One of the Best Experiences of my Life: Reflections on Cochabamba
In many communities in Bolivia, addressing malnutrition is an important priority. While working with FSD community partner, Alerta Verde, Georgetown University’s Jesse Gibson saw this priority as an opportunity to support the community.
His goal? Find ways to prolong the life of in-season produce. The communities that Alerta Verde works with already had community gardens, and one of the organizations Alerta Verde works with produced more cherry tomatoes than they would ever use.
His solution? Solar dehydrators. According to Jesse, these dehydrators “are used to dehydrate any excess produce without lessening their nutritional value. I built two prototypes of the solar dehydrators with other people from Alerta Verde (his partner NGO), and then created a detailed manual for how to replicate the process.” In the solar dehydrators, Alerta Verde's partners can save the tomatoes for future use, reduce food waste, and allow community members to receive the nutrition from the tomatoes at any time of the year.
Interested in sustainable development since high school, Jesse is a regional and comparative studies major at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Given his focus on poverty in Latin American and Africa, “the work that I was able to do in Cochabamba was very valuable for my major and future,” he says.
“My internship exposed me first-hand to some of the work I could potentially be exposed to, as well as a country of which I had learned a great deal in my coursework.” Jesse decided to volunteer in Cochabamba “because I have always been most interested in the Andean region of South America. I was unsure of what project I wanted to do.
Cochabamba is a beautiful city,” he tells us “with amazing food and in a great location. The city is also in a centralized location of the country, so it makes the other parts of the country very accessible.” Greeted by the opposite of culture shock, Jesse “was taken aback by how comfortable everyone was with each other, including strangers, in Cochabamba. While riding the trufis to and from work, everyone is often crammed into the car. This could be up to 15 people all in one van. It’s a cultural difference, not even a very notable one, but something that would never be found the United States, and I found that interesting.”
All work and no play? Not a chance. “The best part of my trip was our midterm retreat to Toro Toro National Park. I have always loved hiking and being outdoors, and the hikes that we got to do in Toro Toro were the best I’ve ever done in my life. The views from the mountaintops were also some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.”
Conversely, the worst part “was definitely was when I fell off a cliff in Salar de Uyuni. I was physically fine aside from a couple of bruises and a scratch, but a sharp boulder tore open my shoe, so I had to spend the rest of the long weekend with only 1.5 shoes!”
Jesse tells us that “Mauricio (Ramirez Parra, FSD’s Program Director) and Alerta Verde provided me with anything I needed. The FSD experience was one of the best experiences of my life. There is no question to the value I place on it. I still think about Cochabamba every day and stay in contact with the people I met there.”