Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Graduate Students Volunteer in Ecuador

Tue, September 7, 2010
Graduate Students Volunteer in Ecuador

AUSTIN, Texas – Several graduate students from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese led a volunteer abroad program this summer in Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, which brought along six undergraduate students to take intensive Spanish language classes and assist in the production of four short films. The program was coordinated by Alejandra Zambrano, a current PhD candidate, and Jorge García, a recent PhD graduate, as part of La Poderosa Media Project, a non-profit organization founded by Zambrano in 2004 that fosters intercultural communication through the production of digital media.  

La Poderosa Media Project is a multifaceted program in which undergraduate students receive 60 hours of individual Spanish instruction from graduate student instructors who design and implement an individualized program of study; at the same time, local Latin American youth receive 120 hours of instruction in the production of digital media. In addition to García and Zambrano, Joseph Pierce, César Taboada, Lorna Torrado, and Giulianna Zambrano, all current PhD students in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, served as language and media instructors for the program.

Zambrano describes the main objectives of the project as “fostering youth empowerment.” She continues, “By empowerment we mean the process through which the local students attend the workshops we put on, produce their own messages and distribute them locally, nationally, and internationally. We want the workshop to complement the education that these youths receive in Bahía; we want them to become interested in film, but not necessarily in filmmaking as a career. Digital media is one area, but we also cover writing, acting, music, event planning, etc. We want out participants to discover their abilities so that they can explore them in the future.”

This year’s project was made possible by a grant awarded by Ecuador’s Ministry of Culture while the Museo del Banco Central del Ecuador de Bahía de Caráquez provided the facilities. From basic cinematographic theory to script writing to sound editing, over the course of the six week workshop local students learned the techniques required to produce 3 films of 4-5 minutes and one 12 minute drama. As part of the program’s focus on intercultural communication, undergraduate students Catherine Mitchell, Kelsey Harmon, Jeremy Gutiérrez, Stephanie Do, and Alyssa Flores contributed to the program by volunteering their time toward the production of each film.

And while the young students are all exposed to the technical and logistical aspects of film production, through the long hours and intense work, many of them took from the program something more philosophical. One of the first year directors, Adriana Andrade explains, “Just knowing that I helped create and carry out a short film makes me realize that I can achieve what I want through hard work, effort, skills, and dedication. The truth is that I feel very proud of this and when I tell others about the workshop and the films I get really emotional.” This sense of pride and self-worth is something that many young Ecuadorian students struggle to build, given the unfavorable circumstances that they frequently have to deal with. Through these empowering workshops La Poderosa creates a space of hope and creative agency for these young individuals.  

 La Poderosa Media Project will be screening its most recent films in Austin late this fall and will be returning to Bahía de Caráquez in the summer of 2011 to conduct another workshop, building on the skills learned this past summer. For more information, please visit the organization’s website: or “Like” their Facebook page. Inquiries can also be made to:

Joseph M. Pierce

Communications Director

La Poderosa Media Project

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