Photo: Chantal with her boss and colleagues wearing a 'traje tipico', the traditional cultural outfit of the community
At the moment we decide to apply for University of Toronto Scarborough’s International Development Studies Co-op program, of all the many intriguing elements of the program, our co-op placement in our 4th year is the one that most definitely catches the eye and raises excitement. After being accepted into the program, year after year we get more excited as our placement year quickly approaches. Now, I have just landed back on Canadian soil and I am in awe at how quickly the 3 years leading up to my placement, and the last 10 months while I was on placement have gone by. Reflecting on my life this past year living in a small mountain village in the western highlands of Guatemala where I worked as a Program Assistant at a local human rights organization by the name of Asociación Maya Mam de Investigación y Desrrollo [Maya Mam Association for Research and Development], I am beyond grateful for these past 10 months and the experience I gained. During my co-op placement I experienced not only professional growth, but personal and spiritual growth. My placement in Guatemala gave me the opportunity to gain valuable practical experience working within a grassroots NGO where I was able to learn and be a part of the crafting, development, and implementation of various projects and activities surrounding various themes such as women’s empowerment (more particular, women and citizen participation and women and community leadership). I really appreciated being able to employ much of the theoretical knowledge learnt in various courses taken throughout my degree during the activities I was a part of such as the construction of the organizations 2016-2020 Strategic Plan. My co-op experience also really gave me a stronger sense of the professional and personal path I see myself taking in the future, as during the span of 10 months, you tend to learn a lot about yourself.
Besides my work life, these past 10 months gave me the chance to develop treasured and unforgettable relationships with some of the most inspiring, motivating, hardworking and resilient people I have ever met. Really becoming a part of the community life during my 10 months is without a doubt one of the main reasons my co-op experience was so fulfilling. My co-workers quickly became more than co-workers to me, they became family. A little 10-year-old boy by the name of Juan Luis became my family as he became my dear little brother. A group of young women from the local church and a local doctor who helped in curing me from a bad case of intestinal parasites, became a part of my family. Unfortunately though, this also presents one of the most challenging parts about co-op… having to say goodbye, which was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But, I know that it is not really a goodbye, but more so, an “hasta pronto” [“see you soon”] because I know I will be back sooner than later. Sitting here reflecting on those last months of my life, this experience was really the cherry on top of my university career. It’s an experience I will never forget and will always cherish.