Every opportunity I have had that has taken me to Latin America has left me changed as the new experiences, new culture and, most of all, new people leave lasting impressions on me.
My latest adventure was no exception. This January, I had the privilege of traveling to Ecuador to visit some of our artisan partners in the South American nation with Sophia Goldschmidt, a fellow Executive from our leadership team.
We were able to spend time in a couple of different Ecuadorian provinces assessing sites that we have worked with in varying levels in the past. Hopefully, Sophia will get a chance to guest blog and talk more about the adventures we had and the organizations we worked with during our tour.
Instead, I want to focus my time discussing where we’re headed next as an organization and how our trip to Ecuador encouraged our new direction.
We met other non-profits, student groups and friends. We learned about the Ecuador team of the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers without Borders and spent some time at an ecological reserve operated by the Ceiba Foundation. We met Ecuadorians from all different walks of life. We met travelers. We met Wisconsinites. We met other Badgers. Our travels took us not only to different cities, but to different people. We were constantly learning. Through the conversations with the micro-enterprise groups we met, to the other travelers we stayed with, met, played cards with, ate with, we learned that change comes from the community. It is a collaborative effort that comes from everyone, no matter the size of the impact. The outpouring of information and passion forced us to refocus and think about what we are doing.
Wisconsin without Borders Marketplace is an international development organization, but our efforts are, for the most part, by university students, which means we are still learning. With the realization of these critical components of our organization, I returned to the United States with a lot of questions.
The biggest question I had was: are we doing good?
I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s challenging to answer with cultural differences and miscommunications. International development is a difficult game because of the challenges of understanding a local economy. Despite the complexity of the question, we intend to do good this semester. With a fresh perspective from Ecuador and the stories we learned there, Sophia and I returned with a renewed fire to change and improve an organization that will be dynamic.
As we embark on our next semester, we’re excited to take on the challenge of finding answers to questions that have gone unanswered for far too long. We’re not perfect: we’re far from it, but we are students. We are learning, but we are also surrounded by innumerable resources and opportunities being students at a large, research university. Moving forward, we’re going to keep asking questions until we get answers. We’re looking forward to a semester of learning, collaboration and adaption to make Wisconsin without Borders Marketplace the best it has been yet.
This was blog was written by Jen Wagman.