Volunteers draw attention to the riches in the mangroves
What character traits should the volunteers have in your opinion?
Gerónimo Vera: That is a difficult question. Sometimes we search for specific profiles such as nurses, educators or someone with IT knowledge. But if we can't find anyone with the desired qualifications, we improvise. We always need support for various projects in our community. All volunteers with whom we have worked so far have done their job very well. More important than qualifications or experience is the willingness to serve the community and adapt to us.
What contribution do weltwärts volunteers make in the Mangrove communities
Gerónimo Vera: It is unbelievable to see the change that the volunteers produced in the protected area of the Mangrove forests of Cerrito de los Morreños. Before the volunteers were here, there was little participation in the community; now the fisher families come with their own ideas for the future development of the region. The presence of volunteers led to a complete change in consciousness: The communities suddenly learn to appreciate the natural riches of the unique ecological system of their environment. They develop the desire for a better life outside of pure consumption and compare their life with the more comfortable life in cities. The various cooperation projects in which volunteers work together with local representatives of the community let them receive self-confirmation and recognition of their abilities. Since they notice that they are able to teach the volunteers a lot. Alone the fact that the volunteers are willing to come from so far in order to change something in such a place motivates the communities. They wake from their partially widespread indifference, and the joint work lets the different communities in the Gulf of Guayaquil grow closer together.
What positive impact does weltwärts have on you besides the assignment of volunteers?
Gerónimo Vera: We have learned a lot about organisation from the volunteers; this is a positive aspect of development in Europe for us. The volunteers learn to improvise from us, that is, to get a lot done at short notice and with few resources. This ability impresses the volunteers time and again and mutual learning takes place. Many initiatives are continued by local community representatives after the initial motivation from the individual volunteers. For example, volunteers built a water supply system with reservoirs and tanks a few years ago, and the community runs it independently now. Another example is the training of multiplicators on the subjects of health and environmental protection, which continue their work independently in the meantime and train other community members. On another level, the weltwärts programme has also made a positive contribution: The presence of volunteers has increased acceptance for outsiders in our communities, which are very remote and neglected by the government. The Ministry of Tourism has also become aware of us and our efforts now, and started working with us to develop ecologically and socially sensible tourism in the region. The communities in which we are working with the volunteers are pilot projects for tourism. The positive resonance and the success of the jointly started projects ultimately simplifies even our negotiations with government authorities, such as the Ministry of the Environment, in order to further design protected forest concessions. In the meantime, we also take the volunteers to these negotiations; they are not in the foreground there, but provide important impetus.
What can the returning volunteers do in Germany from your point of view?
Gerónimo Vera: They should be dedicated and promote a growing number of members in our sending organisation, the Schutzwaldverein e.V. and similar organisations. They now know our country and the project, and can use their experiences in Germany. Many volunteers do this and often also support some of the small projects they began after their return or help to win support for tourism to the region. They become part of our local communities.
In the future, there should also be South-North volunteers – and a pilot project was started for this. Could you imagine taking part in this as a sending organisation? What opportunities do you see here for your organisation?
Gerónimo Vera: We can imagine this quite well in general. It would be very impressive if our dedicated young people could also have the experiences of a volunteer service in Germany! They could gain impressions of the culture, values and also economic aspects in Germany and bring these back to their countries of origin. That would strengthen the spirit of cooperation and exchange for us. We must discuss the rules with all our partners and see whether we meet the expectations.
The interview was conducted by Daniela Schuster (Engagement Global).