Thursday, March 11, 2010

What am I doing here?

Before I got here, I couldn't have answered that question! I knew I'd signed on to volunteer with an NGO called CDI, and I knew roughly what they did -- but like all of the rest of my experiences here, I didn't really know what I was in for until I started!

CDI is a Brazilian-based non-profit that brings education about information technology to low-income areas in 13 different countries around the world. That is what I knew before I arrived. And it is the best way to describe what CDI does in a general sense. But I have learned a bit more since I've been here...

So CDI forms partnerships with existing community and social groups and then implements a school within the existing group to teach members of that community computer skills (and some citizenship...). We have that group discover some leaders in the community to become teachers who are trained by CDI in different computer and technology practices. Then, the teachers hold classes (the space is donated by the community organization and the equipment and methodology comes from CDI -- we acquire the hardware and software through partnerships both big (Dell) and small (local organizations)) to educate the community.

The method used is interesting, too. The teachers research and identify key problems in the community. The classes are then taught around those issues and aimed at trying to fix the problems through the use of technology. For example, a CDI school in the Amazon rain forest was able to take on Peruvian drug dealers stealing timber from the across the border by using their new found internet skills to mobilize amongst themselves and reach out to the federal government/secure the assistance of the Brazilian air force to patrol their territory. In another city, a group traced funds that were supposed to be used to build a gymnasium. They used what they learned from CDI in power point to make presentations in their community and got that money released. Now, with the proper use of that funding, the spot has been transformed from a place where youth would do drugs into a healthy and productive community center.

CDI is currently operating in 13 different countries, and in the recent years has grown faster than it knows how to handle. Enter me. I am here to head up a project to develop and implement a global structure for CDI. So far the job is really interesting and I am working with great people -- there are lawyers on my team from firms in the US and the UK. We are looking at many issues like organization registration in different countries, practical management and control, trademarks, and the flow of finances.

So overall, I really like what I am doing -- the work is interesting and challenging. However, sometimes it can be frustrating to work in such a different atmosphere. I don't know if it is working for a non-profit or working in Brazil...maybe it is a little of both? Forward progress on anything here comes slowly and is hard-fought for. Sending an email or making a phone call with a request doesn't usually cut it; usually you need to physically go to the person several times and ask for what you need. I also find that I am often just waiting for people to get back to me with answers that I need before moving forward. So I do find my days a little slow at times, and wish I had more to do!

But our office is cool(very have to walk outside to get anywhere!) and the people are nice. When there is a birthday we all go to a restaurant for lunch and there is always cake and singing in the kitchen. Maybe Feb/March are birthday heavy but we do this at least once a week. I joke to them that all they do in Brazil is eat cake. Everyone speaks English to me, which I am trying to change...but it is hard to leave behind something so comforting. I know it is necessary though; I am pretty sure they all think I am a very quiet person that keeps to myself...and we all know that just isn't true. I want them to get to know me better!

So that is what I do and where I work -- some pictures below!

Getting some sunshine going from one part of the office to the other = :)

My desk/table. I'm not a huge fan of my current sitting situation, but there isn't a ton of space and I am a temporary volunteer. One guy is leaving and I've already voiced my interest in his desk...

Rodrigo Baggio -- the man that founded CDI. He turned his computer so you could see the CDI logo. I have a picture of the 2 of us together but opted to not post it as he didnt stand up so I was doing that weird, crouchy thing.

Donal form Ireland -- another volunteer...he is also helping me with some of my project. This is the veranda where we have a lot of meetings and phone calls.

My friend Natalee and her boyfriend Tim. They have nothing to do with where I work, and they aren't even in Brazil (they live in Ohio). This picture was just in the same folder and I saw it and I miss them. I like looking at them, so I thought you would too ;)

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