Puente a la Salud – Oaxaca, Mexico
Located in beautiful Oaxaca, Mexico, Puente a la Salud Comunitaria is an organization set up to help improve nutrition among disadvantaged and indigenous communities around the region. They do this primarily by promoting the production, consumption, and commercialization of amaranth, a plant with exceptional nutritional value that is also very well adapted to demanding weather conditions. Please visit their website for more information.
February 17 to March 24, 2009
Our time volunteering for Puente was an absolutely wonderful experience. We honestly couldn’t have gotten Pathforchange off to a better start and we have Puente’s truly worthwhile mission and amazing staff to thank for that. During the six or so weeks we worked with them, they were truly helpful, flexible, and open to new ideas. They proved quite capable, willing to work with us, and despite the tough, transitional period they were going through at the time, took us well under their wing and made us feel at home.
We met some great people while at Puente, lived unforgettable experiences both within the headquarters in Oaxaca and in the communities (many times 4-8 hours away), and left feeling that we had made a considerable impact as well as friends that will always be there should we decide to return – and chances are we will.
Contributions and Projects Worked On
Our projects and tasks at Puente were quite diverse both within the headquarters and in the communities that we visited a few times each (Pablo and I never went to the same place at the same time to make the most of our availability).
Projects at the Puente Headquarters
In the offices of Puente we worked on a multitude of minor tasks both required by Puente on a regular basis as well as more involved and complex projects to help the Puente cause in their own way. A quick description of these tasks and projects are below:
– Interactive database to help organize, analyze, and maintain Puente’s data: this was arguably the most important project that I personally worked on for Puente, and was the original reason we came to Puente. In short, Puente promotes amaranth through activities in approximately 16 communities throughout Oaxaca. Data is collected during these visits from the locals regarding many factors including their usage of amaranth, biographical and family information, etc. but unfortunately, there was no practical location to store such data and as such, it was not being analyzed. the interactive database that I helped create for them helped change this by making it easy to enter data, create reports, and help deduce answers to questions regarding their consumption, production, and commercialization of amaranth with the ultimate goal of not only figuring out where to best allocate resources, but, ultimately, the impact Puente was having on the communities.
Due to the highly complex nature of this particular project and the fact that some information was not yet ready to incorporate into the architecture of the database, the entire program was not completed prior to our departure. Puente’s operations are split in a group that deals with promoting consumption and one that promotes production. I helped practically finish the database for the latter, and for the former, engaged in an intensive database training of Monica, their logistics point-person, to ensure she could pick up the second half and make any necessary updates and changes to one I had completed.
As a bonus, I also designed the database to easily organize and report on potential donors, a very important aspect of any NGO.
– Internal reporting system: As part of Puente’s internal operations, employees are required to send weekly reports of their respective progress. This, however, is normally done by hand and so while I waited for input to continue progress on my main database project, I created an internal digital reporting system using Microsoft InfoPath through which reports could be easily filled out on the computer and sent directly via e-mail with the push of a button to the desired managers. It was designed to make such reports arrive to a special folder in the manager’s inbox to review without the need for printing and in such a way that standardized the process reducing the potential for mistakes and increasing efficiency.
– Inventory and complete redesign of Puente’s storage room: With boxes on the floor and on top of desks taking up way too much space for Puente’s amaranth inventory, their storage room was not being very efficient and the chaos allowed for mistakes on quantities and locations to be easily made. Pablo worked hard to completely redo the storage room through the building of new stands and relocation of materials that truly helped organize this room. Unfortunately we don’t have before/after pictures (why? don’t know!) to show just how much it changed but trust me, it did – quite a bit.
– We also worked on other smaller tasks such as design posters for presentations, research potential donors (although to be honest I personally did much less than I was asked on this one – my priorities at the time were elsewhere, namely the database!), and even a few errands here and there.
Providing a great way to get a feel for just who we were working for, community visits were without a doubt an essential part of our truly positive experience at Puente and added diversity to our work as well as improved our overall satisfaction while there. We went on around 6 or so community visits some of which were 6+ hours away by car through unpaved roads that Chule (our car) would have cried on and were so remote that the locals didn’t even speak Spanish forcing us to take a translator along for the ride. The activities we did while there varied from providing support for seminars on how to consume and produce amaranth to speaking with the locals and their leaders regarding their own future use of amaranth. On my end, a key activity was to record it all with my camera as these visits provided truly unique opportunities to do so.
Pictures and Media
To get a taste of what our time with Puente was like including headquarters, the community visits, and the respective locals we interacted with, please visit the web album that summarizes it all.