Friday, October 17, 2014

Team Community Development – active citizens ahoy...

So here we are, a new team with an all new name! We are now ICS Bolivia’s Team Community Development – continuing to support UpClose Bolivia in their many activities in Mallasa and Jupapina.

Team Community Development for Oct-Dec 2014
Bottom row: Natasha, Adriana, Hannah, Judith.
Middle row: Huw, Anya, Laura. Back: Kate.
For aficionados of this blog: the team still has some old favourite faces – the lovely and highly capable Adriana and Judith, our Bolivian Cooperantes Tecnicos who manage the various projects, generate appropriate ideas based on their knowledge of the local context, and provide expert advice on where to get the best chicken and rice after a morning juggling toddlers in the Children’s Centre.

They are joined by five new young folks from the UK, brimming with enthusiasm to immerse themselves in a new culture and marvellously open to gaining a new perspective on the world. They are all ears, a group of natural listeners – for which my heart sings, as this will serve them well in absorbing something meaningful from our time here in this unfamiliar land. We have:

  • Anya, with a particular interest in engaging with sustainable tourism
  • Natasha, with several years’ experience in multicultural nurseries in the UK, eager to get an insight into nursery practices in other contexts
  • Laura, recently graduated in Hispanic Studies and keen to develop her creative side before deciding what profession to head into
  • Huw, in a similar position and intrigued to see what the shadow of the Andes will throw light upon within himself
  • Hannah, with an interest piqued in the challenges faced by minority groups, and wanting to understand more about global issues and just where injustices lie
And me as Team Leader – fresh (or maybe a little dazed, truth be told) from several years working in humanitarian and development projects in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and keen to see what development looks like from a South American perspective.

Huw trains for his work supporting the equine therapy of Fundacion Porvenir, providing an avenue for people with disabilities from across La Paz and El Alto to develop physical and social skills
This week, our volunteers’ first forays into their Community Development project work began – supporting early childhood development, alternative education, social therapy for children with disabilities and strengthening local tourism ventures. This afternoon, Huw got his first bareback riding lesson, in the stunning Valley of the Flowers beneath the Devil’s Tooth peak. Huw is supporting the equine therapy offered free by Fundacion Porvenir to children with disabilities from all over La Paz and El Alto – 10 week courses of horse-based therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. People with disabilities tend to be particularly marginalised in Bolivia – in some cases, to the extent of literally being hidden away and offered very few opportunities for entry into general social life. With studies indicating that around 15% of any population can be expected to have some form of disability, a significant proportion of the Bolivian population is thus excluded from participating fully as national citizens.

We’re also here at a very interesting time, with Bolivia voting in general elections. It’s exciting to see that the efforts of the volunteers support local action that addresses directly some of the hot topics discussed at national level in the presidential debates - unemployment, mistreatment of women, domestic violence, environmental care. With the ICS programme intending to support young people’s development as active citizens, this is a rich community to be placed in - somewhere where so much has been achieved and changed at local level through community-led action.

The degree of active citizenship here tickles the cultural baggage I carry from my upbringing in the UK – my inherited inclination towards the avoidance of uncertainty, to the prioritisation of the individual – factors that’ve niggled me as I’ve worked in communities in India, in Bangladesh, in Liberia, with folks with vastly different worldviews where coming together and sorting stuff out is much more the norm. I ponder the fact that I’m far more confident engaging in development work overseas than I am on the streets back at home. A global study springs to mind, released when I was working in Liberia, that showed that of all nationalities, Liberians were the most likely to help a stranger in need. What are Brits most likely to do??

Or maybe more importantly, after this, what will I CHOOSE to do?

Kate Heath, Team Leader for ICS Community Development Project

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