Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Bureaucratic Bits

I really should have written this earlier. I'm having some real trouble remembering the different facets of the past 10 days or so, mainly because of the influx of many exciting new projects.

One of the most recent 'events' (if I can refer to her like that) is that a new volunteer, Celine Sparrow, has arrived. She is from Boston but her mother is French and she is about to go to Medical school after the summer. It's really cool having her here, not only because we get on well, but because it feels like the whole foundation is growing in different and international directions. With Celine, Hannah, Amy and I there is now a team of visiting members able to take on and develop projects there otherwise may not be time for.

With this in mind, for the last few weeks we have been working on developing a formal volunteer proposal for Fenix. Working with a young and extremely small foundation means that that there are opportunities for some interesting progressions. Volunteers and the network that they create between themselves and other entities in Colombia and their own countries, could eventually provide Fenix with a lot of financial support as well as acting as general advisors for new volunteers coming out to work here.

While it is useful if a volunteer applicant has some practical or academic background to this kind of work, I feel it is important to emphasise the potential worth of all those offering their services (guess why...) Admittedly, there will be some applicants who are completely inappropriate for the work, but we're trying to devise a system where as many volunteers can be included as possible (at the very least just to get Fenix into the hearts and minds of future professionals). This would require some sort of (probably fairly lengthy) document detailing the sort of personal characteristics needed to be able to work out here, the areas where new volunteers may be able to help, how the Fenix members integrate them, what sort of projects can be put into place and how to induct a new volunteer when they arrive. I have been putting this last point into practice with Celine, showing her around, helping her find and apartment and phone and explaining about buses and general things to avoid (numerous). Though when it comes to the historical /cultural assets of Bogota, I'm pretty useless.. Timothy did this for me, and she will do it for the next volunteer who comes out to join us.
What should also be included is advice about personal relations with the people we work with. Ideas about continuity of relationships, where the boundaries of friend/mentors lie and what to do in various crises. Timothy has been running a workshop for a couple of meetings with the Fenix girls about what it means to be a mentor. They have all been doing it for a long time and are experienced and perceptive.

Subjects like censorship and privacy need to be addressed too, both in legal and personal terms. This includes blogs, photos and identification, which, with networks like Facebook, could be very dangerous for some people here. Some of the Fenix girls prefer not to be tagged publically in photos, because this can lead to stigmatization as charity kids at their universities.
So that's a rough outline of what we are beginning to sort out.

As result of this idea, sort of, there is also another plan to develop a fundraising team specifically for Fenix, which will hopefully help provide some desperately needed financial support for Fenix, teach the girls more about Corporate Social Responsibility and general PR techniques, but may also be an area to include any volunteers initially especially those with little experience.

This idea surfaced partly because one of my friends emailed me about maybe coming to work here too. With plenty of law and PR experience, a bit of community work, and perfect Spanish, this is the sort of thing he could do a lot with. However, as I said, continuity is pretty vital for this kind of project and so we need a fixed team here in Colombia that is not just made up of visiting volunteers. Hannah suggested that we make it a project for the business students at the local university, so they get credits and practical work for their degrees and CV's, and Fenix benefits financially. Unfortunately we have hit a bit of a rut with this as we need a permanent advisor willing to teach the university class, who knows the commercial environment well and also understands the values and philosophies of Fenix. The one person we do know for this may not have the time, so we are thinking this one through. Any suggestions welcome!

As I mentioned a while ago, I have started working one day a week with Horwath, an international accountancy firm based in the North of the city. The Communications and Marketing Manager is looking to build links between the company and Fenix. I help the members of the company improve their English, and advise (as much as I can!) on British and American business etiquette. This is all fairly obvious, but I explain about the differences in British and North American spelling, the importance of and differences between written address, manners and body language and have even had to write an advice sheet on dress codes... I really hope I'm not doing some serious damage.
Anyway, the idea is that they will give the Fenix girls some workshops on presentations, interviews and explain a bit more about the national and global market. The girls will hopefully have the opportunity to go to their offices in the North to experience some of the general business atmosphere. The girls will also be able to teach the employees a fair amount about social responsibility and aid their corporate global image through this association. This is quite a new concept for many Colombian businesses. So, if the girls agree, it should be quite useful (especially if any funding comes out of it).
These are the kind of projects are pretty difficult to get off the ground and may not actually work out but as I said, everyone working together brings a new atmosphere of inspiration and interest.

