So how did we choose our organization and location?

The process of starting to choose an organization was a bit daunting. It was hard to know where to begin. We talked to a few past fellows on how they determined their organization, and everyone did it a bit differently. Many started with finding a cause that they were passionate about, and then narrowing down from there of what organizations supported that cause.

For us, we did the opposite. We narrowed down by location first, then determined which organizations were in need of help there.

First, we determined that we wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, since we both had fundamental Spanish skills from high school and college. We also have personal goals of becoming better Spanish speakers—what better way to get there than by immersing ourselves in a Spanish speaking country? We had traveled to South America a few times and had seen some impoverished areas, so we knew there were areas that really needed help. And as we started to determine where from there, we factored in things like economic stability and medical safety. After digging deeper, we found that Chile is the only country in South America that is Zika-free, which is a concern for us as we hope to start a family soon. Chile’s government and economy are relatively stable, which is another big plus for us. Feeling safe is something that’s important, especially in this political climate. Chile was somewhere neither of us had been and is somewhere we’ve always wanted to go. Chile has a rich culture, beautiful landscapes, and would be quite the experience.

So now that we wanted to focus on Chile first, we wanted to find the right organization. In the back of my head, I always knew I wanted to do something related to art; it is something that is near and dear to my heart. There were a lot of opportunities in Santiago, but Nick and I both wanted to focus on more rural areas of Chile. Santiago is a big, global city, and we were ready for something a little different (already living in the big city of Chicago) and wanted to experience what Chile was like farther south. Nick specifically wanted to work with adults; the recipients of our work would better understand the role that we would play and our involvement, understanding it’s temporary. We had found some conservation organizations for both animals and Chile’s national parks, but our skills didn’t really align with any of those. There was also a very big chance that Nick and I would work for different organizations; our skillsets are very different. I’d focus on design and marketing, and Nick would focus more on the business/operational side, helping improve processes.

Then, we came across the Chol-Chol Foundation through the Google machine. Chol-Chol is located in Temuco, Chile, and works directly with the indigenous Mapuche tribes in the area, specifically artisans. In our travels in Central and South America, the strong root in indigenous cultures and traditions are what have had lasting impacts on me. And being able to work with them seemed like an incredible opportunity. Their motto is: “Promote culture, respect, and dignity for all men and women, recognition of their skills, and ongoing support of human development in the Mapuche tribes.” The Chol-Chol Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of the indigenous Mapuche people through training, workshops, human development projects, and the commercialization of their artisan projects. They believe that in order to truly impact human empowerment, one must take a comprehensive look at the culture, economic, education, and societal factors involved, and address each area individually.

After looking at their volunteer needs, the areas they listed on their website as needing help in were:

I think I audibly squealed when I saw the list. Both of our skills were needed, and it meant that we could work at the same organization! We were super pumped!

And they wanted their volunteers to be able to stay for an extended amount of time (at least 5 months), so they can create their own project plans and see them through. When we were starting our research, something Nick and I specifically did not want to do was to fulfill a “job listing”. We wanted to make the most impact with our skills that we’d bring. So determining our own project was perfect. We could potentially work on a larger project together! Everything was aligning and seemed like the perfect fit for both us and them.

The only tiny flag we came across when we were looking at Chol-Chol’s volunteer requirements was that they suggest all volunteers “have an adequate level of understanding of spoken and written Spanish”. Nick and I nervously looked at each other after reading that. Like I mentioned before, we had fundamental Spanish skills, but were by no means fluent. But with time on our side, we made Spanish lessons a focus in our preparations (and you can read more about that in this post).

Now that we were focusing on Chol-Chol, West Monroe has a set of questions to ask the organization to further vet them, ensure our safety, and set expectations. We chatted with past volunteers at Chol-Chol and they confirmed that the Chol-Chol Foundation was a great organization that is doing fantastic things for the Mapuche.

With our application process, we focused on Chol-Chol as our main choice. It was a bit of a song and dance—you have to vet both processes in parallel. We couldn’t officially commit to volunteering with Chol-Chol until we were accepted into the Fellowship Program with West Monroe, and we can’t be officially accepted into the Program until we appropriately vetted our organization. We’ve heard that past fellows’ organizations have fallen through in the vetting process, but West Monroe continues to support applicant’s desire to do the Fellowship and will work with you to find a suitable organization.

Luckily, everything with Chol-Chol was working out so far, so we crossed our fingers and officially submitted our Proof of Concept with the intention of working with Chol-Chol.

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