. I was challenged on a daily basis in my knowledge of the current political climate, the language, and the culture. I developed more intellectually and personally over the short time I was in El Salvador than I can believe. It has inspired me to continue my study of the Spanish language and to gain full fluency. It has also created a special place in my heart for the people of El Salvador; I plan on continuing my work with CISPES as a volunteer.
What has been the best part of your experience?
It seems impossible to pick a "best" moment of such a full and fulfilling experience, but there was one literacy circle that we attended as a small group where I was able to work 1-on-1 with a woman. She had learned to read and could copywrite, and the facilitator asked me to write out phrases for her to copy. That was the first day she wrote her name; seeing the look on her face as she recognized her own signature was undoubtedly a highlight of the trip.
Did you receive any funding for your internship?
Yes, I received a Richter Scholarship to participate in the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) Literacy Brigade.
What do you expect to learn through your internship?
I have attended lectures from leaders in their perspective fields and have learned a great deal about Latin America in terms of culture, politics, language, and economics. I have further developed skills in public relations and Spanish.