Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cohort 14

As the UK Team Leader for International Service´s Female Empowerment Project in El Alto, I´ve been tasked with the opening blog for Cohort 14 and what a first few weeks it has been! As well as acclimatising to the dizzying heights of La Paz, we´ve had various meetings with organisations in the city and El Alto in anticipation of the volunteers´ arrival. I say ´we´ - Lorena, my Bolivian counterpart, who has been working on the very same project for over three months now; Lucas, who joins us from Germany and will be with the office for a whole year; and last but by no means least, Edel, our ICS Programme Manager out here in Bolivia.

Whilst we are continuing the charity´s valued work with Focapaci, which supports female producers with the set-up and maintenance of greenhouses amongst other things, we have also been checking out new projects for future volunteers.

The first potential project is in Viacha and in conjunction with the Ministry there. Amidst the rugged landscape and bustling streets of El Alto, their base is really impressive, offering a sanctuary for children to learn ICT, for women to bake bread and a general meeting place for a variety of different community projects. The current cohort will visit Viacha on six occasions in order to see whether incoming volunteers could both live and work there in January as part of an urban agricultural programme.

With the same premise as our Viacha visit, the second project we are looking into is in Kella Kella, so even further afield in the vast expanse that is El Alto. Our initial meeting with the community will without doubt be one of the most memorable of my time here. In the middle of nowhere, members of the community kept appearing from anywhere and everywhere – public transport doesn´t reach these parts. Everyone was so welcoming and inquisitive as Edel explained what the ICS Programme is about. We agreed on the possibility of a sleepover given how remote the project is – the idea being that we help them with their greenhouses and deliver workshops on topics, such as gender, production and nutrition for the children over a two day period. The community was also particularly eager to learn how to make things like ketchup and pasta at home. We then enjoyed apthapi together, the women brought food that they had prepared in the colourful cloths that they carry on their backs – a special moment and one that we hope to recreate with our volunteers every time we go to work in El Alto.

Both projects would certainly offer a different experience to the one that current volunteers are experiencing in La Paz, the location for our final partner organization – Fundación Alternativas. With them, we will spend our Action Fridays – an opportunity for the volunteers from other groups to experience ours by assisting families with their vegetable patches. In conjunction with Fundación Alternativas, a number of volunteers will produce a recycling manual for their producers. In the meantime, another group will produce a piece of literature on the topic of gender for producers in La Paz and El Alto alike.

So, it promises to be a busy, grueling, but thoroughly rewarding few months. And, with the volunteers´ arrival, I´m excited to get to know a bunch of people with a common goal to better the lives of the less fortunate. We have much to experience and learn, and I look forward to reading future blogs from our Bolivian and British volunteers about both their journeys and those of the people we are working with over the next few months…

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