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  • Writer's pictureValpo Surf Project

Tíos & Tías: What it Means to Us

The Valpo Surf Project (VSP) team is composed of a variety of individuals. From the co-founders of the organization to the interns and volunteers, each person involved has the opportunity to work directly with students and form long-term relationships.

VSP students learn to respect and appreciate the mentors with whom they work and play every week. Here in Chile a common term to address someone in this role is “tío or tia” which means “uncle or aunt.” We asked our staff, our tíos and tías, to go beyond the translation and explain what this title means to them.

Paige: Tía is a Spanish word that means “aunt” and is used as a term of respect for someone who is older than you are, they don’t have to be a blood relation. I’ve got to say, it’s pretty neat being called Tía, it’s more personal than being called “miss”, and more respectful than a simple name. It’s basically a representation, at least from my perspective, of the space I occupy here. Being a tía means that I have to be an example for these kids.

Makensie: To be a tía to the kids means getting to be something I’ve never been before. I am a sister, I am a daughter, I am a friend, but I’ve yet to have the opportunity to be someone’s “aunt.” Being a tía means earning the respect of the students, yet also earning their trust and friendship. A tía is a mentor: an example that they not only enjoy having in their lives, but one that can make a difference.

Jessica: Tío/Tía is a multifaceted word. I am a tía and I have tías. In the VSP sense of the word to be a tía is to be an example. You always have to remember that our kids are constantly watching us and looking to us for guidance. Kids are like little sponges, they pick up everything and this is the most important thing to remember as a tía. A VSP tí@ is a guide, an example, a friend, a teacher, a coach. A VSP tí@ fills whatever role is called for.

Martha: I like how we use tío to talk with each other in the office. It's become a term of affection between us in the office and outside of work.

In class, if a kid isn't listening to another tía after she asks a question, I'll say, "Hey, did you hear Tía Kelly's question?" or "Tía Paige is speaking, listen up!" It's kind of like when you're a kid and your parents say things like "listen to your father" or "what did your mother just say?" Using tía to refer to each other in front of the kids helps me feel solidarity with the other tíos and tías. It's a nice thing

Varun: To me, being a tío represents what we strive for at VSP, being mentors to our chiquillos (kids). With Chilean culture, being a tío seems to be a term of endearment to a close elder. However, with our kids, I believe it signifies something more. We know that some of these kids have rough lives and bad role models, so as tíos we are people who they really close to. Due to the fact that we are foreigners, I think the term tio signifies that we are more than just teachers and surf instructors, we are pseudo-family to them. We try to have their best interests in mind whenever we do activities with them, and care for their well being all the time. I think it represents the fact that we are people who are definitely impacting the upbringing of the children we work with.

Kelly: The first week I arrived to work with Valpo Surf Project, during orientation, I was told that the kids may call me Tía Kelly as a form of respect or sign of relationship. I didn't think much of it then, and it wasn't until after my first couple summer surf sessions that I really understood what being a tía was. I started to see that being a tía is a special responsibility. I get to spend hours each week with these kids, get to know them, their personalities, their abilities, their stories. As tías and tíos, we are examples to them and they look up to us. They yell "tía" when we arrive at classes, when they want us to turn up the volume of the radio in the van, when they're afraid to take a wave, when we run into them in the streets of Valpo, and my favorite, after they ride a wave and look back to check that we were watching. Tía has become more than just a form of respect; in my opinion, it is the best part about working for Valpo Surf Project. It is being a role-model, teacher, mentor and a support for these kids.

Lina: The literal translation of a tío or tía is the brother or sister of one of your parents, but in the context of VSP it happens to be a relation that isn’t of blood, but one that feels equally important in the lives of the children. For me it means a lot: I am very glad to be able to be a tía for the kids because I feel that I can help them, give them advice, and also help the kids pay attention to important lessons they are being taught. Sometimes, it occasionally happens that teachers in schools act as tíos but they only fulfill the role of teaching. But, VSP’s teaching goes further: they become more involved in their lives. It is important to have a person who can guide you, support and always be next to you.I feel very happy that II can be a part of the kids’s lives and always be able to help them.

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