So apart from that and helping get Celine settled (though she hasn't really needed it), I have been to El Refugio as usual this week. I think I went there with the idea of being a sort of friend/mentor, but now when I'm teaching I'm a lot less afraid to be authoritative, because nothing else really works that well with bored teenagers. When I say authoritative, sometimes they just piss me off to the point that I tell them so. It's not something I enjoy doing but it's good to have the confidence to be able to do that, and know that they will still all be pleased when I turn up next time.
We all went to a conference together last Thursday and at the end they were asked to stand up and introduce themselves. They were all painfully shy and none of them wanted to say anything. Eventually, with a little encouragement, Elena stood up and spoke about herself and the foundation. She is one of my favourite students. Bouncy to the point of hyperactivity and with such an appealing laugh, she also manages to command respect from the others, calm them down and has some real ambitions for herself, so works hard at her English. She and Andres (pretty much her male counterpart) are such allies there and I actually feel quite close to them. She also decided that my Spanish wasn't up to introducing myself to a room full of natives so took the opportunity to do it for me. Oh well.
Anyway, I told her she was good at public speaking and she looked so pleased. Reactions like that instantly give you a boost when you feel like your flagging under the weight of all the drama. Next week I'm going to get them to do some small presentations so they can all gain more confidence when speaking in public.

I had my first experience of real Colombian bureaucracy the other day too. Nothing teaches you to wait in line like the D.A.S. Typically, I had sort of forgotten (maybe ignored) the fact I was supposed to register my visa and apply for an ID card. All it took was for me to mention this briefly to Hannah and suddenly a time and date had been fixed to meet the visa people. The ever-decreasing but easy to fake language barrier came to my rescue again and after convincing them I hadn't really understood the initial proceedings, they began to register my visa. It took forever. Finally, I got up and asked in my most polite Spanish when it would be ready, but it was only until a very fluent and cross looking Hannah turned up at my shoulder did anthing actually happen. Hannah is hilariously direct, perfectly fluent and is at home with taking on authority of any kind. She recently began lecturing a bouncer on the inappropriateness of a Machista attitude when he ID'd her at the door. Having been stuck in Ecuador for a very stressful 6 days trying to get her own Visa sorted so she could continue working, Hannah was well out of patience with the Colombian immigration people. So that sped the process up a bit.

There was also an Art exhibition on Wednesday showing the photography of Sarah Longworth, one of the embassy team, and it was called The Streets of Bogota. It was such a good idea because the street art and grafiti here is amazing. I wish I’d taken some photos... The exhibition was put on to raise money for Fenix, and Lady, one of the girls, acted as a representative of the foundation and gave a good speech.
So weird to be around that many Brits again! Nice though, I found a Scotsman and chewed his ear off about Edinburgh for a good while. Poor guy was Glaswegian. Ha.

Finally, looks like my Mondays are going to be taken up with going to a new foundation called Pronino Kennedy. It is based in the Kennedy barrio in the South, which is poor and very rough. Right now there are about 450 kids aged between 7 and 17 who attend the day centre, and 8 staff. They are desperate for volunteers to run classes and activities. Celine will do an afternoon class and I'll be doing the mornings.
Unlike El Refugio, this is a prevention program as opposed to a refuge program. It gets the kids off the street before they turn into little diablos, but they are essentially there not because they have to be, but because they want to be. And they get free lunch. I enjoy exploring the difference in learning attitudes and the process of change they undergo over a period of time. Plus I'm looking forward to working with different age groups.
When we arrived we were shown around all the different age-grouped classes. From grubby faces and banana pulping hands of the ninitos to the limpid eyes and shy but slightly sexualised stares of the teenagers, the prevailing impression was chaos. Monday morning. Hmm.

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