Time at Tukuy Pacha
After my second-year of college, I had the opportunity to go abroad through the Buffett Institute at Northwestern and work as an intern for the Foundation of Sustainable Development. I was placed in Cochabamba, Bolivia at Tukuy Pacha – a non-governmental organization created to help disabled members of rural communities in Bolivia take control of their rights and their lives.
Arriving in Cochabamba…
… my team and I had almost no idea what to expect. We had looked up Tukuy Pacha online, but had not found much. All we found was a lot of tangential information describing Tukuy Pacha but could find nothing of substance. So we figured we’d learn on the job. And we did.
Tukuy Pacha is an organization committed to defending vulnerable communities. Specifically, they work with disabled communities in the rural municipalities surrounding Cochabamba. How they break it down is as follows:
Rights and empowerment, with a lawyer working to digest Bolivian law and make it understandable to these communities
Physical therapy, with a physical therapist treating patients in the remote municipalities, and
Communication and funding, with the head of the organization working to find funding to expand the organization and provide more services
So we dove in.
We started going on site visits with the full time staff of Tukuy Pacha, exploring the six different municipalities surrounding Cochabamba, and assisting the physical therapist, Paola, with her check-ups to see what the work looked like on the ground.
Immediately we noticed a few things:
Physical health was the priority. A lot of the patients we visited did not have their disability IDs (carnets) and so were not able to get any health services, or were mistreated when they did seek it out. We spoke to the Tukuy Pacha employees and learned this was a persistent problem with stigmas around disabilities and doctors not prioritizing these types of patients.
Spanish was not the preferred language. Most of the municipalities we visited spoke Quechua. It was hard for Tukuy Pacha employees to communicate to their patients and even harder for their patients to get a full understanding of the law or their rights since they did not come in their native language.
Funding was an issue. Tukuy Pacha was constantly under financial duress and did not have the proper funding to carry out all of its programming or hire new employees. This kept its impact small.
Finding our place.
After looking at all of the experiences we had in the field and doing in-depth interviews with the employees of Tukuy Pacha, we set to work finding where we could be most helpful as interns for this organization.
What we landed on was a series of smaller projects that would aim at the larger goal of enhancing the visibility of Tukuy Pacha, both internally and externally.
Internally, we wanted community members to understand and be comfortable with the services Tukuy Pacha could provide and externally, we wanted to increase Tukuy Pacha’s online presence and create an easier way for the organization to acquire funds.
My responsibilities were as follows:
Design and launch the web page
Design the physical therapy guides
Create physical therapy cards for patients to track their progress
Develop an institutional powerpoint for Tukuy Pacha to use as a pitch deck for funding
Since the organization had previously worked with a designer who had implemented new brand guidelines, most of my job was taking these guidelines and information and presenting it in digestible, informative ways.
What did we accomplish?
A lot. And a lot of learning.
With huge amounts of help from the Tukuy Pacha team, we were able to implement all of these projects before we left Cochabamba.
We left Tukuy Pacha having:
Researched, designed and printed new field guides for the local physical therapists they were enlisting to work for them.
Systematized and printed physical therapy cards for patients to record their progress.
Designed and launched a new website, in both Spanish and English (at tukuypacha.com).
Designed a new derechos (rights) page and held three talleres (workshops).
What I did personally was:
Launch and design the webpage
Design the physical therapy guides
Design the system and visuals for the physical therapy cards
Design the rights page
Haggle (a lot!) with the printers :)
Physical Therapy Cards
What did I learn?
It’s hard to talk about what I learned in Bolivia from a strictly professional point because so much more of what I learned came from the community.
I learned a lot about Bolivian political infrastructure (and how that maps onto accessibility of healthcare), NGO funding and doing technology in Spanish (which was a lot harder than I anticipated). But more of what sticks with me is the professionalism of the employees at Tukuy Pacha and their undying passion to service the communities that need their help. Working with them taught me a lot about how far empathy can go in hard situations, whether it be related to healthcare or access to government services. At the end of the day, people need to be at the center of our work.
Aside from this, working in such an unfamiliar environment to what I am used to showed me that I really value collaboration and criticism in work. As much as these two things are stressed in the design process, it was something else to see them come alive in this workplace. Constantly working alongside the Tukuy Pacha employees and being able to ask community members for real feedback on our work was so important in allowing us to create anything meaningful, especially as interns only in Bolivia for such a short amount of time. I was also cognizant of position and privilege throughout all of my work, which displayed in a very different way from how it does in the U.S.
In sum? It was a largely transformative working experience – if not because of the product, then very much because of the process. Also – I’m still working on how to code in Spanish.