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A Sociological View of Pestalozzi

Juan Roch Gonzalez
February 2013

I have been taking part in this European Voluntary Service project at Pestalozzi more than 4 months, since 18th September 2012. I arrived here as the only EVS Volunteer at Pestalozzi. My feelings were a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, in expectation of a new stage in my life. Soon I would discover what would be, for almost a year, my new home and the new language that I should use. Knowing the difficulties and misunderstandings that can be part of the process of adapting to a different country, someone who decides to engage in a project of this type should have a clear motivation and firm convictions. Below, I will talk briefly of what led me to volunteer at Pestalozzi.

If you study social sciences, you soon begin to understand reality as a changing product that comes from the combination of several factors. Among these factors, the most important in our case is human action, specifically social action. Perhaps those who are inclined to choose to study human beings and their social organisations do it with the hope that our actions may be fundamental to changing reality.

The world we see today presents a series of scenarios of inequality, suffering, poverty, war, and a lack in education and basic resources for subsistence. Although there are situations of suffering in so-called Western societies, the most dramatic examples can be found in some parts of Asia, Africa and South America. The first thing that attracted me to Pestalozzi is that the organisation is trying to transform this reality. Year after year Pestalozzi provides an opportunity for young people to achieve their goals and consider new expectations.

But at the same time, I am obviously aware that Pestalozzi does not have the capacity to end all hunger, suffering and lack of education in the world. These are caused by unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities, which are in turn not the result of chance, but a historical product, the result of economic and political positions, strategies and decisions over the last centuries. So it is not enough just to look at this phenomenon in terms of individuals; it requires a comprehensive analysis of the deep conditions and the underlying issues that led to this situation.

In this sense, the holistic education (of head, heart and hands) that Pestalozzi promotes, and all the educational philosophy that holds, is to me one of the most important reasons to work with this organization. As I understand it, Pestalozzi tries to educate its students threefold:

  • The strictly academic. This would be linked to college, and would consist mainly of training in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, languages, etc.
  • The personal level. This means working with values such as solidarity, empathy, humility, knowing yourself, and overcoming your fears.
  • The socio-historical background. Students should be aware that they are not only individuals, but are subject to historical, social and cultural influences. This implies an awareness about the culture and history of their countries of origin, and how that history is deeply linked to that of Western countries.

This last aspect, or last dimension of knowledge, is perhaps the most difficult to work and strengthen in some students, whose careers are focused almost exclusively on the natural sciences.

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This project has been funded with support from the European Union. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of information contained therein.
However, this does not stop me to continue thinking about the importance of addressing the problem from a critical view toward Western governments, not only to the historical process called colonialism, but also with respect to the current process of neocolonialism. The history of Africa and Latin America has much to do with the way in which the Western states ensure its geostrategic power and large multinational companies (with capitals in the West) ensure its network of interests. All the wealth and the benefits produced by the African people and the resources of Africa that are not reinvested in the African continent but instead fatten Western bank accounts, is one of the key issues to understand about the situation. The complexity of the situation cannot be reduced to this single factor, but we can consider it as a fundamental condition in the capacity of these societies to progress.

I firmly believe that, to transform these dramatic realities, which occur every day closer or farther away from us, we must reflect on our status as citizens within the whole political and economic network. And, hoping to transform these realities, every day I am bringing my two cents here to Pestalozzi and trying to learn as much as possible of the people around me to improve as a person and as a citizen.