2020 Mid-Year Review from Nate Knatterud-Hubinger, Mano a Mano’s Executive Director:
We are now in July, which means that 2020 is already more than halfway over! This year has been…challenging, to say the least. Everyone is feeling the effects, and Mano a Mano is no different. We extend our best wishes to everyone, everywhere: we are all figuring out how to navigate these difficult times the best we can.
Navigating Quarantine & Stay-at-Home Orders
With quarantines in Bolivia and stay-at-home orders in Minnesota since March, much of our daily work has been impacted, and we know this will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. Our offices were mostly closed from March-June, although we continued to work remotely. We have had to push back new construction projects, and were unable to ship supplies from Minnesota to Bolivia during this time due to border closings and a challenge in locating containers. Our aviation program was grounded for 2 months, like almost all flights in Bolivia during the quarantine. Our trips to Bolivia were canceled, and at this point we are not expecting to host any in-person events or lead any trips to Bolivia until 2021.
We Continue to Get Work Done, Despite the Challenges
What is remarkable to me is how much we have still been able to do over the first half of 2020, despite the challenges. The 4 containers we shipped in November of 2019 arrived in mid-March 2020 – the day before Bolivia instituted country-wide stay-at-home orders. These legal orders halted all public and nearly all private transport within the country and across its borders, and required that residents only leave their homes once weekly. Our counterpart Mano a Mano Internacional staff and their most active volunteers began sleeping overnight at the CEA to unpack the containers and prepare COVID-related materials for distribution, while obeying shelter-in-place requirements there. Over the past 4 months we have been distributing tens of thousands of pounds of supplies throughout Bolivia. (Mano a Mano has also been distributing more supplies to local people and organizations in the Twin Cities this year, including 2 shipments to Honduras via Interfaith Service in Latin America (ISLA), a distribution event in February in partnership with local Physical Therapists to provide mobility equipment for their clients in need, and donations of PPE and other items we had available for local organizations facing shortages due to COVID-19.) We were recently – finally – able to find containers in Minnesota, and in late June we loaded 4 containers with 91,556 pounds of medical supplies & equipment that are currently en route to Bolivia.
Flights in Bolivia for COVID-19 Support
On May 25, after eight ‘no-flight’ weeks, Mano a Mano’s aviation program received permission to begin transporting COVID-related medical supplies to remote locations, mostly in the tropical departments of Pando and Beni. Our aircraft are among the very few that have received permission to fly within the country. Since May 25, we have flown every day, delivering tens of thousands of pounds of desperately needed personal protective equipment and related items, becoming a critical link in the medical supply delivery chain. We have also been transporting COVID-19 tests and plasma on our flights. Prior to use of our aviation program for this purpose, tests were transported by land to Santa Cruz, then to La Paz for analysis – a seven-day trip before they reached the lab; in many cases, the test sample had deteriorated by that time. In all cases, the delay could result in the spread of infection while waiting for results. And, in several cases, the patient had already died before the results were available. When we transport the tests, they arrive in Cochabamba and are sent from there by bus to La Paz for analysis the following day. While we can’t afford to make a 2.5-hour flight to pick up a few tests, we are informing the small hospitals of when a flight will be available so they can save their tests and send them with us, still saving important time.
New Projects in Bolivia
We were able to dedicate a few new construction projects in March before the quarantine started – our counterpart Mano a Mano Bolivia dedicated a new health clinic in Kaspi Cancha, and our counterpart Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo dedicated an expansion of our Laguna Sulti water reservoir. There are a number of other projects that are agreed to with communities, with work continuing as we are safely able, but have been delayed to varying degrees. Programs in Bolivia that depend on in-person gatherings, like our Center for Ecological Agriculture and Continuing Health Education programs, have not really been able to operate since March, and we aren’t sure how we will approach those programs in the coming months.
The CEA has been closed to visitors since April; staff and volunteers are caring for the chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs, as well as the plantings and demonstration projects. They continue to sell hydroponically raised lettuce, other fruits and vegetables, eggs, and small animals (for meat) in the neighborhood. Our Minnesota office was closed for multiple months, and we are now slowly reopening for very limited numbers of volunteers, but it will make our work more challenging (safety is the first priority).
Mano a Mano Projects are (Always) Hard Work
What I am most impressed with is our people – our staff and volunteers in Minnesota, Bolivia, and elsewhere, and the communities and organizations that we partner with. Every single project we do is extremely challenging, very hard work. I need to do a better job conveying just how much goes into each project; this was true before COVID-19, and is even more true now. Our staff and some volunteers have been staying overnight at our warehouse in Cochabamba to distribute supplies. A few of our staff working on water projects walked home from the Cochabamba area to Oruro when the quarantine went into effect and transportation wasn’t available; that’s a 133-mile walk, in the Andes at elevations from 8,000-11,000 feet above sea level, which would take at least 3 days. Loading a container with supplies in Minnesota represents at least 6 months of work picking up, sorting, packing, and preparing supplies to ship; it takes 3 months minimum for the supplies to arrive in Bolivia (which is the best case scenario), and then will take many more hours and weeks of work for our Bolivia staff to re-organize and distribute them throughout Bolivia – often by plane, often driving 5-10+ hours each way to get to more remote regions of Bolivia. Projects that are now under construction have usually included years of prep work and planning, dozens of site visits and meetings with communities and leaders, and lots of work to coordinate timelines and fundraising and specific responsibilities, before any construction begins. Every project we do is like this; the work is never easy. While money is always a limiting factor in how much we are able to do, I can say with confidence that Mano a Mano maximizes our impact with the resources we have to the greatest degree possible, and we can do that because of the ability and dedication of our people.
Thank You to Everyone
Despite these challenges and many others, at the end of the day we continue to get the work done. Nothing is perfect, of course: the need is so great and there is always more we could do, there are many things we could do better, and there will be expected and unexpected obstacles, but we are grateful for the work that we are able to accomplish, working together.
Thank you to everyone that is involved with Mano a Mano in some way. We couldn’t do this without you!
Nate Knatterud-Hubinger, Executive Director, [email protected]
Pictures from 2020
2019 Annual Report
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