Ages, it has been ages…
Hi Everyone! My oh my, so many exciting updates to share with you all. Here is another very long and overdue posting; but the short story is that life in Quito is excellent, in nearly all respects. There have been some significant changes including: taking a break from ASELER, gaining work as a research consultant for the Brookings Institute, moving apartments two times, joining a soccer league, and even meeting someone wonderful. All these changes - and more exciting events that I’ll describe below – have been very positive. In fact, I have again decided to extend my stay in Quito: I’ll be here until at least June 2009, possibly longer. (This means more time to come visit!) There have been a few struggles, but I’m doing my best to soak up all the great experiences and learn from the difficult times. I hope you all have been experiencing equally positive adventures in life…Enjoy the post, and please do send along your thoughts/comments! It is always fun to hear updates from “home.”
Waterfall in Baños
Taffy making in Baños
Woman selling choclos in Baños
Grilling Guinea Pig, who wants some Cuy?
Cotopaxi from Quito
And then the long story. At the time of my last posting, which I’m ashamed to admit was about six months ago, I was on the verge of a number of transitions – all of ASELER’s summer volunteers were about to leave, the new director was about to start, there was the possibility that I’d move into a new apartment, and many of my closest friends were about to return to their respective home countries. Thankfully, all of these things fell into place quite nicely. ASELER continues to attract bright and committed lawyers and law student volunteers, the new director came in with a force, I moved into a fabulous little studio in July (and then moved again in mid-November), and I have met some more great people – Ecuadorians and foreigners. However, since all these things happened so many months ago, I’m going to focus on what has happened in the past few months.
ASELER to the Brookings Institute: Vice Directora turned Research Consultant
First, changes with regard to work. Earlier this spring, I made the transition from volunteering as a legal advocate to working as the Vica Directora for ASELER. I loved being a VLA, but working as the Vice Director for ASELER proved to be rewarding in a very different way. Working as a volunteer legal advocate (VLA) was a great learning experience in terms of understanding what it is like to represent clients, to write legal arguments, and to work with refugees and the emotional stress that comes along with it; and it certainly confirmed that I do want to become a lawyer.
But being the Vice Director brought on unique responsibilities and challenges. Between training the new director, managing the organization’s finances, leading the team of VLAs, writing the quarterly and annual reports, creating numerous templates for the young non-profit, and more – I think I gained a sense of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how to run a NGO. I, again, felt as though I was learning something new each day, which is the type of work I always seek to have. And from this experience and various other experiences working at NGOs, I have a particular value for the personal and professional growth achieved when you’re ‘thrown’ into a position that has responsibilities beyond any experience you have previously had. Though it is not comfortable to feel overwhelmed, the learning curve can be pretty steep when you’re trying getting on top of everything. In addition, our new Director, a savvy Ecuadorian woman who is well connected, has also pushed me to work beyond my comfort zone, and I am very appreciative. I particularly enjoyed the opportunities to think strategically about the growth of the organization, to create and implement efficient systems within the office, and to think consciously about managing a staff and inter-office communication. Though I am certain that law school is the route I will pursue, the idea of starting a small business or non-profit could be an intriguing future project. And, I am grateful that I have gained – or at least think I’ve gained - a good sense of all the components that have to come together to make a start-up happen.
Thus, when I found out in mid-October that ASELER would not have the funding to extend my contract and provide my $550 a month stipend post-January 2009 (which is what the ASELER Director had proposed to the Asylum Access Director in San Francisco), I was quite disappointed. I completely understand and agree with the decision – after all, the Director of the Ecuador office is only working part-time because of their lack of funding, so concentrating all efforts on getting her up to full-time has to be a priority – and I think I would be making the same decision if I were in their position. (FYI: ASELER is a project of Asylum Access, which is based in San Francisco. Asylum Access has projects in Ecuador, Thailand, and one to be opened in Tanzania next summer. Asylum Access funds refugee legal aid clinics, such as ASELER, with the intention that they will become financially independent and domestically run as soon as possible. ASELER is the most developed project, but all major decisions are still made by the Asylum Access office in San Francisco. Want to learn more and/or donate!? http://www.asylumaccess.org/ ) However, when I found out they could not extend my contract, I decided I wasn’t ready to leave Quito. But I also knew I could not afford to volunteer any longer, so I began seeking work in Quito. About a week later, I gained work as a research consultant on a short-term project for the Brookings Institute. I feel extremely fortunate that this came together so quickly, and I’m seeking other longer-term options down here as well.
And while I’m still in the early stages of this project, the work is absolutely fantastic. I am researching various ‘cluster initiatives,’ which are fairly broadly defined, but essentially are organizations or projects that are organized as collaborations between a broad group of public and private sector actors. The concept was introduced by a renowned Harvard Business Professor, Michael Porter, and cluster initiatives are used as a strategy of promoting regional economic growth. (I am working for Karen Mills and Michael Porter for the project). I will be creating briefs on clusters from each of the 50 states that highlight the successes of the various cluster initiatives. The final result will be a book presented to congress - essentially a proposal trying to convince the federal government to invest in cluster initiatives -as well as a website with links to the different cluster briefs. The change in the type of work, though it came quicker than expected, has been a very nice break from working in an office. It was an intense two weeks in early November trying to work for ASELER during the day and Brookings during the evenings and weekends, but I am now thoroughly enjoying working from home. Having more flexibility in my schedule is great, as is working while in my pajamas and listening to music. And although I didn’t realize I needed a break from ASELER, I think it is actually a very healthy change for me right now. People who work in emotionally demanding work – particularly people who work with war and torture survivors – often speak of burnout, and while I think I am no where near that point; it is refreshing break. Plus, it is great to be researching again. Given the financial situation in the States, it also is nice to feel as though I’m contributing to resolving the enormous dilemma that is about 5000 miles away.
And I am also quite pleased, as ASELER’s Director in Ecuador is intent on finding funding to bring me back on as soon as possible. While I’m not sure if it will happen, it is an encouraging gesture, and I’d love to come back full-time. In the mean time, I’m still volunteering with ASELER on a part-time basis. I feel too invested in it to leave, and I hope to always be involved – I just can’t work for free for forever!
Ok...now, find part two