Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reflection - Week 8

Reflection - Week 8

It’s inevitable that when family and friends ask “how’s Bolivia”, I struggle to sum it up in a few words. Lau, Dan, Will, Ariel, Edel, Pedro and I - Team Focapaci – have been working together for just under five weeks now and our work has been just as varied and intense as the country itself. Each of us has discovered strengths that we never even knew we had and in the short month that we’ve been here, I believe that each one of us have already grown and developed immensely.

This is of course due in large part to our work with Focapaci, a grassroots organisation based in El Alto, specialising in urban gardening, nutrition and support and setting up organic agricultural women association. During our first week, each of us was given various areas of responsibility for the project. Lau would be negotiating with restaurants in La Paz, encouraging them to purchase the organically produced vegetables; Will would be researching cooking times and nutritional information for each of the vegetables; Dan would be producing an instructional video to provide guidance on greenhouse construction and innovative techniques; and finally, I would be creating a new online portal for the restaurants to make their vegetable orders through, as well as being the main port of call for media opportunities. At first, the amount of work ahead of us seemed huge, and I don’t think I was alone in feeling slightly daunted at the objectives we needed to achieve by the end of the project.

Our first couple of weeks were a blur. We spent much of our time in El Alto, a buzzing, crowded, dizzyingly high region at the edge of La Paz, where we were introduced to the women’s associations working with Focapaci. As well as testing our Spanish skills, the meetings gave us a better idea of how we would be working – in particular, the key role that marketing would play in the subsequent weeks. Our main objective is to improve the nutrition of the locals in El Alto. This was supported when we ran an educational stall in the area, giving out information on vegetables, nutrition and vitamins to interested passers-by. By the end of each day, we were completely exhausted, brains whirring from all the information we had managed to squeeze in.
For me, the most enjoyable aspect so far has been working at the greenhouses themselves. This time is spent weeding, collecting worms from the soil for compost, building  fences to segregate the resources, and generally improving the efficiency of the buildings – unglamorous work maybe, but there’s nothing more satisfying than patching up the cuts and bruises, wiping off the dirt and looking down at the result of a hard day’s labour.

What the last few weeks have emphasised is how gradual the process of development is. In a such a short time, it’s difficult to measure the impact you’ve had on communities, and this is a reflection of a larger problem that NGOs like International Service face. How can we demonstrate that we made a positive change to a large group of people in just less than three months? We all have to understand that we are just part of a larger process, and that we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel.

I feel extremely proud to be part of a team which is doing such fantastic work, and to have such wonderful support in the form of our team leader Pedro, and our cooperantes Ariel and Edelweiss. It’s hard to believe that we are more than half way through our project already and that in a few weeks we’ll be back in the UK! The work we’ve been doing is so different from anything we’ve attempted and I can’t wait to see what opportunities and experiences will open up for us, and for those that we are supporting, as we move into the latter half of our project. 

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