Starting small, aiming big

Go Global student works for sustainable change

In the haste to do good work, international development projects sometimes overlook the true needs and existing strengths of the communities they’re meant to assist. This summer, Trevor Hirsche will be serving a rural community in Bolivia, but not without first understanding local conditions.

Hirsche is one of two student recipients of the UBC-PFF Community Leadership Program,  offered through UBC’s Go Global office which provides student opportunities to learn abroad. Trevor has received $30,0000 in funding thanks to the generosity of a family foundation. This one-time grant will help students implement and learn from projects they have developed themselves, instead of programs that send students on already established ventures.

For 12 months, Hirsche—a recent graduate of UBC’s masters program in geological sciences—will be working with the COBAGUAL, a small Bolivian water and sanitation organization, to help a rural community in Eastern Bolivia improve sanitation, access to water and food security. Although Hirsche and COBAGUAL have a broad idea of local needs, their first step is to consult with the community and get to know their social structures, their survival strategies and the resources they already have at their disposal. According to Hirsche, this is not a top-down process. “At the end of the day we’re going to define what it looks like to work with the community.”

At the heart of this process lies the hope to create sustainable change to alleviate poverty. The project is based on a community development model, which empowers people to define and attain their own goals. Enabling individuals and groups to obtain the skills they need enables them to become more self-reliant in the long term and are a large part of the long-term success of the project.

Hirsche and COBAGUAL have been working together since 2006 when Hirsche co-founded the Canadian-Bolivian Clean Water Network. They have already introduced biosand water filters supplying clean drinking water in that community.

While COBAGUAL was spending time in rural villages installing the filters, community members began telling them about other needs, like sanitation, irrigation, and malnutrition. Hirsche and COBAGUAL decided it would be better to involve the community from the early planning stages of the project. “We started to see the value in making the planning process with the communities as participatory as possible,” explains Hirsche. They hypothesized that a participatory process based on mutual respect would ensure the sustainability of the work they would undertake.

Hirsche’s interest in community development stems from his passion for environmental protection. He has wondered if there are ways people can sustain their livelihoods with minimal impact on the ecosystem. He was inspired by the social movements that were spreading across Latin America in countries like Bolivia, where indigenous people were striving to take leadership on these issues. “I started to become really interested in the idea that changes could be made at the community level that could later be scaled up and form the basis of more sustainable ways of living.“

Hirsche is hoping to make a difference, but this is a two-way process. “I also am going to learn a lot from implementing the project. I’m already learning so much through this program.”

On a more personal note, he is interested in the kind of society that fosters happiness. “Being in rural communities that aren’t as tied into the mainstream consumerist economy and values, you start to develop a different perspective about what’s important
in life.” 

For more information about the International Service Learning program, visit UBC’s Go Global website:
www.students.ubc.ca/global/learning-abroad/international-service-learning/

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UBC Reports | Vol. 58 | No. 6 | Jun. 6, 2012

Trevor Hirsche received special funding to work with a community in Bolivia to improve water sanitation, access to water and food security. Martin Dee Photograph

Trevor Hirsche received special funding to work with a community in Bolivia to improve water sanitation, access to water and food security. Martin Dee Photograph

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“You start to develop a different perspective about what’s important in life.”

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