Month: October 2008

Speech for the US-Chilean Chamber of Commerce

I just gave a speech today relating to the 90th anniversary of the US-Chilean Chamber of Commerce in Santiago about educational linkages between Chile and the US, arguing that opportunities to study, work, or volunteer away from home leave long-term impacts…and used one very concrete example.

Tomas Recart graduated in June 2008 with a master´s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

While studying in the U.S., he saw a remarkable educational program called, Teach for America, a private initiative that was founded in 1990 that places some of the most talented recent U.S. college graduates in some of the most difficult public grade school and high schools in US.

Just to give you a sense of how much interest there is in this program, in 2008, more Harvard College graduates applied to Teach for America than any other single company or organization… some 8% of Harvard graduating seniors… the only other company that even came close was

Tomas and other Chilean colleagues believed Chile should similarly be directing their most talented graduates to work to increase the opportunities for children in Chile. (more…)

Another beginning

There are many reasons why people chose to volunteer. I guess mine is simply one of them, not as unique as I would like to think, yet life changing nonetheless.

I had been working in a big corporation in Switzerland for six months when I decided to leave that lifestyle behind. It was not easy, as a 23 year-old Spanish kid, I had a very comfortable salary with expectations of career improvement; refusing to stay in that job simply because I did not feel like being a part of that system might have seemed pretentious. There are still people that don’t understand why I left that life in order to come to Chile as a volunteer, without earnings nor much opportunity for “professional development” (I may have no earnings, but professionally I have learned a lot, in large part because I have changed the way that I think of my professional life).

I have to admit that sometimes I’ve doubted if this was the right choice. Why was I so different? If there are lots of people not only doing what I did, but many others who would have jumped at the chance to be in my position, how could I refuse this opportunity? Was I being pretentious for thinking that I deserved something more fulfilling?

And I should admit that I still don’t know the answer to all these questions. However, I have realized that sometimes we have to do things that we believe are right, even if we can’t justify them… yet.


A little bit of history

Santiago´s Children is a very personal story. I was 23 years old just one year out of college – I had studied philosophy and planned to go to law school, but instead found an opportunity to do something different. Although I was quite enthusiastic and earnest, I have to admit now  I was pretty clueless — coming from Ft. Wayne Indiana, having never traveled outside the US, with extremely limited Spanish, showing up in a poor area of Santiago, in Chile under military rule, in the middle of arguably the worst economic crisis in the 20th century.  This book is about that parachuting process, literally falling out of the sky, into things of which I was completely innocent, and some of the things that I learned in process. .

I landed in Santiago in November 1982, just before a critical turning point in that nation´s history, although I didn´t realize it at the time. The repression in Chile had been so severe in that first decades since the coup of September 11, 1973, that very few citizens living in Chile dared criticize the military government. Six months after my arrival, in May 1983, I witnessed the first series of public protest across the nation that ultimately led to the peaceful return of democracy in 1990. While it was a coincidence that I had arrived at such an important historical moment, that I could only understand in hindsight, I knew almost immediately that I was experiencing something remarkable at the Hogar Domingo Savio. That I had the good fortune to land at the hogar and to get to work with Olga Diaz and the children who lived there, I am eternally grateful. This experience transformed my life, and has had an impact on most everything I have done subsequently. (more…)