5 Things That Make Me Most Proud About Working at Mano a Mano

Sometimes it’s good to step back and remind yourself why you do what you do for a living. Here are a few things that I really like about my organization:

5 Things That Make Me Most Proud About Working at Mano a Mano

  1. Accomplishing so much with so little. Mano a Mano does a LOT with a very limited budget. The cost for us to build a clinic, or road, or water project is often 2 or 3 times less than the lowest competing bid, and the burden on Mano a Mano is even further reduced because a significant portion of the costs are paid for by other sources in Bolivia or are skills that we have in-house (we own our own heavy equipment for road and water projects, we have the architects and engineers on staff in Bolivia to complete project plans and studies, etc.). This can be very challenging on Mano a Mano as an organization, as we are always trying to extend our resources as far as possible to meet the need (we have a backlog of more than 300 active requests from communities for projects), which means stretching ourselves very thin, but we make it work. To think that a core group of a couple of dozen people in the US & Bolivia can have an impact on hundreds of thousands of Bolivians every year is pretty amazing!
  2. The dedication and ability of the Mano a Mano staff. We are lucky to have amazing staff in both the US & Bolivia, and they are an extremely dedicated group. In the US, our co-founders have dedicated AT LEAST 40 hours a week each to Mano a Mano for almost 20 years. I have been with Mano a Mano for 8 years now (my first job interview after graduating college was with Mano a Mano, and I’ve been here ever since!), and our Executive Director Dan Narr has been around for 7 years. In Bolivia, Dr.  Jose Velasquez has been involved from day one as a volunteer and now as Executive Director of our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Bolivia. Ivo Velasquez and Blanca Velasquez have been full-time Mano a Mano since the beginning and are now integral parts of our counterpart organizations Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo and Mano a Mano Internacional. Almost all of the staff at each of our organizations has been with Mano a Mano for many years and there is very little turnover. For the kind of work we do, this is very unique. Nothing about this is easy – fundraising, working in extremely isolated rural conditions that may be up to a 10 or 20 hour drive one way over bad roads, dealing with the many logistical hurdles in both the US & Bolivia…this is HARD WORK. Everyone could probably make more money elsewhere, and the stress and workload would probably be reduced as well. And yet everyone stays; they believe in what Mano a Mano does.
  3. The Mano a Mano partnership modelMano a Mano has built more than 300 infrastructure projects in Bolivia, and ALL of these projects are still in operation today, even with Mano a Mano providing no direct ongoing funding for any project. This sustainability reflects how much support we get from the local Bolivian communities, municipal government, Bolivian Health Ministry (who pays for 82% of the 467 medical staff positions in our clinics), and other organizations. In every project, the community that is receiving the project plays a huge role throughout – we only do projects that have been actively requested by the community, they contribute throughout construction, and eventually they take over ownership of what is now THEIR project. Not many other organizations are so committed to being community-based in everything they do.
  4. Our volunteers. Just like our staff, we have been lucky to have extremely dedicated volunteers and supporters, some of whom have been involved from the beginning. Mano a Mano was all-volunteer in the US for for its first 10 years, and still almost 10 years later (and with rapidly expanding programs) we have only 3.5 paid staff positions; this simply wouldn’t work without all of the support of our volunteers. Communities in Bolivia volunteer hundreds of thousands of hours on the infrastructure projects we build with them (yes, hundreds of thousands of hours; community residents in Choquechampi spent about 32,000 hours on the water project we built there a few years ago, and that is just one project!), and our staff and volunteers in Bolivia (whether they are Bolivians or US or European travelers who stay for a while) spend huge amounts of time. The volunteerism even extends to paid short-term contract staff; when I was in Bolivia in August I heard about Blanca admonishing a few contract construction workers working on the Demonstration and Training Center project for being ‘clock-watchers’ and not being as committed to the project as they should have been (“that’s not how Mano a Mano works”).
  5. Being able to make just about any project work. Mano a Mano began in the US collecting surplus medical supplies and hand-carrying them to our co-founder’s brother in Bolivia, where they could be saved from US landfills and be put to good use in Bolivia. Then we expanded on surplus distribution to build community health clinics, which then expanded to sanitation projects and schools (with teacher housing) as part of our first counterpart organization Mano a Mano Bolivia, which was founded in 1999. Since then we have added 3 more counterpart organizations and a number of new programs and project areas. It’s been amazing to see the depth and breadth of our projects grow since I started in 2005 — at that time, we had shipped about 1.6 million pounds of medical supplies, built 59 clinics and 16 schools, and completed a handful of other, smaller community projects like airstrips and road improvement. Now, 8 years later, we have built 144 clinics, 48 schools, 7 large-scale water projects, 1,400+ kilometers of road projects, provided emergency air transport to 2,000+ people, and shipped 3.5 million pounds of donated supplies (check out our Results Page here). We have also been expanding our supporting, complementary programs to the infrastructure projects – we’ve built a Demonstration and Training Center to train rural farmers and maximize use of their water projects, we collaborate with MELA to provide International Acute Care conferences 1-2x each year (which is a complement to the excellent continuing health education workshops Mano a Mano Bolivia puts together 10-12 times/year for our clinic staff), we now offer more trips to Bolivia (like this one on Food and Farming in March 2014), there are more research projects so that we can continually learn and improve our projects, and we’ve piloted a teacher exchange program, among many others! Every year, we are adding projects and programs that enhance our core mission of “creating partnerships with impoverished Bolivians that improve health and increase economic well-being.”
Nate (far right) with a group from Duluth and Superior Rotary clubs at the Choquechampi water reservoir in 2011.

Nate (far right) in Bolivia with a group from Duluth and Superior Rotary clubs at the Choquechampi water reservoir in 2011.

Nate Knatterud-Hubinger, Director of Communications and Research (contact info here)



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