I arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay a few days before our scheduled meeting. This time I was joined by Alejandra and Yoorang and one of Alejandra’s friends, Karla. The four of us took a drive out to Punta del Este, a coastal resort two hours from the city. Although Uruguay is a South American country like Brazil and Argentina where I have been, it is still strikingly different. The vibe of the place, the behaviour of the people and their mannerisms are somewhat similar to Australia but of course the architecture is distinctly South American.
While on the road trip to Punta de Este, we made a detour to visit the place called El Aguila, a beautiful eagle sculpture with a dolphin’s body that used to be artist’s home next to the coast. I believe the name sign for the city is based upon the sign for EAGLE which is common bird in Uruguay. We then went to the popular tourist attraction on the beach called La Mano, a sculpture of hands emerging from the sand.
My initial impressions of the area, the city and the country are that you can easily get sucked into the beauty and culture around you. The food is great especially the paella with heaps of delicious seafood. The coastal area is naturally quite windy but that didn’t interfere with our enjoyment of looking around.
We returned to Montevideo and then a couple of days later Mark joined us. We were disappointed Laura couldn’t attend but we forged ahead and were energised for being in Alejandra’s home town. I found it fascinating learning more about her and her background – it gave me a real insight into her life.
We had a really productive meeting where we provided updates on our work to that point and the work to do over the next few months. We also had to prepare workshops for the local Deaf youth and focused on relationships, communication, the importance of doing voluntary work, your rights and motivation. We also ran activities on human rights. We knew it would be a dry and boring subject so we decided to change it up and focus on problem solving in order to get the message through. In one of the activities on teamwork I gave the youth people a list of tasks which they had to complete in 7 minutes. This wasn’t as easy as it looked and required working together, delegation to others and following leaders. Everyone approached it in different ways but thoroughly enjoyed it.
Our workshop was held in a 3 storey building owned by the Deaf Association. On the top floor they run sign language classes, on the second floor a library and meetings rooms and the ground floor held a café and sports hall. I had never seen anything quite like it. I wish something like that existed in Australia. The youth gave us a tour where they explained the history of the place and some of the problems they currently face. It was a really energising experience.
After that we gathered together for a dinner which we all enjoyed. The final night coincided with a dual celebration of the 50 year anniversary of the YOM and 90 year anniversary of the Deaf Association in Uruguay. The culture is heavily influenced by the Spanish so they start at about 8pm and go through to at least two or three in the morning. I met heaps of people and tried to take on the local sign language all the while downing delicious cocktails. The 50 year anniversary also gave rise to a new logo for their association which highlighted their hard working effort. The structure of the board is quite interesting as it consists of a number of sub-committees or think tanks where young people come together to discuss certain issues that relate to their experiences. They are allowed to work through these issues then formulate proposals and plans for change. It is a clear example of how empowerment can work effectively in an organisation.
At the end of the two weeks the board agreed that we had achieved a great deal. We decided to record our reports on video to highlight these achievements. In this way we created a tangible record of our work from which we could take into the next meeting in Paraguay.
On the last day in reviewing the visit and our past meetings together we came to the conclusion that our strengths were, and are, communication and teamwork. We feel connected like a family. We then had lunch said our farewells and headed to the airport. Our last thoughts were the impending Paris camp in the not too distant future. We knew we still needed to maintain our work and activity to make that a success.