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Friday, September 19, 2014

Naomi Martin - Why I chose to be an ICS Team Leader with International Service




When I think back to June of last year when I was packing my bags for Bolivia it feels like a lifetime ago. I wasn´t sure what to expect but I was ready for a change of air – and that´s exactly what I got! Arriving in La Paz I spent the first few days mildly disorientated, partly due to the dramatic change in altitude but also due to the amount of information I was receiving about my new role as team leader for Up Close. I had volunteered before in Latin America giving workshops in public schools in Brazil with a project called EduAction, but I had never led a team of volunteers.

Over the next ten months I led three teams of ICS volunteers, both British and Bolivian, in working to support and strengthen Up Close Bolivia. a social entreprise that receives volunteers from all over the world. With my team of ICS volunteers we worked on a range of community-led projects; working with the community and for the community with the aim of strengthening and empowering some of the most vulnerable people living in La Paz, above all children, young people and women, so that they can become the protagonists of their own development.

Up Close is a grass-roots organisation and our greatest resource is our volunteers whose ideas and enthusiasm help to shape the projects. One of my biggest but most rewarding challenges was learning how to manage a diverse and multi-cultural team and help each member achieve their potential within the projects. My volunteers came from a variety of different cultural and academic backgrounds. My aim was to find them a role that would not only be enjoyable and fulfilling but to which they could also bring their unique experience and knowledge.



Based on ‘Reciprocidad’ – a concept at the heart of the Andean culture, Up Close is all about giving back and contributing in a way which enriches both the person who is giving and the person who is receiving equally. I found this to be very true as the more my team and I gave to the projects and the community - in our time, effort, enthusiasm and dedication - the more we got back from smiles from the children in projects and friendly conversations with parents in the street to invitations to dance in the community carnival! In my time at Up Close I felt that I was truly part of a community, something not always easy for someone who comes from a large city and is constantly on the move!

In the ten months in which I was team leader I saw how the work of each team shaped the projects and gave them a new dimension or direction and how in turn this work was then built on by the next group. I saw the three teams that I worked with not as separate but as part of a whole. They may never meet each other but they have all worked together to strengthen and develop the excellent work that Up Close carries out in the community of Mallasa.

Being a team leader is a constant learning experience and I am most definitely not the same person that arrived in Bolivia over a year ago. Every day I was faced with a new challenge that made me see things in a different perspective and made me grow as a person. I developed management skills and learned how to lead a multi-cultural team and make the most of the experience that each member of the team brings to the table.


I have come away from my time in Bolivia with a wealth of new experiences and skills that I have been able to bring to my new role as Project Coordinator for EduAction in Peru, the very same organisation that I volunteered with in Brazil over two years ago. EduAction is an intercultural education project that brings international volunteers from all over the world to give workshops in public schools in Latin America. With my team of international volunteers we develop and facilitate workshops for over 1,000 teenagers on a range of global topics such as cultural diversity, sustainability and entrepreneurship with the aim of opening the students’ mind to other realities and cultures and expanding their world vision. 

My time with Up Close, International Service and ICS may have come to an end for now but my work in Latin America is just starting. 


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