Volunteer Work in Bolivia 9/07/10 -7/09/10
Being a part of Orkidstudio, for the two month project and the fundraising efforts that preceded it, have included some of the highlights of my life along side some of the most testing moments.
Fundraising proved to be very satisfying and fun throughout the second half of my third year. It included some crazy schemes which I would never have normally got involved in, but ultimately, provided an endless supply of social events and gave me experiences which Iâ€™ll never forget. However coupled with my continued lung problems it did seriously affect my third year of university, which although advised to defer, I decided to finish and subsequently have not fulfilled my potential at this level. The regret I feel now Iâ€™m sure will be short lived as I know in the future it will be the experiences that I remember not the degree.
My time in Bolivia will be one of these memories that Iâ€™ll keep forever. One of the most exciting experiences of my life to date. The culture, people, environment and history was invigorating. And I soaked up as much as I could in the moments between working on site as a volunteer.
Working for Orkidstudio was also part of this experience described above, however it also proved to be very testing, through which I learnt allot and do not regret anything what so ever.
Below I have described what we were doing out there and included a questionnaire which gives my opinions on the work we did and the charity itself
Section 1- The Project The aim of the project was to help the children and the community by constructing new facilities, including a workshop, canopy and classrooms, for an organisation called The Alalay Foundation and teaching the children how to express themselves through art and creativity. The Alalay has 9 centres across Bolivia and seek to help street children across the country.
The Children Working for and with such a loving and fun bunch of children was an honour; they were the heart and soul of our time in Bolivia. It was difficult to hear about what these children have been through but it enhanced the importance of what we were trying to achieve.
Section 2- Personal contribution
Where did you feel you contributed most to the project? and why? I think my main contributions were on and off site problem solving (coming up with quick construction solutions and also rethinking future plans) and trying to take up the slack of onsite Managment when times got tough. I kept good relations with the Bolivian workforce, who I was able to instruct on site, and have since kept in contact with Rene, our most trusted builder.
Where did you feel your contributions were less beneficial towards the final outcome of the project and why? The struggle with management, although necessary in the end to change the build, was demoralising for everyone at the time.
What Skills do you feel youâ€™ve acquired over the course of the project? (Personal/ technical etc) I have gained allot of construction process knowledge and also grown in confidence at my own knowledge which seemed to be more extensive than some others. Also I have witnessed how not to deal with people and would like to think have learnt to manage people to a better standard.
Section 3 â€“ Management
How do you feel you were managed on a personal level? (Task management, communication etc.) Very poorly, embarrassingly so. The project leader was rude, insulting and egotistic for a large part of the project, to all of the volunteers and co founders. Only when we managed to break this down was the project able to move forward. This lack of respect to the volunteers is one of the funder mental problems that ran throughout and resulted in an extensive overrunning of program. This culminated in a physical attack on a volunteer which was pathetic and meant I personally lost whatever stands of hope and respect I may have still had for this person. And little remorse has been shown.
How do you feel the project was managed? Materials not on site, workers standing around not working, wrong tools, site not prepared before work started, no thought to construction process meaning we had to work it out ourselves as we went (wasted time), hugely underestimated construction period and no deadlines met, terrible design which did not suit the climate, culture or function of project, lack of involvement of children and volunteers at early stage, Lies about the sustainability and durability of the design (still being voiced as promotion now) eg...crates not recycled but bespoke built, large volume of unnecessary concrete, longevity of building, rare hardwood from Amazon forest used etc. Decisions being made by volunteers as management were not around (not professional practice) Work ethos on site, no leaders meant efficiency was poor, and no respect given to designers or management Complete lack of technical drawings, obvious repercussions
Section 4 â€“ Community
In what instances do you feel there was positive engagement with the community of Alalay Individually as volunteers, we engaged with the children throughout the experience. In terms of the build, there was a distinct lack of any meaningful involvement of the local community, not due to a lack of desire from the locals themselves but by the lack of opportunity. This was to the extreme of even the children not being aware of what was going on for the large part of the project. For a charity which boasts its involvement with the community, this was unforgivable.
In what instances do you feel there was a lack of (or negative) engagement with the community of Alalay? Promises not met, false hope. Giving the people so much less than they deserve or than what could have been achieved in that time and with that money. There was an opportunity to use the project to educate the children, this was also ignored, even if health and safety didnâ€™t allow them to work, they could have been given site tours weekly or daily to explain what had been done and the processes involved.
Section 5 â€“ Design
What do you feel are the greatest assets of the design? Original design- that it didnâ€™t come to fruition Revised design- just made the best of a bad situation, still little going for it; hopefully the foundations can be used for years to come. Idea of canopy good although it was designed terribly and very dangerous now.
And its greatest shortcomings? Design of the whole building is for the wrong place and wrong reasons; it does not work on any of its desired levels. An interesting concept which if you scratch beneath the surface has no grounding or thought backing it and its claims up. The list is very long but is summed up in my answers above, mainly in the Managment section.
Section 6 â€“ Improvement
As a volunteer if you were to undertake a similar project in the future, what are the key aspects you’d look for in the project? The main point would be management; it is insulting to think that orkidstudio would continue blindly without addressing this problem at the core of the charity. So in the future I’d look at working for a well organised charity which has defined its member’s roles clearly and its internal structure runs as a business whose business plan can be trusted. I’d also inspect the charities goals closely and check them against the proposed design. Also a more considered and structured involvement with the community, especially children would be desired
Blog post on Bolivian experience, and all the volunteer work