By Jim Hart
Special to the Rappahannock News
First, fly to Buenos Aires. Then travel to the Argentinean city of Salta. Then head to the small town of Tartagal near the Bolivian border. Then board off-road vehicles for a 15-mile trip into the jungle.
That was the itinerary in early June for Gustavo Tisera, a Wakefield Country Day School Spanish teacher and soccer coach, and his wife, Viviana, and their daughter, Mari, as they led a group of students and parents from Wakefield.
The purpose of the trip was to assist the Wichis tribe at their El Paradaiso School in a remote village. School was in session in what was the winter season in Argentina. The group was able to see the type of instruction the students receive. The group spent parts of three days visiting the village.
As a service project, students at Wakefield had raised funds during the year to help the students at the Argentinean school. They took some electronic equipment with them as gifts; but found the school building to be without electricity. So the group decided to use some of the funds that were raised to purchase solar panels for the building. They also brought some medicine and educational materials.
The school building is a one-room structure. It educates about 30 students in grades 1 through 7. The first thing that the Wichis students have to do in school, like some of their American counterparts, is to learn Spanish. A boyhood friend of Mr. Tisera has been working with the school for a number of years and helped arrange the trip.
During their few days in the Wichis village, the visitors also befriended the local students and children by playing soccer, took part in a village celebratory meal, received gifts from the Wichis, and learned about a way of life quite different from their own.
Two Wakefield parents who were on the trip, Ashley Smith and Ann Benecke-Smith, said that the trip provided a great variety of cultural and personal experiences.
“From the big city of Buenos Aires to the small cities of Salta and Tartagal, to the mountains of northwest Argentina, we experienced a wide range of people and places which helped us to develop a greater understanding of the country and its people,” the Smiths said. Their son, Alex, a rising fifth grader, said “the trip was amazing; the most enjoyable part was helping and hanging out with the Indians. I now understand how fortunate everyone here in the states is.” He told the Wichis teacher that he will return and visit again when he is 16. The Smith family plans to keep in touch with the teacher, whose name is Selva, her family and the school.
Upon their return to Buenos Aires, the group visited the American Embassy where, by all accounts, they made a very positive impression. Most of the students and parents returned to the United States in mid-June. Two rising seniors, Ian McCool and Alex Hernandez, remained to spend another month with the Tiseras in a full immersion Spanish study program.
Another traveler, Carl Liles, a rising 10th grader, said “the most enjoyable part of the trip would have to be the food. Most of the food was locally grown and very tasty. The barbecues they have are excellent and the steak is superb.” He added, “the educational value of this trip was immense. The exposure to the people and the culture was pretty tremendous and revealing. I had always thought of Argentina as one of the more wealthy and bountiful countries of the world, but the reality is much different. On a more positive side, I discovered that Argentineans are generally a very friendly group of people. They also have a very strong emphasis on family ties.”
Other members of the group making the trip were Zebediah Becker, Elizabeth Guevremont, Alexander Grove, Konstantin Langenberg, Joseph Manson, and Abigael Whitaker.