PLEASE READ. An email I sent to IPSL when they requested a summary of my experience of the program in Cartagena:
Goal: Create and implement a project focused on women's issues in La Boquilla
Specified goal: help FAMB give classes on sexual health and reproduction to the youth to lower the rates of unwanted pregnancies
• Challenges: A lot of misinformation on the IPSL side and the FAMB side about the effectiveness and capabilities of FAMB.
• Opportunities: There are good team members at FAMB that I see as valuable and capable of getting tasks done
o FAMB- There needs to be more organization in FAMB, and tasks need to be delegated. For example, the vice president should learn to delegate tasks to other members and volunteers. He seems to hold many different jobs outside of FAMB, cannot complete tasks on time, and is unable to give direct orders.
o IPSL- One of my main issues was the excursions. I paid money believing that three excursions were included and mandatory to attend, and although I asked several members from IPSL, it was still difficult to understand how the excursions should have been handled. The excursions were not done until the last minute. I suggest the excursions be spread out throughout the internship so the student/intern can apply what they learned about the culture to the project, instead of excursions at the end of the program, which do not add much value.
• Critiques: Did you get the support that you needed? - I would say in the case of a severe issue, I was attended to, but even then, I do not feel like I had substantial support in La Boquilla. My on-site provider was constantly busy or applied to messages very late, or never responded at all. Even though he suggested to take us around La Boquilla, we never got to know the area. There should be someone if not him to give a proper tour of La Boquilla, explain the ins and outs, etc. There was enough information provided about the possibility of danger, I just feel like there should have been more to know about the area.
• Do you think the project will be sustainable with the community? - I can say that I do not think the project is organized enough to be considered a project at this time. A lot of work needs to be done to accomplish such a project, starting with the foundation's internal organization. They should learn about program development and member roles before taking on any projects in the future.
• What did you learn about working in this environment and/or with this population, and anything else you want to share?
o My on-site provider was not attentive to my needs. He responded late to messages or did not respond at all for days. When I made suggestions about the program, he considered what I said but ultimately made his own decision. When I asked for his assistance with something at the apartment or elsewhere, he may or may not show up. If he shows up, he may show up hours late. But, when he asks that I get ready to go out, not only does he not ask my permission or if I have the time, but he also orders me to hurry up, which continued throughout my time in La Boquilla. He only seemed to want to set up meetings to develop new ideas for the project but did not do any actual work or research outside of the meetings, so each meeting was just a recap of the last meeting and suggested additional ideas with no plausible supporting evidence. This misogynistic behavior significantly interfered with my time in La Boquilla, and although I brought attention to it, nothing was done about it. (Example: my roommate had a faulty electric outlet that started to smoke and burn the rubber insolation due to a makeshift air conditioning placed by the on-site provider). I immediately texted the on-site provider to let him know. Not only did he say he would come over the next morning instead of at that moment, he never showed up the next day and did not ask about the situation until he happened to stop by days later.)
o The coordinator explained to me from the beginning that there would be challenges based on culture and religion, so I was expecting to face some difficulty completing the project. However, I feel as though I was made to believe that the people in La Boquilla were determined individuals who wanted to get things done. Being that the coordinator is Colombian himself, I believe he and IPSL knew the customs and behavior of the people in La Boquilla and somehow tried to convince me otherwise. I think they are good people, but they do not show enough enthusiasm to get things done. The coordinator asked me what he believed the problem was, and I found it difficult to believe that he did not already know the situation since he had been working with this community for some time.
o The coordinator tried to state that I had all the reign in the project and that I did not have to attend excursions if I did not want to. I wanted to be in charge of this project, but I expected more direction and a better knowledge base about program management, a topic I only learned about through my Spanish classes. I also was the one to make initial contact 90% of the time to receive an update or a next step.
• Positives: I can say that my Spanish classes at Nueva Lengua were the best thing about this internship. I learned so much about Spanish and the history of Colombia, and my teacher was intelligent and kind. I had a great time, and I would recommend this Spanish school to others
Overall, I would not recommend or participate in future programs with IPSL. I do not think that this internship was worth my time or money. I believe I was fooled into thinking I would be a great person for this project 1) because I am a veteran like the person who helped onboard me and 2) because the company wanted money. I feel as though I was promised a lot of things that I did not acquire out of this internship. I am not sure if my experience was due to this program being "made for me," but I believe the biggest issue is the lack of coordination and organization from both IPSL and FAMB. There is never any clarification about how the money is being spent and each individual seems to have a different set of ideas about how things are run. I understand this was an internship "experience," and I tried to make the best out of this experience. I learned as much as I could and tried my best to apply my skills to help FAMB develop their women's project and learn new skills along the way.
