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Interning in Bolivia

We arrived in July, to La Paz, Bolivia to begin a 6 month internship with the Ivar Mendez International Foundation an internship program organized by the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. Three months in we are nicely settled, have traveled to the field a number of times and are starting to dig our hands into the projects and processes here at the foundation.

For the readers who are new to the work of the foundation The Ivar Mendez International Foundation works to increase the quality of life of children and the communities they live in, in the Bolivian Andes. The foundation currently does this through a breakfast program, a dental program, and an arts program. The foundations goal is to provide the necessary conditions so that kids can dream and believe they can be anything. The foundation believes that by supporting kids with necessary nutrition, health services and creative thinking programs kids can reach their limitless potential and be agents of change in their communities.

Photo3Our role here as interns is to enhance the monitoring and evaluation systems used in the foundation to ensure that programs are meeting their goals and objectives. I have been working with the data collected for the Nutrition and Art Programs as well as developing new methods for collecting qualitative and quantitative data for both programs. The valuable project management skills that I am acquiring are applicable to any field of work. With the help of Yumey Noriega the Regional Director of the foundation we have reviewed the project development and monitoring tools that the foundation uses. I have acquired useful tools that will serve me well in the future.

In late August I traveled with the IMIF staff to Aucapata. The truck was stocked full of the Foundations quinoa nutrition bars as well as our own food and supplies since it is difficult to buy these items there. Throughout the 5 days we delivered the months’ supply of the bars to 14 of the 26 schools most of which were easy to access with the help of the foundations truck. At each stop I was able to collect updated class lists that would enable me to fill in the gaps of the data for the past three years for the nutrition program. The first schools we visited were at a higher altitude. The highest elevation we reached during our trip was 5300m at which point I was out of breath sitting down!

Photo2The school that had the most impact on me was Karcapunko, a one room school house with less than 10 students attending the day we visited. Before starting this internship I was working as a pre-kindergarten teacher in Santa Cruz, Bolivia so I have an idea as to what to expect in a classroom of young children but I have never seen children so quiet and reserved before. I had to beg them to smile for the picture I took outside of their classroom. The kids were happy to receive a morning snack and they enjoyed the bars as we quickly distributed them to the teacher and then we were on our way.

When you first arrive to Aucapata its beauty is breathtaking. It seems odd at first that there are more animals in the streets than people but if you walk through the plaza at the right time you can come across a number of members of the community. While in Aucapata we were able to do some maintenance on the Foundations house which serves as a place for dentists and volunteers to live while working in the field, as well as a space for the Art programs to take place. A garage door was installed by two members of the community so that the truck can be parked in the back yard.

We also did some maintenance and cleaning in the house as little creatures tend to invade when there is a lack of activity! The house is well equipped and quite comfortable which will make it much easier for future volunteers and dentists to spend time working in the area. I had a great time reviewing the living room “art gallery” in the house which is where all of the art projects are displayed that the kids of Aucapata made when Joy and Jim led art workshops there.

I think the most compelling moment for me was when two kids approached me while I was walking through the plaza and asked me where Joy was and when she was coming back. I knew who they were referring to because I had the privilege of meeting Joy Laking, at her home in Nova Scotia before traveling to La Paz to talk about her experiences with the art programs run through the foundation. They proceeded to convince me to talking Joy into returning to Aucapata as soon as possible so they could continue with the art activities that they had enjoyed so much. It was wonderful to see the impact that the creative processes Joy introduced has had on the kids and how they were anxiously awaiting Joys return to continue create more with art.

photo6Over the past three months I have been looking at monitoring and evaluation processes to measure the impact of development projects and I think that the moment in the plaza was a clear sign of the positive impact that the art program is having on the community of Aucapata. I believe creativity is such an important part of personal development and encouraging that creative side is crucial to excelling and assisting children in being agents of change within their community; something that the Foundation is committed to supporting, and a value that I also share.

After traveling to Aucapata the names and data I had been working with day after day in the office suddenly took on new meaning. When I update information for Karcapunko, Cotacucho or Yanahuaya among the other 26 schools I now have an image of the students, the teachers, the school and its surroundings. The information I process is much more than mere numbers, it represents people and this has given a whole new meaning to the work I am doing.

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