Six months volunteering in Mexico

15 Ene 2013 - 12:09pm -- Bernardo Padron

By Liz Gilbert

One of the best things about Alternativas is that the work is rarely boring. Each week brings a new opportunity, challenge or problem to solve, from using the telephone in Spanish (very daunting at first) to helping to write the final report of the project, to learning how to construct and deconstruct our dreaded and lauded project management system.

I have been involved in two projects during my time here. The first is Iniciativa México (iMx), a foundation run by the Mexican media which chooses 55 initiatives to support with various levels of grants. I help support and evaluate the projects in using the money they have been assigned by iMx. I had responsibility for arranging consultant’s travel arrangements and expenses for their visits to projects. I also had the opportunity to visit five projects myself. One project which I visited, an organization which builds houses in poor areas, meant a 4:30 a.m. start, followed by a 6-hour drive into the mountains where we saw indigenous people who speak a native language living in incredible poverty. We saw how important the project was, and how these new houses would radically change the quality of life of the families involved.

The second of my projects was to create a database of capacity-building organizations in Mexico. I began by researching capacity building in general, and then looked at the specifics of the situation particular to Mexico. I then created an in-depth questionnaire to be sent to organizations so that I could find out exactly what each organization offers. I analysed this information and used it to create a searchable database of capacity builders in Mexico which will be put on the internet, so that organizations can use it to find capacity-builders in their area of work or their geographical zone.

I spent all day, every day speaking Spanish. I worked with Mexicans, lived with Mexicans and socialized with Mexicans, who were all eager to show me the best of their country. I attended traditional family dinners on Sundays, watched mariachis in Garibaldi square one memorable Saturday night, and taught a friend’s aunt to dance to Beyonce’s Single ladies at a family party. I went to salsa bars, parties and spent far too much time sunbathing in the university parks. I visited traditional markets and fancy shopping centers. I visited Tepito and its infamous black market. I also went to the fancy offices of Procter & Gamble in Mexico to assist in giving a presentation about corporate social responsibility.

Working at Alternativas has certainly shown me the side of Mexico which is rarely reported in the news. Before I arrived, various people expressed the concern that Mexico is not a safe country. While there are areas of Mexico where security is a real issue, the most lasting impression Mexico has left me with is the kindness the Mexican people have shown me on almost a daily basis. Both my work colleagues and the friends I have made have welcomed me into their lives. I am planning on applying to do my master’s degree here, so will hopefully be back very soon. And I may never leave as this seems to be a Mexican curse: legend has it that my Oxford predecessor lived here for about four years, and is now married to a Mexican. For me, the warmth of the people and the wonderful and sometimes frustrating variety of their chilango (from Mexico City) Spanish has really made this experience one of the most fulfilling and enriching experiences of my life.

In terms of career goals and ambitions, I definitely want to do further non-governmental organization work, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work for a Mexican organization as I feel it has added great value to my CV. While I am not sure where or in which area I want to work in long term, I feel secure that this experience has helped shape my future for the better.

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