From my experience working with CEOLI this past semester I have had the opportunity to learn so much about Bolivia and their culture. From the moment I learned about Service Learning, I knew that Cochabamba had the most beautiful weather on earth. Perfect mid-seventies weather daily with both the mountains and valleys, cities and farm, immediately I was aware that tourism was essential to their economy.
Due to the effects of Covid-19, Bolivia as a whole has suffered tremendously. Not only financially, but culturally the Bolivian people have suffered. Festivals and celebrations, parades and dances have all been severely compromised. People have needed to stay distanced in order to keep Covid numbers down. Tourism as a whole was completely demolished and with vaccines still readily becoming available, especially limited in South America it appears to be a long road until Bolivia is anywhere near normalcy.
The United States is fortunate enough to have the funds, the resources, and the connections to be first in line in almost all areas of medicine. Vaccines have taken a year to come out but are finally now being distributed at a level that is noticeable. Bolivia does not have that same level of resources to guide them through this time. People have struggled all around, with many suffering at the poverty line.
CEOLI has particularly struggled due to the pandemic. Students never had to pay for services received from professionals and volunteers at CEOLI. It was also due to generous grants, donors, and visitors that they were able to sustain in some way financial stability. Students unfortunately are not able to receive these services, only one student is allowed with one volunteer, visitors are not permitted due to safety reasons and social distancing, and prior to the pandemic their internet presence was underwhelming. Without the level of preparation necessary to get through a trying time like this, they have truly felt the burden. It has been difficult to keep CEOLI going, and they are still seeing a difficult road ahead if all stays the same.
Our teams entire project had to alter in the beginning to resolve these issues. Last fall, I proposed an art show to help sustain them until things returned to normal. We have had little to work with. Without all of the students going into CEOLI we are unable to receive present content. We have been trying to push a social media presence to help them, but we are stuck using old content which can be difficult. Also, we are unable to communicate with the children or meet them at all. None of the children have laptops or phones where we could call them, so it is hard to establish that relationship.
I have found personally working in a virtual environment poses both positive and negative results. I have loved meeting more people from Amizade and CEOLI, like Mary and Ariel, who we may not have had the chance to meet normally if we were fully in person. In terms of the project, we have had to think more creatively. Planning and designing an art show that is fully virtual required me to think outside of the box and use other resources available. I found myself researching previous art shows and how they could be done alone. I used teacher blogs to help me research collaborative and interactive platforms that could be used for the art show display. Using these outside materials made me creatively put together a plan that could feasibly happen in the upcoming months.
Working cross culturally has certainly been difficult for me. With internships, other classes, clubs, and the stress of the pandemic I found it hard to hold myself accountable. With only meeting with clients a few times during the semester, I found other work would sometimes come first instead of the project. My team did a good job of holding us all accountable by always asking to meet outside of the class, by doing work on our own then sending it for comments and suggestions and we frequently threw around ideas in group chats. All of these things really helped me personally stay on top of the project and keep working towards the finish line.
I thought working in an online setting also posed some great positives. I genuinely thought using Teams was a great tool for communication, sharing documents, meeting with clients, and all things I would need in a real time job. I thought the tools we were given made our work far more organized. Also, working online and being able to freely come up with ideas gave me real flexibility to dive into other things. I explored a social media presence that CEOLI never before focused on. I emphasized the importance of giveaways, influencers, frequent posts, and updates. Working on this and being able to explore this has positively helped the overall experience of the project.
In general, working in the online setting has been a challenging but rewarding experience. It has pushed me as a professional to be creative and explore all ideas. It has taught me budgeting, public speaking, marketing, and overall, how to conduct business in this type of way.