Almost a Decade at Mano a Mano…

In just a few short months, I’ll be hitting my 10-year anniversary of working at Mano a Mano.

It has defintely felt like a long time since my initial job interview in November 2005, which was for a part-time, Administrative Assistant position, and was my first interview after graduating college. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I showed up at the Mano a Mano office/co-founders’ home (it took a few passes driving past the house multiple times looking for a ‘normal’ office, like most people did when going to our old location for the first time). At the time, I had never heard of Mano a Mano, and I didn’t really have a good idea of who they were or what they did.

Where we used to store donated supplies - in cofounders Joan and Segundo Velasquez' backyard. Their home was our headquarters for our first 18 years.

Mano a Mano co-founders Joan and Segundo Velaquez’ home –  our ‘office’ for the first 18 years.

The more I learned about it, the more impressed I was, and over the years Mano a Mano has continued to expand its impact.

When I started in 2005, Mano a Mano had been essentially focused on 2 projects – collecting donated supplies in Minnesota to ship to Bolivia, and building clinics and schools in rural Bolivia. Through the end of 2005, Mano a Mano had built a total of 59 clinics and 16 schools, and had shipped 1.6 million pounds of donated supplies. At the time, we had the US office – which was then named Mano a Mano Medical Resources – and one fully operational counterpart organization in Bolivia – Mano a Mano Bolivia (our third counterpart organization, Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo, was founded in 2005 but was just getting off the ground).

My first trip to Bolivia in 2006 (I'm the gringo on the far right).

My first trip to Bolivia in 2006 (I’m the gringo on the far right).

Ten years later, Mano a Mano’s scope has grown dramatically. We recently finished our 151st clinic and have built 53 schools. Our network of clinics has gone from a total of 237,986 patient visits in 2005 to around 1 million patient visits in 2014, and we continue to ship thousands of pounds of supplies from Minnesota (in 2014 we shipped the most pounds since 2007). We have expanded to building large-scale water reservoirs and road projects; providing emergency air rescues and weekend health clinics through our aviation program; and providing training and low-cost tools to improve agriculture, among other projects.

Mano a Mano now has 5 counterpart organizations (the US office, Mano a Mano Bolivia, Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo, Mano a Mano Apoyo Aereo, and Mano a Mano Internacional), and each organization has moved into a new facility in recent years or is in the process of doing so currently. Building capacity in-country is extremely important to us, and our 4 counterparts in Bolivia have Bolivian Boards and staff and are fully-formed nonprofits in Bolivia.

…And Why I’m Still Here (and Excited About the Future)

It’s been very rewarding to be a part of Mano a Mano over the past 9+ years and see the impact that we – working together with the many people that partner with us – have been able to make. There are a lot of things that make Mano a Mano stand out, and I wrote about a couple of those a few years ago: “5 Things that Make Me Most Proud About Working at Mano a Mano.” There’s more detail in that post (which you can read here), but the 5 things that I highlighted were:

  1. Accomplishing so much with so little.
  2. The dedication and ability of the Mano a Mano staff.
  3. The Mano a Mano partnership model.
  4. Our volunteers.
  5. Being able to make just about any project work.

What was true a few years ago is just as true now; I’m very proud of how far Mano a Mano can stretch our resources, the partnership-based model that we use for every project, and our extremely dedicated staff and volunteers in both the US & Bolivia.

Of course, there are plenty of challenges as well: fundraising (every small nonprofit’s #1 challenge), complying with the many government requirements for nonprofits in Bolivia and the US, making partnerships work amongst many different people on our many different projects on a daily basis, and trying to get all of this done as a very small staff can be overwhelming at times. We have dozens of active community requests for each of our projects in Bolivia, and currently just don’t have the capacity to meet everyone’s needs. In reality, nothing about what we do is easy or without complications, but Mano a Mano continues to push forward and get things done, no matter how challenging things can be.

One of our more challenging projects in recent years - a 37-mile road in El Palmar, Bolivia that was dedicated in October 2014.

One of our more challenging projects in recent years – a 37-mile road in El Palmar, Bolivia that was dedicated in October 2014.

As the organization’s scope has evolved over the years, so too has my role: starting out as a part-time then full-time Administrative Assistant, then Manager of Daily Operations, then Director of Communications & Research, and now being Associate Director (and currently the only full-time staff member in the US). Working at Mano a Mano has been a very interesting journey so far, and to me there are very few other organizations that can compare with the impact we make and how far we are able to make our limited resources go.

Thanks to everyone that has been involved in Mano a Mano in one way or another over the years, and I’m looking forward to what we can do together in the future!

Members of Duluth Rotary on a trip to Bolivia with me in 2011.

Members of Duluth Rotary on a trip to Bolivia with me in 2011.

Nate Knatterud-Hubinger, Associate Director