by Nicole Tauster
This semester for SPAN 332, in addition to volunteering, we formed groups and signed up for projects that allowed us to help community members/organizations with our Spanish skills. Some groups took over the social media campaigns for local organizations, others wrote grants or created fundraising events. My group did something a little different… We worked with Dr. Pilar Egüez Guevarra, editing and transcribing videos for her. Dr. Guevarra has a webpage and project entitled “Comidas que Curan” and her goal is to inform the inhabitants of Esmeraldas, Ecuador about nutrition and how to use traditional foods in healthful ways. One of the growing problems in Esmeraldas is that products that the locals have used and consumed for years, like the coconut, are becoming more expensive due to gentrification and higher global demand. Because of this many people, especially the younger generations, were using less healthy substitutes for coconut oil, milk, etc. But Dr. Guevarra wanted to teach them about the health benefits of the ingredients that naturally grow in Ecuador and the traditional ways to prepare healthy dishes. So she traveled to Esmeraldas and interviewed abuelas about traditional dishes that they have been preparing for their families for years. Dr. Guevarra filmed these women preparing the dishes and then interviewed them afterwards about the preparation and personal connections they had to each food. These are the types of videos we helped her edit together to make something she could post on her website.
The videos and entire project were certainly interesting—my group members and I loved the whole concept from the moment we met with Dr. Guevarra and she told us about it. But that night, after our whole group met at Café Paradiso, I stayed behind and continued talking with Dr. Guevarra and something she said really stuck with me. She is an incredibly intelligent woman and avid researcher, but the shared with me her frustration with trying to get her work published. She told me that she had submitted her work to several academic journals over a year earlier and either she hadn’t heard anything more or it was still in the peer review process. Dr. Guevarra explained to me that this was particularly problematic due to the nature of her work, human nutrition, because it is a field that is constantly changing because new information is always being discovered. She worried that by the time her work was published in an accredited journal, it might be too late. Things could have changed by then and her previous research would be moot. This, she told me, was one of the main reasons she switched to making YouTube videos and writing blog posts. Putting up her work herself on the internet made it instantly accessible for other people, and a wide array of people, many of whom would never even have access to an academic journal. I kept thinking about our conversation long after it took place, ruminating on the importance of modern technology and accessibility of information. You may think not many people will see or care about that YouTube video you create with your friends or that tweet or Instagram you share, but the truth is you really can’t imagine how many people might see it. We have such power in social media and the internet in general, we could spread our message far and wide if we use the right tools and aim it at the right audience. Throughout the semester we talked more about this, with Ann stressing the importance of an internet/social media presence in relation to social entrepreneurship. But the posts—and any tags—need to be relevant, need to reach the target audience, and above all need to make a difference and offer a product or service the community needs. In this case, Dr. Guevarra’s target audience was young people in Esmeraldas, Ecuador and her service was going to be information on eating and cooking healthfully. So she knew quick, colorful YouTube videos with music would be the way to grab the attention of a younger, tech-savvy generation. And she knew keeping them short and didactic was the way to keep their attention for the duration. Plus, by creating videos, she made a product that could be instantly shared with the community she was working to serve. I will definitely be keeping the idea of ease of access to vital information in mind as I venture into the working world. And how sometimes it might be better to take matters into your own hands, like Dr. Guevarra did, instead of waiting around for someone else to give you the go-ahead.