Il Commento

An Experience in the Field

di Chiara Lizzi

Vive Mexico is a small NGO that operates primarily in Michoacan, a Mexican state about four hours west of the capital. Its principle concerns are the cultural exchange between Mexican students from small rural and mountain communities and the youth of other countries, the rescue and preservation of some wildlife areas on the coast, the assistance of foundations and researchers that protect animals (in particular turtles), tropical flowers and plants, and the assurance that the development of tourism, with its construction and pollution, does not put the environment at risk.

 

I worked with them as a camp leader in the small pueblo of Puruandjiro. The greater part of the population there lives on a stipend of less than 8 euros a day. They lack essential services, such as water that arrives only a few times a week, and many families are missing a “man figures” because they have moved, often illegally, to the United States to work. It is very difficult to meet young people between the ages of 20 and 30. I oversaw the budget, organized the volunteers, and worked together with colleagues to organize work. Some of the volunteers worked to improve and maintain scholastic buildings, while others, responding to the demand for programs of study concerning the opportunities of different classes, organized study groups dealing with different approaches used by various cultures to tackle issues (systems of secondary and higher education, sexual education, etc.). Still others aided workers in wildlife preserves. On the one hand, I was happy to have the opportunity to work in the field because it is very different to study difficult situations in terms of GNP and amount of aid sent and to live in direct contact with those who live in these situations daily. On the other hand, I was also a little scared because I did not know very well what would be expected of me and, above all, if I would be able to do my job well. However, the warm reception I received from the locals upon my arrival and my colleagues willingness to help was very reassuring. Also, the group of volunteers that I had to coordinate got along very well and were people with a lot of determination. Unaccustomed to the presence of foreigners, in a place where everyone knows each other, and eager to spend time with us, the locals fought over who would invite us to their homes, organized parties for us, and always stopped on the street to speak with us. The schoolchildren, especially, even when we were not working together, spent a lot of time with us. At times the encounters between these two cultures were not easy. For example, during a dinner at the house of two local girls, their father and his friends returned visibly drunk and, ashamed, the girls ran out and in another case, by not finishing the lunch that was prepared for me, I offended their sense of hospitality, also because of the economic sacrifice their family had made by offering me food. In the end we were all struck by the happiness of the people and by the vitality of the town.

Overall it was a very positive experience, sharing in at least a small part of the Mexican culture and people first hand. The experience was so good that I decided to stay in Mexico for another 6 months in order to participate in two other field practices with different duties in other areas of the state. Certainly, they gave more to me than I gave to them. However, the difficulties I encountered in carrying out of my duties shed light on my limited preparation to work in non-profits. If I initially thought the most important attribute needed was a strong motivation, I soon realized that, although a very important factor, it is also necessary to have excellent professional preparation. These are issues that until now were relatively new in the world of non-profits. From the proposal to the completion of a project, these were the times where I learned a great deal. The methods of managing volunteers work and how to oversee a budget are also examples of skills that must be acquired in order to obtain good results. Since many non-profit organizations have limited resources and many tasks to carry out, it is important that all involved are prepared, so that the most can be made out of the possibilities of the projects.

Pagina modificata Thursday 23 October 2008