Joy and Frustration: Ten months in Bolivia
by Cristian Reynders
La Paz, Bolivia: Early in the morning on 4 February 2008 I took a plane for Bolivia. I was leaving Belgium in order to work for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as a one-year UNV volunteer Intern. Ten months later what can I say? Many things happened, many expectations were met, many frustrations were left - but basically it was a huge experience.
I worked with UNICEF in the capacity of a community and rural development officer in an office working on the development and reinforcement of Bolivian Institutions at national, departmental and municipal levels. UNICEF Bolivia is divided in four sectors (protection, education, health, and water and sanitation). Well, my office had to deal with all these thematics which gave me the possibility to have a view of everything that UNICEF Bolivia was working with and, especially, learn a lot.
After an intense week of presentations about UNICEF’s work in Bolivia, I began my work and was given many interesting responsibilities, such as: coordinating and supporting the joint planning, monitoring and evaluation of interventions for the fulfilment of children’s rights with Municipal Governments; ensuring the participation of other actors and the incorporation of children’s concerns into municipal annual and five-year planning and public reporting processes and information and monitoring systems; and participating in the Community and Institutional Strengthening Component jointly with the Departmental Community and Municipal Strengthening Service.
Later, or more precisely, from September, I was charged with analyzing and evaluating the functioning of UNICEF’s Intersectorial Municipal Committee project, present in 46 municipalities of Bolivia. Having these responsibilities allowed me to work a lot in the field and have a glimpse of UNICEF’s projects, the difficulties they face and how Bolivian people respond to these projects.
I learned a lot from all the Bolivian people who advised me, often very honestly, on what were the weak points of the projects, why some things were not working and what we could do to make them work. They were making a lot of suggestions in order to make things work. They weren’t criticizing just to criticize, but they were giving us solutions, while remaining open to our points of view.
So over the last 10 months I travelled to more than 20 municipalities in Bolivia, in order to meet with cooperate with them. I’ve participated in many meetings with Government and departmental officials to see what policies the Bolivian government was applying to improve conditions and in order to give UNICEF’s work a legal framework. I made reports to UNICEF staff members on the status of local development projects and made suggestions on what we might change in order to improve our project.
My UNV volunteer Intern experience gave me the opportunity to integrate all UNICEF's Local Development projects and do a lot of fieldwork. That’s where I realized that we were not only trying to develop projects, but that we were bringing hope to people: we were creating expectations. But the most important thing is that local people realize the need for change, the need to go forward.
Did my work made a difference? I would humbly say that my work helped bring an objective vision to the evaluation of a project, that it has raised some old or new questions on the project's utility and that it came up with some new questions about how to improve the project.
Also, my fieldwork and all the talking with the people allowed me to help UNICEF staff understand different points of view. I would like to point out, that my fulfilment wouldn’t have been complete without all the good advice received from UNICEF’s local teams. Credit to them!
It wasn’t us, as UNICEF staff, who were telling people what they needed to do to change but the contrary. As many people told me: “One day or another you [UNICEF] will leave and we will remain. This is our country: if we don’t change it nobody will do it for us.” And there comes the joy and the frustration.
Joy, because you feel that the country, the people, have the will to change - and that it is not you who brings this change, as is so often interpreted, but you participate to a movement initiated by the country itself. You sit and talk for hours with people that tell you exactly what they need and how your organization can support them.
As said, you’re not seen as a 'hero' who brings wealth and development, but you’re more seen as a person who can support a developing plan initiated at local level by the country’s people. In Bolivia, it happened that in some municipalities the authorities refused UNICEF’s financial support because they had the feeling that it might diminish the projects they themselves had defined.
Frustration, because you throw yourself into the projects, you leave people you love behind you participating in change… and you realize that time is flying and that you won’t be there to see how things evolve. You realize that the time has come for you to leave and, again, leave everything behind.
|Home | Contact us | FAQs | Search | Sitemap | UNDP Information Disclosure Policy|
|UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)|