Jesse Wilson in Tunas Pampas
by Jessie Maguire
Jesse Wilson spent a good portion of her time in Cochabamba fundraising, and you could too. I sat down with her to discuss her success and exactly how she did it! Here’s the Q and A.
Q: Tell me where you’re from, what you studied and why you chose to go to Bolivia initially.
A: I’m from Vermont, I studied Biology at university at Hobart and William Smith. I couldn’t get into healthcare afterwards, and I wanted to learn a second language. I knew someone who had worked with Sustainable Bolivia. Then after a few months in Cochabamba, I started working with Mano a Mano. So the main goal was to learn.
Q: What kind of NGO is Mano a Mano?
A: Mano a Mano Bolivia is a Bolivian NGO that creates clinics, roads and schools in rural parts of Bolivia. I got to see the opening of a couple of schools, clinics that were going to be rebuilt by Mano a Mano and a road opening. They also hold courses for the doctors that work at Mano a Mano clinics.
Local children from Tunas Pampas, where the school will be built
Q: Bolivian doctors?
A: Yes. While I was there, doctors from Minnesota taught a course on emergency care, but for the majority of the time, Bolivian doctors take care of the medical care.
Q: Did you decide to fundraise for them, or did they ask you?
A: I was working in the mornings at Vivir con Diabetes, a diabetes clinic, and I was looking for a second project. I contacted Alyssa Chase, who was volunteering for Mano a Mano, and she had just applied to Global Giving; a global crowdfunding platform connecting non-profits with companies. I joined Alyssa and initially worked on social media and advertising. Then when we hit traction, we both started organizing fundraising events in the US and Cochabamba for a school in Tunas Pampas.
The area where the school is situated was surveyed, and it is in an earthquake zone. The risk of an earthquake happening is super high; so it jumped to the front of their priority list. That’s also why they started a crowdfunding campaign instead of their usual means of fundraising.
Q: So you were fundraising for the school to be rebuilt.
A: Yes, there’s a school there now but it’s structurally unsound, so the Tunas Pampas Town Council contacted Mano a Mano to ask for support to build a new school.
The existing Tunas Pampas school
Q: Is it a primary school or secondary school?
A: It’s a primary and secondary school, supporting the community of Tunas Pampas. They’re going to leave the existing school and rebuild a completely new one. Alyssa Chase contacted an engineer who specializes in earthquake resistant construction.
Q: So you did the fundraising alongside Alyssa. But your area was social media.
A: Yes, we ran a crowdfunding campaign, which started with a two-week long goal, where we had to raise $5,000. That was all done by contacting old volunteers, doctors who had worked with Mano a Mano before; one of the doctors has a great relationship with a hospital in Minnesota. That was the first part, and it was really successful because of Mano a Mano’s strong relationships. Then we started to organize events.
Q: In the States and Bolivia, right?
A: Yeah, we organized a few at the same time. We did a pole dancing event in New York City, organized by a friend of Alyssa’s. And I have friends in Rutland, who organized an event at one of the local bars. They had local musicians play. My friends have a good relationship with the bar, so they arranged a sale and auction where Magic Hat, a beer company, donated $1 for every draft that was bought on that one night.
We also held four events in Bolivia at Parlana (a weekly language exchange social event held at various venues across the city), which was incredible. One at Pulse. We learned a lot from the events, and talked to a lot of people about what was happening. We sold about a thousand raffle tickets over the four events.
Q: How much were you able to raise in total?
A: At the Rutland event we raised about $1000, and now we’re going to do one in Boston. It hasn’t ended yet.
Q: Did you put a time limit on the fundraising campaign?
A: No, it’s open until we reach $25,000. We’re at $13,958. The fundraising is ongoing until we reach our goal.
Q: All of it will go to the school?
A: Yes, Mano a Mano will provide half of what is needed for the school to be built, and the local town council will then cover the other half. Once the money is raised, the school will be built over a period of around four months.
The building project includes the school – two new classrooms and bathrooms, and housing for the teachers. The teachers live at the school. It’s hard to find bi-lingual teachers that speak Spanish and Quechua, so the living accommodation is an incentive used to attract them. Those teachers will teach the children from a community of 500 people.
Q: Describe the process you went through with the fundraising.
A: There were so many stages, that I had never done before. The first thing I had to do was find a host for the events, then a bar to hold the event, then organize invitations for advertising. I had to write thank you cards to everyone involved. It took a lot of work, but it was awesome because I feel like people socialize anyway. It was nice to be able to mix that with something I believe in. I haven’t felt that purposeful in a while.
Q: Do you think it will help you get a job in the future?
A: I haven’t looked into that, but I started looking into a bar in Boston that uses its profits for social projects, so I’d like to see if I can work using activities that people do normally and use them to give back to my community. Community involvement is really important to me, whether it’s just information giving, social advertising, or whatever. I got a lot of feedback, and it made me realize how much social change is actually happening in Cochabamba and Rutland, where I’m from.
Q: So you enjoyed the process?
A: Yes, I felt like I was good at it. This is a hidden strength I didn’t know about. Once this fundraiser is done, I want to look for new ones.
Q: What attracted you to working in Bolivia specifically?
A: I didn’t know anything about Bolivia and I was really curious to see what it had in store for me. When you’re a volunteer, you’re not a tourist, so you’re able to learn. People don’t treat you like an outsider. People are welcoming and that’s so great.
Q: Did you have trouble with the language?
A: I didn’t speak any Spanish when I arrived, but the host family I was living with in Cochabamba definitely nurtured my language. I also improved loads by taking classes. You learn so much from having to work. That motivates you.
Q: What would you say to people who would like to follow in your footsteps?
A: It might seem like a lot of work, and a bit tedious, but it’s a great way to raise money and spread the cause of your organization. Be persistent, and talk to a lot of people. It can be really fun, the combination of going out and fundraising. I met a bunch of bands, local musicians in Cochabamba and the States, so if you’re interested in music and nightlife, it can work really well. It goes well with social enterprise. You can mix that with something you believe in.
I had such a positive response from people in the nightlife industry. Jody from Parlana was so responsive, Pulse were too. The musicians were so motivated to donate their time. That was nice.
Q: People are scared of getting rejected, right?
A: Yeah, they think they’ll try and organize something and it won’t be a success, that it’ll be embarrassing. You don’t lose money doing this kind of event if you organize it right. Everything went well for me and I’m so happy I did it.
Have you had a similar experience, or would you like to fundraise for your organization? If so, get in touch with Sustainable Bolivia about how you can contribute. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
You can still support Mano a Mano’s fundraiser here!