Pablo Chufeni

I met Pablo at the Canada-US Servas Conference that was held at the beginning of August in Vancouver where I had a chance to spend about an hour and a half with him to find out more about his involvement as a volunteer for Servas, an organization with hosts and travellers in more than 130 countries whose motto is “Travel for peace” to promote greater inter-cultural understanding and tolerance. Pablo is one of those people who always has a smile on his face and he is filled with an incredible amount of energy. Through Servas he has travelled through a variety of European and North and South American countries.

As a volunteer for Servas, Pablo has tried to harness the international network of Servas in new ways, and most recently he has created an initiative that allows young Servas members to go on language exchanges free of charge that are facilitated by other Servas travellers. Both accommodation and language training are provided free of charge by local Servas hosts. So far his network of participating countries includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, the United States and Canada which will provide no-cost language study opportunities to young Servas members in Spanish, Portuguese, French and English.

In addition he is also organizing a youth summit for Servas, to be held in January 2006 in the resort town of Bariloche, Argentina. And he does all these activities part-time, after work, as a volunteer. Meet this bundle of positive energy – Pablo Chufeni.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what is your profession, where do you live now?

I’m 27 years old and I work as a theater professor in various institutes. I also study politics at the university as well as French and Portuguese. This year I started to work for the Developing Bank of the Americas in a social program here in my city, Rosario, in Argentina, where I currently live nowadays. I work in the capacitation department as a tutor for teenagers who are at risk. For 7 years I worked for the local TV station as a general producer, but that took up all my time, so now I prefer to use my days in a different way. I also work for a foundation that works with cultural promotion here in my city.

2. You have been a Servas member for a few years now. How did you hear about this organization and what was your first travel experience like?

I heard of Servas by acident,sitting at a coffee table. First I went to Europe as a traveller, but after that I organized my own local group of Servas hosts here in Rosario, and I got involved in the running of the organization. I have been to official meetings in Canada, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, UK and Uruguay. The Servas experiences are so deep and so profound that it is quite complicated to talk about them in a few lines. What I have experienced is simply amazing, it has changed my life.

3. What countries have you travelled to through Servas? What kinds of people from what places have you hosted in your home? What makes Servas travel so
special to you?

I have traveled with Servas in Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Canada, Spain, Belgium, France, Ireland, Portugal, and the UK. But I´ll make my list larger as soon as
possible!!! At my place I have hosted people from the USA, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Brazil. My house is open to Servas travellers all year long.

It´s not only the bridge that Servas builds for you, but also who is waiting for you on the other side. All the people in Servas are great and interesting, otherwise they wouldn’t open their doors and use their time to chat with you and show you their world.

4. Please tell us about your 3 favourite or most memorable travel stories.

I met a nice couple in Lisbon, she was Mexican and he was born in Angola. The time I spent with them was great. They originally met trough Servas when she was a traveller staying at his house. And now they are married!!!

I also met a guy in Brussels who ate food without cooking it and had strong opinions on flavours and health and how human beings developed the art of cooking only by following their tongue. I had another interesting travel experience with an Arab person who lived in Paris. This was simply amazing. We went together to see a show in Paris of Ute Lemper, a German singer that I always liked, and one day I saw signs in the streets of Paris, announcing one of her concerts. Unfortunately the signs said SOLD OUT! But when I returned to his house he told me, Pablo, I’ve got tickets to a show tonight in case you want to go. We had a great time at the concert.

5. Please tell us about your 3 favourite or most memorable hosting experiences.

It´s hard to say, all my guests have been great in their own way.

6. You are very actively involved in harnessing Servas as a network for learning experiences for young people. Please tell us about the language learning opportunities that you have created through Servas.

In 2003, Servas South America organized an essay contest about “The role of Servas”. I participated and ended up coming in first place. As a contest winner, I was able to attend the Youth South American meeting in Montevideo (Uruguay), also visiting Santa Teresa (Uruguay) where activities were developed for three days. Here I met Camile Costa from Sao Paulo (Brazil) who had taken Spanish classes in Chile. It was then that the idea of using Servas as a platform for developing language study exchanges for young people through Servas was born.

The program is organized in four modules, with respective classes. All the classes are weekly and 1 ½ hour in duration. The modules are: A) Language – B) Arts – C) Social – D) special Events. The young people particpating in these programs get a fully rounded picture of their host society.

7. You are also organizing the first international youth meeting of Servas in the southern hemisphere, called “Patagonia 06”, to be held in the beautiful resort town of Bariloche in Argentina during the 3rd week of January of 2006. Please tell us about this initiative.

Working hard with the help of SERVAS Argentina, the first international youth conference in the southern hemisphere will be held January 15 to 22, 2006. PATAGONIA ’06 will take place in Bariloche in the heart of Argentinean Patagonia. The landscape is simply amazing. Although our focus is not on the landscape, it provides an additional incentive to attend the conference.

SERVAS YOUTH is not only for people under 30, if you are interested in youth issues and want to help us and develop youth projects in Servas, you don’t need to be a teenager. The meeting will cost only U$D 160, which will cover four meals a day, access to every single activity, accommodation in bungalows or tents (no transportation from BsAs included).

This youth meeting will help us a lot to continue developing the position of youth in SERVAS and at the same time to grow as people. There will be three different topics during the meeting. The specific topics of Youth in Servas are: how to develop the youth position, how to reach more young people, the programs that we are already working on and how to make them grow, how can we help developing the local activities in our national group, and how to get young people involved, new programs that we can start implementing, and everything linked to the Youth issue inside Servas.

Here is the link to the PATAGONIA’06 Conference: www3.telus.net/SC/SERVAS/index.htm

8. Despite having your hands full, you are already thinking of other ways of harnessing the Servas network to provide internship and job shadowing
opportunities for young people from across the world. Please tell us more about that.

This is an idea for the near future. First I want to reach my personal goal with PATAGONIA ’06 and the international youth exchanges. Then I want to use
the Servas network to provide job opportunites to young people abroad to develop their resume and their skills.

9. You also host local “diversity meals”. What are they and what is their purpose?

I heard about “diversity meals” from Mary Jane at the United States Servas office. She told me about an activity they have in San Francisco where a number of meals are organized at various Servas members´ houses, where they become hosts to a diverse group of indivdiuals. I decided to borrow this idea and import it to the youth branch of Servas in Argentina.

Although the participants come from different cultural and educational backgrounds, commonalities surface quickly. Diversity meals are intended to foster tolerance and understanding, not just through international travel, but locally with local participants. It is not necessary to visit Bali or Nicaragua to find a different
way of understanding the world. Our neighbours next door are an equally valid option.

10. When you are not volunteering for a good cause, how do you spend the rest of your time?

Honestly I do not have any free time. I work 10 hours a day, so frequently I work on Servas projects at night, that´s why all my emails get sent out at weird times. I also go to the gym daily. In addition, my mother has a life-long medical condition, so I have to help her and stay close to her all the time just in case.

11. What are your upcoming plans, travel and otherwise?

It is always a challenge for my try to find a way to be involved in the kind of activities that I am participating in, considering the fact that I also have to earn money. If one day I find a way to get my economic needs met while working at Servas and anothers NGOs I would be absolutely happy. I always have the feeling that I´m wasting my time when I am working, thinking of all the things that I could be doing if I had the time to spend working on Servas projects. This is my personal challenge.

Thank you, Pablo, for taking your time to explain all your volunteer activities with us. We wish you the very best for you international youth language exchange program and for the Servas Youth Conference, Patagonia ’06. You are actively helping to spread the message of intercultural tolerance and peace to the next generation.