ISA Pay It Forward: A Conversation with Benjamín Briones, Director of Patio Volantín

Lisa Delao is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and was a participant on an ISA Service-Learning program in Valparaíso, Chile in the Summer of 2015. Lisa was an ISA Pay It Forward correspondent.

When you walk up Subida Ecuador in Valparaíso, Chile and pass the popular strip of bars, you’ll come upon a charming home with colorful mural walls. A chalkboard hangs from one of the windows, and it reads (translated): “Patio Volantín! We sell bread every afternoon! Sign up for our workshops by barter.” The sign proceeds to list the workshops available for the month.

Community members came together to create the artwork that decorates Patio Volantín. Photo by Lisa Delao
Community members came together to create the artwork that decorates Patio Volantín. Photo by Lisa Delao

How did Patio Volantín get its start?

This community exchange center began when I moved into this home with my friend Sebastian many years ago. Over the course of three years, we transformed this house. The whole place was a dump with trash everywhere, but Sebastian and I saw potential.  Piece by piece we repurposed found objects from our dumpster and turned this place into what it is today. Much of the material used in the renovations and construction was taken from various dumpsites. We finally reached a point in our project where I felt that we could utilize the space for community-centered work.

Major construction of the house produced a driveway with ample storage, a social area for classes and other projects, and a kitchen. Through the use of recycled materials and donated pallet wood, we were able to construct a patio and amphitheater on a hillside for social events open to the community. When you look around Patio Volantín, pay attention to the creative vision and determination it took to make this place a reality. Construction has not ceased since 2008.

What is the mission of Patio Volantín?

Here at Patio Volantín, we’re trying to actualize an alternative vision. One that values harmonious human potential.

How does Patio achieve this?

Our workshops by barter method meet our purpose of education, communication, construction, artistic and cultural enlightenment, and communal engagement. These workshops strive to welcome personal and collective initiatives that facilitate artistic potential, cultural education, and benefit the well being of individuals and the community as a whole. For example, in August we held workshops on the Chilean folk music called la cueca, photography, a special gardening initiative through recycling, the Land of the Kids garden project, construction with eco-bricks, and the Mapuche worldview and garden workshop.

Spiritual Garden Bricks. Volunteers at Patio Volantín are gradually changing the image of their neighborhood through public gardening projects, which will bring people together to enjoy and respect the earth. Photo by Benjamin Briones
Volunteers at Patio Volantín are gradually changing the image of their neighborhood through public gardening projects. These projects will bring people together to enjoy and respect the earth, which is a core mission of Patio Volantín. Photo by Benjamín Briones.

What is the importance of providing these workshops through a barter system?

It’s about upholding the value we have on each person. At Patio Volantín, we don’t focus on the traditionally capitalist sentiment of money. Using a barter system affirms that people play an active role in what we do at Patio. Generally, to register for a class, community members provide us with a kilo of flour and a liter of oil. These products are used to make the bread which is sold to the community, and the money made from the bread goes toward paying the utilities of Patio. It’s a cyclical process. Instructors can specify their requirements for registering for their workshop, such as providing lentils or other food, taking photos, working hands for labor projects, or any good or service that community members are able to give. Through this, a person is able to see the impact they have made through support, hard work, and a desire to improve our community.

Service-Learning participant Dalton Yongblood and Patio Volantín Director, Benjamin Briones, make bread to sell. Photo by Lisa Delao.
Service-Learning participant, Dalton Youngblood, and Patio Volantín Director, Benjamín Briones, make bread. Photo by Lisa Delao.

Can you share a recent Patio Volantín project that you are proud of?

In February of 2014, volunteers from all around the community came as a team to put together a ramp and deck to make the Patio Volantín space accessible for all. This project required roughly 5,000 eco bricks, which are plastic bottles tightly packed with reused plastic materials, in order to conserve cement. Assembling and layering these eco bricks for the accessible ramp project took about 3 years to complete. We had never worked with eco bricks until this ramp project, but we are proud to show our accomplishments of accessibility that we were able to achieve by using recycled materials.

Photo provided by Patio Volantín
Assembling eco bricks for the accessible ramp project. Photo provided by Patio Volantín.

Patio Volantín was awarded an ISA Pay It Forward grant in the summer of 2015. ISA Pay It Forward is a grant fund that supports ongoing sustainable development projects to serve under-resourced communities around the world. All ISA students have the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ by contributing a $5 donation when applying for an ISA program online. 100% of ISA Pay It Forward donations go toward funding sustainable projects identified by our ISA Service-Learning community partners in 12 cities around the world.

The world awaits…discover it.

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