With the current state of COVID-19, it is clear that the University made the correct choice by not having us travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia over Spring break this year. When the news first broke, we were all devastated because we had been working all semester for our clients, Amizade and CEOLI, and we were finally going to be able to go in-country and continue our work. At first it seemed as though all was lost when it came to our project, trying to create a stable revenue stream for CEOLI a non-profit in Bolivia, but we soon realized that our work had just begun. Now, here we are, in our separate homes, many of us under lockdown or quarantined, trying to continue working for our clients while also trying to navigate through our second semester taking all our classes online through Zoom. Oh, and also Bolivia itself is under lockdown currently to add to the madness.
When starting this service-learning project, it was our goal to both help our client while also helping ourselves through continued professional development, increased teamwork, improved communication skills, and many of the other benefits of a service-learning project. This is known as reciprocity. When looking at the project as a whole, going in-country to Bolivia was undoubtedly the highlight of our course and something we were all looking forward to, but it was not, and is not our only opportunity to gain the aforementioned skills and experiences and to help CEOLI. Despite, not being able to go to Cochabamba, we were still able to communicate with CEOLI personnel online and gain that valuable communication experience with someone in a foreign country. We were also able to work on many of our deliverables while at Pitt. I was able to talk, in-person, to multiple employees and buyers of various stores on campus including Maggie & Stella’s and the Cathedral of Learning Gift Shop as well as draft and send multiple emails to the staff of various Pitt departments in order to try and sell more CEOLI cards. Despite this, we still face ramifications from the cancellation of our trip. Spending a week in Cochabamba while making daily visits to CEOLI would have been not only an invaluable experience for us personally but would have benefited our work greatly. From CEOLI’s standpoint, they are still getting our services and work, however having groups travel in-country is a huge benefit for CEOLI. The main reason for that is the fact that every time a group comes, CEOLI gets money from them. Obviously, the work and research that groups do while in-country is important to CEOLI but being able to have multiple groups come each year was huge for CEOLI’s financial situation. Now, with this growing pandemic there are no doubt major concerns about the future of our program as well as others. Fortunately, we are still giving CEOLI money despite not traveling which helps with the idea of reciprocity, however they are still not receiving the most valuable work possible from us because we are unable to travel to Bolivia.
Despite everything going on, I think my group was very adaptable upon learning of the cancellation of our trip. Obviously, it was difficult, but we all understood that the work we could still finish would be very helpful to our clients especially with the fact that this global pandemic was no doubt going to affect Bolivia eventually. One of the main things I thought about as we were transitioning this consulting project online was some of the challenge’s teams face. We took these into account when we were still planning on going to Cochabamba and continuing class in-person, but now some of these challenges are more present than ever. One of these is accountability, and lack thereof. Being accountable was a challenge before. With everyone being on different schedules and only certain times we could meet in person it was a challenge for everyone to get their work done sometimes. So far, I think we’ve done a good job addressing this challenge and being adaptable. We already scheduled and had a Zoom meeting outside of class time and during that meeting we revised our scope of work and also re-worked our roles and schedules. With everything on campus being closed, working with Maggie & Stella’s and the Cathedral of Learning Gift Shop this year is no longer on the table. We have transitioned to a personal selling focused approach and have updated our personal schedules with new deadlines accordingly. This adaptability will greatly help us keep on track with our project.
Another challenge we now face and have to adapt to is risk management. In the weeks leading up to our now cancelled departure, myself, and my team, thought about all the risk we could have while in-country. We talked to former participants of the trip and learned about types of food which made them sick and other helpful tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. What’s something we didn’t plan for? Having the trip cancelled and continuing the consulting project online. In this situation, we did not have a plan ready however we were able to adapt quickly. Personally, when I think of risk management pertaining to this project right now, I think of next year’s group. In our scope of work, we mention how we are going to work on continuity plan to set them up in a good spot for their project next year. Now, I am thinking about what’s going to happen if we are unable to send Pitt students for a second year in a row and if this project has to be picked up in 2022. Due to this, we have been adaptable and shifted a lot of our focus onto creating a very solid continuity plan by detailing the steps we wish we could have taken and the goals we wish we could have accomplished, so the next group that gets to travel will have a very solid starting point and our ideas will still (hopefully) come to fruition.
I feel a lot differently now that I have had time to process this change of plan. I can still remember how devasted I was upon hearing we were not longer able to travel to Cochabamba and how upset I was when I heard we could no longer return to classes at Pitt. In the moment when we first realized we couldn’t go in-country, no one, myself included, even wanted to think about continuing this project. But the time I’ve had to process, including a very helpful second week of Spring Break, has made me realize how this project is more important than ever. Our group was supposed to be the only group traveling to CEOLI this year, meaning that when we cancelled no one would visit all year. I can’t speak for the other schools, nor do I know what they were planning on doing in-country, but I would assume due to the fact that their trips were cancelled so early that they would most likely not being doing any work for CEOLI. As a result, it is up to us to provide valuable and solid work to prove to the children and employees at CEOLI that we still care deeply about them and that we will not give up on our end of the project. My group will work harder than ever to insure we help CEOLI as much as possible in these troubling times.
When I think about the impact that COVID-19 has on the United States I see complete chaos. Millions of Americans, myself included, are on lockdown, the economy is tanking, restaurants are closed except for take-out, and grocery stores are insane. If this is what has happened to one of the most powerful countries in the world, I can only imagine what is happening in Bolivia right now, especially CEOLI. As a non-profit, CEOLI relies heavily on government funding which was already being slashed before this health crisis. With governments shifting their focus, and rightfully so, onto healthcare services it is only a matter of time before CEOLI’s funding is cut even more. Moreover, Bolivia was just put on a two-week lockdown. This means children and adults will no longer be able to go to CEOLI for the services they depended on and CEOLI will not be generating any revenue from in-person services. It is more important than ever that we focus on selling their cards because they will need more money soon. This will, and already has, had a significant impact on our project. As mentioned before, we are shifting our focus to personal selling because it is the only thing we can do currently and we are also working very hard to develop a solid business plan for the juice stand, so CEOLI will have a strong starting point when they eventually start working on it. We are also going to write a report updating future groups on our communications and work with retailers on campus so that they can get CEOLI cards in stores as soon as possible.
While this situation is unprecedented and extremely unfortunate, we are going to continue to work hard for Amizade and CEOLI because we know how much our work means to them. Not being able to go to Cochabamba is a huge blow but we will strive as hard as we can to not let it deteriorate the quality of our work. For now, we will continue to work remotely, and we are all hoping that CEOLI will be up and running as soon as possible so they can continue helping their community. Stay safe, everyone.