Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ariel writes about his experience as a cooperantes técnicos working on the Focapaci project, and the challenges and learning that took place during the time he participated on the ICS programme.

My name is Ariel Vargas Celiz, I have worked for more than eleven months, almost a year. When I originally found out I was going to work on a project with families in the city of El Alto on the implementation of urban gardens and supporting a children's center in Portada Triangular I was filled with many emotions.

Sharing this experience with my partner cooperantes técnicos, Edel, we saw a new horizon, and began to coordinate activities with our team leader, getting to know the partner, visiting the beneficiary community and the children in the day-care centre.

Personally it was a challenge because as a local cooperantes técnicos, my role was to mediate the relationship between UK volunteers and the community. This was the first time I had to interact with young people from an English-speaking culture and with people in rural communities, mostly women.

With the help and experience of my Team Leader those fears were disappearing and becoming experiences. The power of body language was my first tool because my English was very basic, I loved my volunteers.

To breakdown the language barrier I created a game which we played on our journey to work because we had a lot of time going from the office to the city of El Alto. Our game was that the volunteer had to say a word in Spanish and I had to translate it into English, and just as I said a word in English, they had to tell me the meaning in Spanish. This helped us a lot, especially me as I learned how to say all the construction tools in English.

Focapaci; working in the education and training of vulnerable populations in the city of El Alto, such as families and women-headed households with limited resources.

Our role was to support families who migrate from rural to urban areas, often single mothers and/or widows in search of better opportunities.

Many of these families did not complete high school, therefore making it even more difficult to access decent employment. The project focuses on providing each family with a greenhouse with the aim of food sustainability. All products developed in the greenhouse are organic products for family consumption and any surplus is intended for market, therefore supporting the family in the purchase of school supplies or the purchase of other foodstuffs.

The challenge we had was implementing within the family custom the need for the consumption of organic products, since many of the families in the city of El Alto consume only carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, pasta, potato flour, tunta, etc. An interesting observation was to see the number of obese children in the city, which is a sign of poor nutrition

To achieve our goal we developed nutrition workshops with families and children in childrens’ centres. This helped parents a lot in incorporating vegetables into their daily diet.

In this learning process strong friendships between the families and volunteers were formed.

On the one hand I have seen how low-income families struggle to make a decent living and healthy lifestyle with the implementation of their greenhouses, but through hard work and effort, greatly motivated volunteers with the aim of development and cooperation, they develop a very different perspective and gain unforgettable experiences that contribute to their personal development.

This experience was mutual. As volunteers learned about greenhouses and received training in Focapaci, they then replicated this within families, while also learning of the everyday experiences of each family. Things such as how to drive a nail through a greenhouse roof were things of great value to the volunteers, and especially when it was lunch time when we all shared the traditional Aphtapi, with families and volunteers sharing stories and customs of both social contexts.

Being part of this process has aided to help me develop my personal skills, with the interaction between two different cultures united by a common goal. Learning a new language like English and sharing customs and values ​​leads me to think that we are all part of an ongoing learning experience, and as we teach we also learn.

No matter the language barriers and cultural differences when we all come together for a common goal, whether it is building a greenhouse, supporting children in schools, we help others in different ways and strengthen ourselves as people.

I want to thank the ICS programme for this great opportunity, our team leaders, our UK volunteers and especially to those families who opened their doors to this great experience.
Writer by: Ariel Celiz Vargas

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