Consulting Throughout COVID

As we enter our second year of the pandemic, much of the circumstance has changed when compared to the rather rocky start we experienced. In the US, many are looking forward to a hopeful future as three versions of the vaccine are now available, and are being distributed to hundreds of new people everyday (myself included, as I received one just this afternoon). Pitt, along with many other universities, is planning to return to in-person classes in the fall. We are also seeing some federal and state restrictions are being lifted (though this is not always a positive thing, if done prematurely…).

A couple of months ago, the highly anticipated but seemingly elusive “end of the pandemic” was something I personally had doubts in. Even with the level of science and access we have, there were some poor decisions being made at the executive levels that trickled down to cities and towns, from the start of COVID until recently. Being in the country with the highest number of cases worldwide can make one slightly pessimistic, though I tried to notice good changes as much, if not more than the bad. We are fortunate enough in the US to have access to the vaccine in the first place, not to mention multiple types, as well as the logistics to ensure people receive them. We have also been able to adapt to COVID in other ways, with the help of technology. In many cases, people found that they were able to either work or learn online successfully, if they had access to a laptop and Wi-Fi (the largest exception being essential workers).

In Bolivia, the situation is much different. Although they are still outpacing some South American nations, they have less access to the vaccine as well as doses administered when compared to the US. Before this was even an issue, Jean Carla shared with us the impact that the pandemic was having at CEOLI. Unfortunately, despite being near a state of independence pre-COVID, they have experienced lesser enrollments throughout the last year. Due to necessary policies such as social distancing, they don’t have quite enough space to host as many students as they formerly did. Some of the students’ families are also hindered by a lack of finances, due to an uptick in challenges I’m sure many of us are acquainted with, as jobs and working hours were lost. Transportation has also been made more difficult. Those in rural areas have been especially affected, due to the distance and terrain of their route, as well as a lack of mobility. There is also the fact that a significant portion of the attendees in Bolivia do not have the same privilege we do when it comes to modern amenities, such as computers and the Internet. This has left some without the option to join in online, and the overall decrease in enrollment has also meant that CEOLI was unable to extend as many services as they usually coordinated. Even the most popular activities, such as lessons in the pool or creating art, have become increasingly difficult for the students and the organization to enjoy.

As a part of the group helping CELOI, we have also had our own share of challenges while completing our project virtually. After splitting into slightly smaller groups, I was more than happy to be within the art show subsection. However, we ran into quite a few issues when planning the event, as we tried our best to adapt to the client’s needs as well as our evolving goals. We found out early on that the reality meant we would be establishing an online art show, which was something none of us had experience with or exposure to prior. We were unsure how to show the pieces, how to make it a fun and attractive event to as many as possible, and how to promote CEOLI cards throughout this process. Through the genius of Lauren and Claudia, a game plan was set, using a platform that our Amizade contact Melissa had shown us weeks before. This technology, Padlet, allows multiple pictures to be shown and lets participants comment on them in real-time, which will enable the audience to engage with the art and potentially the artists. There will be an even more interactive activity to participate in, as we hope to have artists host art-making DIY-Breakout Rooms. We are also hosting Ariel as a guest-speaker to introduce the event, as he is a native Bolivian and very much involved with both CEOLI and Amizade. We were very thankful to receive his help for out project!

Additionally, the art show group ran into a few bumps along the road when planning our marketing campaign, to promote both CEOLI Cards as well as the actual event. The social media pages for the center have been slightly dormant in the past few months, so we want to ensure we are both executing a successful promotion strategy and reviving the page in an acceptable/consistent manner. We have also been unable to get certain pictures or videos of the students at CEOLI, due to the current circumstances. Therefore, we had to think of new ways to post and most importantly, attract people to the page. We have found a lot of promise with giveaways, which Pitt Business has generously agreed to sponsor. Hopefully, these will take place in the coming months, with offerings from custom-made T-shirts by Alex Blom to CEOLI’s own cards. With the help of some kind and dedicated former alumni of the program, we have also formed a better idea regarding the posts we will create.

Though some of these issues have been slightly aided by the use of virtual technology, it is not a fix to everything. While Jean Carla and Ariel speak English very well, we still take the time out of meetings to translate for everyone else in the call (ourselves included). There are also very specific times that we meet with the client, which can feel as though they are quite far apart. The biggest downside to me, personally is the lack of experience we have with Bolivia and CEOLI, as we were not able to visit the country or meet our clients in-person. However, there have been some notable positives to the environment. We can contact whoever we need to through the use of e-mail, Zoom calls, or MS Teams. Meeting as a group is fairly simple, as all we need to do is set a day and time. On the art show side, we have the advantage of now worrying about food or a physical location. I am hoping that some of these will lead the group to a successful place, as we wrap up our work for the semester and plan our presentation to CEOLI.