Santiago’s Children in Spanish

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Santiago’s Children was just recently released in a new Spanish version titled Los niños de La Granja.” Steve traveled to Santiago just this past week to present this new version at two book launches.

The first was at Saint George’s College, and the second was at Domingo Savio with a special performance by some of the children from Mi Club Domingo Savio.

The book launches offered wonderful opportunities to meet with and reunite with many important figures from the book and from Santiago.

As the recent article in the Santiago Times says: Santiago’s Children “is finally available in the language of the people who inspired it,” which gives much cause for celebration.

Benito Baranda wrote the introduction for the new version in which he says:


“I am shocked once more by how much truth is represented from the reality and not from the creative mind of a writer, from the description of where he lived, to the description of each of the children, to the description of the dictatorship and the everyday life in the miserable oppression and abuse.”

The book launches offered wonderful opportunities to meet with and reunite with many important figures from the book and from Santiago.

Details, photos, and updates about the book Los niños de La Granja can be found on the new website and on the Facebook page for Santiago’s Children.

The Spanish version is now available in several bookstores in Santiago, Chile:

Transforming Lives

“We’re often overwhelmed by problems in the world. We can’t do everything. But choose something. Even if our own dreams and aspirations aren’t in line with what other people think, try anyway.”

The most transformative experience of Steve Reifenberg’s life now carries the possibility to transform the lives of hundreds of others. His book “Santiago’s Children: What I Learned About Life at an Orphanage in Chile” has been selected as the common reader for incoming first year students at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. The city of Laredo also has chosen Reifenberg’s book for its “One City One Book” program, with all area high school students reading it as well.

After graduating from Notre Dame in 1981, Reifenberg taught for one year in the States before spending two years in Chile. Based on those two years living and working at an orphanage there in the early 1980’s – when repressive military rule and widespread human rights violations gripped the country – “Santiago’s Children” chronicles the impact of political oppression on the lives of people, especially children.

“It was a remarkable opportunity to live and work at the orphanage at a critical moment in Chile’s history,” Reifenberg says. “It had a transformative effect on the rest of my life and gave me an interest in international issues and in vulnerable children in poverty.” (more…)

My farewell

Throughout the course of a volunteering experience there are many fulfilling moments, but I think the farewell is one of the most poignant for any volunteer.

I left Chile two months ago, and as such it just so happened that it was the last week of December when I had to say goodbye to the children, to other volunteers and to friends. My departure was mixed with all the Christmas celebrations, something that’s emotionally hard to deal with for the children that we work with, given that are constantly reminded that they don’t have a family with whom to share their Christmas. Furthermore, my family came to visit me and I was a bit nervous about having them meet the kids during this time of year.  Yet it was a truly great experience:  showing my parents and brother what had been my life for a year as well as showing the children what was my family like. I think it worked great, as the children laughed at my father and brother’s jokes and they really had a good time participating in the games my mom created, and my family told me that they were “touched to their souls” while meeting my “other siblings”.

It was hard for me to say goodbye.  It may not be forever, but when I think hard about it, it probably will be. For a while I was torn by two contradictory feelings. On one hand, I didn’t want the children to miss me, I wanted them to be able to forget me easily without disturbing their lives.  These children already have many important adults who have disappeared from their lives, and I did not want to be just another face that waltzed into and then promptly out of their lives.  On the other hand, I wanted to feel that I had been important to them and that my time with them had been significant, so I have to admit that a part of me did in fact want to be missed.  (more…)

International Volunteer Day

December 5th, which passed last week, is celebrated world-wide as International Volunteer Day. This date was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1985, and ever since it has served as a day to formally recognize the collective activities of volunteer organizations and individual volunteers, and additionally it has served to promote the values of volunteerism.

In honor of the 2008 International Volunteer Day, events were held in over 30 countries by a variety of organizations, including various UN bodies, national governments, and an impressive collection NGOs and other civil society groups. Furthermore, the day provided an opportunity for several corporate volunteer programs to highlight their work as well, with Intel, for example, announcing the completion of 1 million volunteer hours by its employees during the past year.

While the celebration of an international volunteer day is certainly a positive step towards recognizing and encouraging the work of many dedicated organizations and individuals across the globe, it is important to recognize that the tasks performed by volunteers must be carried out on a daily basis.  So don’t wait around until December 5th, 2009 to congratulate a volunteer who you know, or to sign up for a volunteer project yourself; though the spirit of volunteerism might be officially celebrated on this one particular date, it lived out by millions of volunteers each and every day of the year.

Volunteers and Professional careers

img_0634minAlthough I believe that lately volunteering has gained some importance in the professional world, I think that is still not valued as it should be.

First of all, the sort of person that decides to volunteer tends to do so, at least in part, as the result of a critical attitude towards reality. This person not only realizes that there are things that should be changed, but also takes action to change them.

Furthermore, by choosing to be an international volunteer, a person shows the ability to make decisions that imply big changes in their environment and lifestyle.

So, we have strong individuals with determination and critical thinking skills.

But that’s only the beginning of the process.

Working in the social sector with at-risk groups requires that the individuals develop a series of social skills, and then that they raise these skills to a level of excellence. Skills such as overcoming frustration, conflict resolution and ability to empathize will be needed when working in situations of social exclusion, poverty, vulnerability or abuse.