Tag Archives: volunteering

Lessons Learned: Ecuador

Oh, my…it’s been a while.  So, gentle readers (those of you who might still be around), please forgive the random direction this post may take. I’ve kind of lost my knack. Writing is something that grows rusty when one’s out of practice, and I’m indeed far, far out there. It isn’t just the blog…I haven’t written in my journal once since we landed in Ecuador. I’ve written a few emails to very close friends and family, but only sparingly, and that’s been difficult. I’m not sure that not writing has been the best way to cope, but I cannot say we haven’t grown, or that I haven’t learned.

In any kind of humanitarian work, one of the most vital aspects is monitoring and evaluation, or M&E. I have a healthy relationship with this – it’s the part of the work I find the most valuable, and I have applied it to my professional and personal life without exception. Over the years M&E has become, depending on the organization, MEAL (monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning) or PMEL (planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning). The common denominator there, and something I find indispensable, is learning.  So let this post serve as my personal lessons learned workshop. You are invited. Coffee will be served.

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You take them both and there you have…

It has been so tremendously difficult to write.  To find the time.  To find the words.

In the Casa every day is an impossible adventure, with very good and also pretty bad things happening all around.

On the very good side, C was able to convince a couple of seriously talented photographers to make the kids part of their portrait project.  Basically – and I hope my humble words do their incredible journey justice – they’ve come to appreciate how difficult it is to get portraits of strangers while they travel, so they concocted a plan to bring the necessary equipment to print out the shots they shoot and give a copy to the subject on the spot.  The kids thought it was magical and the pictures turned out amazing.

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S & A…brother and sister to whom it is very hard to say no…

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A different take on change

As a rule, since leaving the UK, I’ve tried to keep my role within organisations purely consultatory.  That is, I knew when I decided to do this that I didn’t want to work directly with the people the organisations supported – the “beneficiaries,” or more appropriately, the community partners.  That is a role I felt – and still feel – should be occupied by the people who work directly for the organisation.  The people who know those they support best because they are from the same community and cultural context, and know best what those folks will need going forward in part because they will be there with them.

Wanting to work in communities from which we do not come and in which we will not stay is a difficult path to tread.  And of course it doesn’t always pan out the way we plan, in spite of our best intentions.

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A (somewhat long) postcard from Azogues…

I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that the last 2 weeks feel a whole lot more like 2 months…such an incredible amount of things have happened.

I literally taught up to the minute we left Le Puy – my last lesson ended at 9:30 on Tuesday morning, and we were on the road within the hour. We drove up to Paris with C’s sister, with whose family we stayed whilst in town, save for one dreamy night with our good friends in the city, who happened to prepare a gorgeous Thai/Indian feast for us to boot. The rest of our visit was spent marveling at how fast our nephews are growing and changing, complete with a Saturday on the rugby pitch. Paris was lovely, but we were off pretty quickly from there…

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A new adventure awaits…

Well, this was unexpected.  Can’t say, really, what was, but the last year has been nothing if not filled with expectation.  As the school year was drawing to a close circa April, I took the dive.  I’m no English teacher, said I to me, and, This ship needs some new horizons, said we to us (we being C and I, of course).  We do still deeply dig on Le Puy, and this is our point de chute, but there is a lot more world to see than we’ve had the chance to see thus far, and point de chute means landing pad after all, and one needs to take flight in order to necessitate landing, right? And so the search began.

I knew it would be hard.  The Interweb is chockful of warnings that development work is crazy difficult to break into.  But I had years of experience with vulnerable people.  I had years of experience of monitoring and evaluating, of change management and people management and risk management.  I’d volunteered almost without a pause for over a decade, and spent a year volunteering full time with two wildly different grassroots organisations in a developing country.  I had two fluent and a third decent language.  And I type damn fast.  I knew it would be hard, yes…but I thought it would be possible.

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Turn and face the strange.

Some time ago, in the midst of one of my many (many) existential crises, I happened upon a series of books called The School of Life.  The premise of all these books is that sometimes the things we aren’t overtly taught via the many institutions to which we belong by choice, default or force, could really use some basic instruction.  Some titles include How To Connect with Nature, and How To Be Alone, as well as News: A User’s Manual.   One of the books proffered is How To Find Fulfilling Work, and whilst I have been engaged throughout much of my adult life in fulfilling work, at the time I found that book, I very much was not fulfillingly employed.

This, unfortunately, remains the case.

You see, whilst I do love language, and I do love teaching, I do not so much love teaching language.  I never envisaged teaching English; teaching English was something I never foresaw falling back on, and that happened to save my arse when I did indeed fall.

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