Earlier this month, Ivo Velasquez, Program Director for Mano a Mano Nuevo Mundo, made a trip to our office in St. Paul, MN, the first visit from our Nuevo Mundo counterpart since COVID restrictions restricted travel.
Although we have daily contact through various virtual formats, nothing replaces face-to-face discussions – and a first-hand view of our jam-packed warehouse.
Trips to Bolivia…and Minnesota
We feel that it is very important for Mano a Mano staff, volunteers, and supporters in the US to travel to Bolivia to see our projects and the communities we partner with first-hand (and we are back to having groups in early 2023!). But we also love to have Mano a Mano staff and volunteers in Bolivia visit our US office. What makes visits from Bolivian staff and volunteers so remarkable?
These examples remind us.
The group of volunteers that works at our warehouse and shares a meal together every Wednesday welcomed Ivo’s stories about ongoing projects in Bolivia, their benefits, and their challenges. Ivo was touched deeply by the group’s interest and commitment to this common cause. The genuine cross-language, cross-cultural, cross-national interchange that’s at the heart of Mano a Mano’s daily work inspires and guides all that we do here in the US and in Bolivia; it was apparent during this visit.
Making Pickups of Donated Supplies Around the Twin Cities
When Ivo traveled around the Twin Cities with our Co-Founder Segundo, he met donors of medical supplies and saw the many items that would ordinarily be headed for the local waste stream. Each stop not only gave Ivo an opportunity to thank individuals who make every effort to rescue usable items from their landfill fate, Ivo and Segundo could strategize together, thinking of the many unique ways to re-use these donations in Bolivia. They noticed cast-aside metal boxes with tight-fitting lids. “Those boxes would be perfect for our mechanics,” Ivo mused. “When they go to project sites, they currently carry their tools, their gauges, their testing instruments in gallon-sized plastic bottles, scrounged and cut to size. The metal boxes could protect them, and would be easy to carry.” We left with an entire pallet of boxes.
Walks through our warehouse turned into expeditions. A stack of plexiglass, a post-COVID distancing donation from a local school, led to questions about whether we could find more. “Yes. We picked up only what we thought could be used. The rest were being discarded,” was the reply. Then this from Ivo, “The glass in many of our heavy machine cabs has been broken by branches and debris. We currently shape metal sheets onto the cab sides to protect the operators, but metal obstructs their view. Plexiglass can be molded to any shape. It’s transparent and hard to break. We could make long-lasting windows from these sheets. And it’s nearly impossible to find it in Bolivia.”
After a phone call to the donor, their rush to pull plexiglass sheets from the dumpster, and a quick trip back to the school, we retrieved enough sheets to repair every broken machine window and improve safety for our workers in Bolivia. This is only one of many examples of “thinking outside the box” that happens when staff who work in vastly different environments have an opportunity to focus their trained eyes on the same object.
Thanks to everyone, and especially to Ivo, for making this visit so productive and satisfying. The metal boxes, the plexiglass, and tons of medical cargo will be loaded onto 3 containers between November 7-15 shipped to Bolivia. Mano a Mano staff, and Ivo, will be there to meet them when they arrive.