Putting a roof over people's heads

Isabel Engels spent the summer of 2015 in Brazil building houses for the poor thanks to the Arts Internship Program
Isabel Engels and the Teto team in front of one of the many houses they built over the summer.
Isabel Engels and the Teto team in front of one of the many houses they built over the summer.

This past summer, over 200 Faculty of Arts students interned in Canada and around the globe, from Chennai to Cape Town, and from Paris to Panama City. Since 2002, the Faculty of Arts Internship Program has helped undergraduate students offset internship-related costs such as travel, accommodations, visas and other expenses thanks to the generous support of alumni and friends of the McGill.

On Thursday, Sept. 17, the most recent recipients of the Arts Internships will share the highlights and challenges of their internship experiences this summer, what they learned and how they plan to apply it to their field of study.

This is the story of one such student, Isabel Engels and her internship with Teto in Brazil.

Name and program of study

Isabel Engels, U2, Political Science, International Development, and Minor in Management

Where did you do your summer internship?

Teto is a Non-Governmental Organization whose main goal is to eradicate poverty. They try to accomplish this through the collective action of volunteers and the local inhabitants, promoting community development, denouncing the situation in which so many families in these communities live in and reintegrating them back into society through various measures.

They are best known for are their construction program – they build houses with volunteers from all ages and social classes in conjunction with the people who live there. They only build with families who already have a house, but are in precarious conditions.

What motivated you to intern at Teto?

I was Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but lived most of my life in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I came in contact with the NGO Teto during my gap year when I was interning in Brazil. Seeing the other side of poverty was extremely enlightening and ended up giving me direction as to my fields of study at university.

What were your duties at Teto?

I was a “Chefe de Escola.” This meant that I would be responsible for the entire construction of 16 houses during the period of 6 days in a specific community along with another person. We had to meet all the families within the community and pick the ones that would get the houses, and hence work with us for three months. Since the commitment for the families is very demanding, getting their participation wasn’t an easy thing.

We were also responsible for the organization of our staff. Within our staff we had people responsible for the school were going to stay in as well as the food we would eat during our stay; people responsible for the technicalities of the house; people responsible for the material that would be used for the construction of the houses; and lastly the leaders of the houses themselves.

During the construction, we were also responsible for the 50 volunteers, usually first timers, who came to help build. We also had to make sure that the families were maintaining their part of the agreement; no drinking or drugs. Therefore, something I developed leadership skills and organizational/ delegation skills.

What were the highlights of your experience?

The highlight of my internship was without doubt the construction itself. Words will never be enough to explain the emotions I felt and the knowledge I gained during those six days in July.

At the end of the construction, a woman called Maisa, came up to me and said that we changed her husband, gave him the will to live again and thus, saved her marriage. Another woman called Leila wrote us a letter saying that she was ready to buy rat poison and kill herself and her family until we arrived in the community and gave her hope of a better life.

These are just examples without context but the gratitude and transformation I saw and felt I could create gave me drive to grasp my opportunity of an incredible education and realize even more that I want to work with development and entrepreneurship. I want to help people have the same opportunities I’ve had.

I want to thank Tania Zouikin who funded my internship award because without the award, I would not have been able to dedicate as much time as I did to this project.

The Arts Internship Office needs people’s support to ensure the survival of the Arts Internship Program. If you’d like to help, see their Seeds of Change page.

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