Meet Luna, La Choza Chula’s Business Development Intern
‘Being an intern here has been the best five months of my life.’
In January 2017 La Choza Chula hired volunteer Luna Dabinovic for a six month internship as part of her last semester of University to complete her Bachelor in Business Administration. With one month left until she returns to Madrid, Luna was interviewed to give a summary of her time as an intern here.
Hello Luna, so how did you find yourself volunteering at La Choza Chula?
I found La Choza Chula online whilst looking for an internship with an NGO in Latin America. Having worked previously for other NGOs namely in South and Central America, I had a better idea of what I was looking for. Hence, my research criteria were pretty narrow; I wanted a small NGO working with a community and preferably by the beach. After hours spent looking online, I finally stumbled upon La Choza Chula and I got excited immediately, thinking that this was exactly what I had been looking for. I decided to contact them and after a few emails, one application form and a Skype interview, I was offered a place as an intern on the team.
So what happened next?
Well six months later, I finally arrived in El Paredón and the place really proved to be everything I had expected, if not more. I immediately felt welcome, whether it was by my homestay family or by the other staff members/volunteers or other people living in the community. This place is full of beautiful places but also beautiful people.
And what about La Choza Chula itself?
I feel like the work La Choza Chula does is very meaningful and genuinely impactful. The tourism in El Paredón is growing rapidly and our role here is to encourage positive integration between the community and tourists to ensure the community benefits from it. It is really important that the locals are prepared for the upcoming influx of tourism, which is why we are teaching English in both the Primary and Secondary Schools and creating employment and enterprise opportunities.
And your job specifically?
My work here consists of developing Chula Tours, the community tourism branch of La Choza Chula. Chula Tours is trying to create jobs for the community while promoting the conservation of the local environment. All profits go towards La Choza Chula’s community projects. La Choza Chula is really transparent with what they do, how they do it and generally I feel like this is a great experience for people who are interested in working further in the NGO industry.
Part of my role is to handle the tour bookings and ensure good communication with the guides. In order to increase sales of tours and generate more income for local guides we advertise in tourism agencies and hostels in Antigua, a nearby tourism hub.
In El Paredón there are few formal employment or training opportunities, and our goal is to recruit more guides and support as many people as possible to benefit from the growing tourism industry. Providing training for the guides is an essential part of this. We now work with INTECAP a national organisation that trains local guides over a 7 month period and gives them proper formation to become an official certified guide for INGUAT – the national institute of tourism. As part of this the guides receive English classes as it is crucial for them to be able to communicate with the tourists yet in the meantime, I take part in the tours by translating from Spanish to English and in general ensuring the process goes smoothly.
So what are the tours you have been working on developing?
Well we currently offer four different tours:
– A Turtle and Salt Farm Tour: we leave in a motor boat, usually around sunset because that is when the tide and the light is best. You can admire the wildlife, part of the mangroves and the mouth of the river on the way to the Poza de Nance (one of the only 7 places in the world where turtle come to feed all year-long). You can watch them come up to the surface to breath and then come back down to feed again. On the way back to El Paredon, we pass by a salt farm which teaches you the local natural process of how salt is made.
– A Mangrove and Fishing Tour: This tour is very quiet and peaceful. It’s my favourite and I feel like it’s quite a unique experience. Embarking on an oar boat, you can observe the unique wildlife that lives in the mangroves and learn how the locals fish.
– A Cooking Class: Visit a local house for a true Guatemalan experience to learn how to cook, most likely empanadas, with one of our local master cooks.
– A Bracelet Making Class: Come to La Choza Chula where one of the local kids will teach you how to make your own macrame bracelet, choosing your own colours and style.
And any other work or projects you have been involved in?
Yes, last but not least I am conducting a monitoring and evaluation project in which, with the help of another volunteer – William Allison – we created a community map of the whole village in order to help us evaluate the number of households. I then had to create a survey with questions regarding education, income, population gender and ages, the environment, health, job, housing conditions, water and electricity uses etc. We then went house to house to collect the information and I will soon analyse the report to obtain the statistics needed. This will help the organisation to have relevant information about the areas in which we, as an organisation, could improve, which aspects of the community need more support and where we could potentially help.
Any last words on El Paredón and your time here?
Overall, El Paredón is a friendly, tight-knit community. You never feel a sense of animosity towards foreigners, for example the local surfers are always welcoming tourists to share their beautiful waves. The way of living here is quite basic; you are constantly in touch with nature, you have to wash your clothes by hand and even cooking sometimes becomes quite a mission, so you should definitely be prepared to give up some of your usual home comforts but I promise you get used to it and it all becomes worth it! It’s been the best five months of my life.
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