Tuesday, January 20, 2015

From La Playa To La Paz

Written by Cameron Angus

‘A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’.

Two weeks ago I was lying on a beach in Colombia in 30 degrees heat. It was my 8th consecutive day on a beach, and the thought of returning to the cold of La Paz and face another challenging three months working on project was not particularly appetising. Not only are the projects sometimes difficult to manage, but to coordinate the expectations and desires of the volunteers and coincide them with the wishes of our partner project, is not a tough balance to achieve. Put simply, working in development is difficult, and lying on the beach was easy.

As a group of Team Leaders, we were also faced with many changes. A greater number of UK volunteers to plan for, a new Team Leader to work alongside, and a rotation of cooperantes have all changed the structure with which I was accustomed to. Furthermore, a shorter cohort of only 10 weeks (30 days on project) naturally makes it more difficult to make visible progress and manage expectations. I was also strongly aware that this was my last cohort, my last involvement with International Service and with the ICS scheme after 10 months in total as a volunteer and Team Leader. And with that came a certain amount of apprehension: had I done my bit? is there anything I’ve left behind? Will any progress we’ve made be lost in the future?

A week of great contrast: to the left, Playa Blanca, Cartagena; to the right, El Alto, Bolivia (where the project works)

Having met my new fellow Team Leader, Katyussa Veiga, I have no such concerns about the third of these questions. Despite having had only two official days specifically focused on the project, the reality is that I feel more comfortable than ever about leaving it in ten weeks, not because I’m tired of it, but because I am convinced that with Katyussa continuing to guide it for at least three months beyond my departure, the project will continue to develop in the right way. This feeling is reinforced by the continuation of Carla Urello Lara as a cooperante for the team, and the arrival of Alejandro Reque from the 'Childhood and Youth Empowerment' team. Having worked with both of them previously, I know how lucky we are to have them and how much they will offer to this team for the duration of their time here, until June. 

My feeling of comfort about the future of the project beyond my time here is equalled, if not surpassed, by my feeling of excitement for my remaining weeks here in Bolivia. Not only do these weeks give me an opportunity to work alongside Katyussa, Carla and Alejandro, but also our new UK volunteers, Connie, Serin, Ewa, Freddie, Lucy and Myles. I have never seen a group so new to such a multifaceted project so quickly and accurately assess the challenges that we are faced with, and propose solutions that will genuinely benefit the project for the next three months and beyond. I wouldn’t change any of them.

Cohort 11 of International Service Bolivia: Including ICS Staff, Team Leaders, Cooperantes, UK Volunteers and Host Families.

The truth now, having met my team and discussed our proposals for the next three months, is that the beach in Colombia is no longer appealing. Despite it being very early on in our cohort, I feel more enthusiastic than ever about the ambitions of the project and more determined to ensure that my remaining weeks here my most fulfilling. And alongside Katyussa, the cooperantes and the UK volunteers that we have, I am absolutely sure that that will be the case. I am very thankful that I am able to spend my last 10 weeks here with such a likeable, talented group.


I would also like to thank both the UK volunteers who offered so much to the project over the last three months: Nandini, Becky, Nick, Katie & Chelsea, and Mateo Vera de la Vega, our Bolivian cooperante of 6 months, who has joined the 'Volunteering and Participation for Inclusion' team. All their hard work and commitment to the project was and will always be hugely appreciated. They will always be part of this team.

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