Thank you for your time and patience. I hope this email answers all your questions, and I hope this information helps improve future programs for IPSL and the future interns who partake in these programs
Response from IPSL Global Institute at NUNM
IPSL appreciates the feedback and the opportunity to respond. We hope that this talented individual has the same opportunity to provide such feedback to their home university and, in particular, to their home university’s advising team.
IPSL is familiar with this participant's feedback. With every participant, we request an evaluation upon completion. We received these comments in writing a few months after the request and shared these in a meeting with our team. So, while the content of this review is familiar to us and was/is being addressed, we appreciate that this participant is sharing her ideas more broadly and for the opportunity for IPSL to respond.
As with all under-resourced organizations (and our partner in La Boquilla is one of those), priorities can, and do, shift daily. Our partner has limited human resources to accomplish their mission. The members all have full-time jobs and other obligations to sustain their lives. This is the nature of nonprofit/NGO/grassroots work across the globe and provides an excellent training ground for individuals interested in entering the field of nonprofit work. That said, the organization where they did their service was somewhat new to IPSL and there were/are kinks to iron out. All that said, our partners reported that the student, on more than one occasion, did not show up to pre-scheduled meetings; that is likely part of the reason there was increased room for ‘misinformation’.
The observation that the organization has a ‘leadership’ issue is excellent and accurate. We have encouraged them to work on this which we all believe could potentially help them accomplish more of their mission.
Regarding excursions, ideally, they are spread out throughout a program – or during the period a course is being taught. That said, IPSL never promises when excursions will happen and, in fact, we mention explicitly that excursions can change due to circumstances beyond our control (closures, roads washing out in rainy seasons, etc.). But we always replace a cancelled excursion with another, complementary one. We have spoken with the leadership at our partner in La Boquilla and we addressed issues around communication and the Orientation Tour. But as mentioned above, ‘no-shows’ on the part of students/participants send a message that the participant is uninterested.
IPSL does an excellent job of preparing students/participants for the differences in cultures, including gender and race relations in different program locations. What a participant interprets as misogynistic may, indeed, be misogynistic through their own cultural lens, but it may also be a cultural issue or, again, a function of not having the capacity/time to address an issue in the moment. IPSL’s community-based organizations abroad are routinely some of the most resource-scarce groups addressing the most pressing needs in their communities. There is plenty of opportunity to observe, assess, design interventions/programs, present findings, and/or simply bear witness and serve. It is the participant’s particular framework through which they view the situation that contributes – or not – to the support of the organization’s
mission. We are not sure how the air conditioner issue is an example of misogynistic behavior, but we do know that the AC issue was addressed to the satisfaction of the roommate.
Any successful project and/or placement in an IPSL partner requires that all three legs of the three-legged stool do their part. IPSL never promised a formal course on project management. Indeed, the course/fieldwork was the sole responsibility of the participant’s home university.
The participant was approved and selected for this placement precisely due to their military background in managing people and projects. A key piece of what was missing from this participant’s academic experience was the home university advisor who was completely missing-in-action from the student’s entire fieldwork placement experience. There was no support from the very individuals responsible for the required outcomes. IPSL did not (and cannot) assume the role of a participant’s home university advisor in such situations. Yes, there were issues with some of the on-the-ground experiences that were IPSL’s responsibility, and we did what we could to address those issues as soon as humanly possible. What IPSL cannot do – and won’t take responsibility for – is a home institution’s lack of support for their own student.
The participant’s statement that IPSL as a company only wanted their money and fooled them into their participation is sadly untrue. The participant was approved and selected, for this placement, precisely due to their military background in managing people and projects. All the necessary preparations were made in advance and when the inevitable issues arose (as they always do), IPSL did what it could to address them. IPSL is pleased that the participant acknowledges the contributions of our Veteran staff member; we appreciate this. Lastly, IPSL is a nonprofit organization; we are not a company and over 80% of our revenues are reinvested in the various communities we serve.