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When Erlan Vega stumbled upon Wikipedia in 2005 while doing research for his father, he couldn’t have imagined how it would change his life. Vega was studying to become an English teacher in La Paz, Bolivia. While on Wikcionario, the Spanish Wiktionary, he met a fellow Wikipedian and they not only worked together to fight a vandal, but helped each other learn their respective languages.
“We made a sort of a non-written deal that, I teach you Spanish, you teach me English. And we corrected each other and we learned the language by editing on Wiktionary in English and Spanish,” he explained. “My English got so much better.”
Vega credits his experience with Wikipedia in helping him pass the needed English certification, “when I finished my studies in English, I was so proficient in the language that I passed my certification test.” Vega got hired on the spot and, he said, “I got married because I got a little bit more stability, and I have a daughter because of that. So, Wikipedia has changed my life. I don’t know how my life would have been had the projects not been started.”
As an English teacher, Vega finds Wikipedia to be an empowering tool. “In my education system, people don’t usually write. They don’t write, they don’t create. They just receive information, and they’re supposed to memorize it and then they have the test,” he said. Wikipedia gives students the ability to create something rather than just regurgitate facts. “Giving a person the opportunity to be creative and to be recognized for something they write” was a turning point in his life, and he hopes that his students have the same opportunity.
Like a lot of people, he uses Wikipedia as a first step in researching a topic. “Wikipedia opens the door for people that want to go further,” he explained. On Wikipedia, “there is a reference, then you go to your library. There’s a lot more there. Books are hidden in your library. What we are doing is to try to get the best of them and show it to you.”
Vega finds his role as an administrator (a bibliotecario on Spanish Wikipedia) to be similar to a janitor. As problem-solving janitors, “we go, we mediate, we try [to] solve things, we try to understand the two positions and see what we can do about it,” he explained. “I don’t like to think of [myself] as a police officer. I like to think of [myself] like a friend who helps you find your way in Wikipedia, helps you find a way to share this dream we all have.”
“I write on Wikipedia because I believe it’s the first place where you can find knowledge to share with others. I mean, at some point, somebody wrote an article that I was interested in, and I think I owe it the same to the person and to the world to do the same, in a sense.” Wikipedia is about giving back.
As a teacher, father, and husband, Vega is busy, but he enjoys spending his free time on Wikipedia and hopes other people find the time to join the community as well. “Many people say, ‘I don’t have time for Wikipedia.’ Yes you do. You do a lot of things that only are for you, that you are the only recipient of those benefits. Why not give back something to the community,” he said. “We are a great community. If people at any time doubt it, join us, we will be happy to have you.”
Profile by Alice Roberts, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller
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