Monday, February 2, 2015

Every experience is valuable..

Written by Carla Andrea Urrelo Lara
It's been seven months since I first came to work on the Urban Agriculture project and in this time there have been many significant changes in the organisation of team with respect to how we engage with the target population: the producers of El Alto; five volunteers who we still appreciate a lot, and whose intelligence and passion for the project greatly contributed to its development, whilst we were also able to build a nice friendship through our great experience of working together. That said, this Cohort, Cohort 11, the team has received six multifaceted and dynamic volunteers who are all highly-skilled and I am sure will contribute to the project.

I have also been able to see the changes of the new dynamic of the team, with both a new Team Leader and a new partner as an in-country volunteer. Cameron, who came nearly four months ago has provided fresh air to the project, being open to new proposals and providing lots of energy to motivate the team. Thanks to this, we have been able to make a lot of headway in the past few months. The team´s new Team Leader, Katyussa, brings a lot of experience and has already brought innovative ideas about how to achieve the goals that we have proposed in this cohort. Whilst with the in-country volunteers, Mateo, who graced this project with his infectious enthusiasm now belongs to another project, whilst Alejandro has joined the team from another project and has shown a lot of knowledge and interesting ideas that we can work with. 
My time here has been a rewarding experience, and volunteering with International Service has made me realise importance of certain things:

- If you really want to make an impact and make a difference, you need passion and dynamism as well as the seriousness and and responsible commitment to work.

- Volunteering beyond the trite words of "solidarity and determination" with which it is associated, is usually an opportunity for personal growth and a mutual contribution to improve the quality of life, but quality of life of who? The answer is everyone involved: the target population with which they work, and the volunteers, the Team Leaders, and in-country volunteers.
So, therefore the question is: what is ´quality of life´? Living in conditions where one has sufficient resources, both tangible and intangible, to live fully. By this I mean the deficiencies that may affect people not only signifies a lack of housing, basic physical resources or academic education but also skills such as conflict resolution, the ability to improvise, tolerance, resilience and emotional adaptation – if we go deeper into this direction we could talk about emotional intelligence. For this I recommend that you come with a mind open to all kinds of possibilities, and the humility to learn what Bolivia is in order to enrich themselves with highly-relevant experiences to their future.
An open mind to possibilities is vital! As is well said with the phrase, ´nothing is sure, everything is possible´ that although such a short and simple phrase implies one could live in Bolivia with ease, many arrive at the conclusion that the city is a functional chaos and strangely organized. Therefore it is necessary to strip certain patterns, habits and strong mental stereotypes rooted in the brain like parasites and leeches that may block adaptation.

The culture shock that one can come to feel is tremendous, but again it is important to resort to open-mindedness and understanding of the situation. Often, many volunteers experience some frustration and anger when things are not done the way it was planned within the exact hours and days. Whilst it is true that this is a very annoying habit and somewhat disruptive, but like any difficulty in life, an opportunity arises. Because certain schedules can change at the last minute one can generate a greater tolerance to frustration and pro-actively propose possible alternatives or solutions to problems that may occur in time to save the activity or situation. And so we have the opportunity to become experts in skilled improvisation.

Working with the target population, the producers of vegetables in our case, has been and is an enormously rewarding experience personally and academically. I have seen first-hand the different contexts or situations of producers due to their unique personal histories, attitudes and decisions they make every day. There are producers who come to be very successful in caring for their greenhouses and the commercialisation of their vegetables and, like other forms of work, they intend to show the necessary discipline, knowledge and leadership to make it a success. On the other hand there are producers in precarious conditions because of misinformation and perhaps the mismanagement of their resources. Which brings me to the phrase ´poverty is not in the pockets, if not in the head´. I refer to this because education is vital in any development programme, sharing knowledge, information, values, attitudes and leadership is an important part of the empowerment of all to achieve a true community development for all beneficiaries.

In short, working with producers, in-country volunteersTeam Leaders, UK volunteers and ICS staff is an invaluable personal life experience that becomes a continual learning process for all people with whom I work, or a ´realisation´ of the background of many situations that occur in these months, whether good or bad.

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