GoAbroad Interview

Stiven Lopez - Program and Volunteer Experience Coordinator

Stiven is a 25 year old from Chinchiná, Caldas, Colombia. He has always had the desire to be in constant movement, learning new things, so he began to have an interest in working with the community. By December 2016, he had his first interaction with international volunteers and decided to become part of Minga House.

You have a lot of different work experiences in various fields. What the Minga House Foundation inspired you to work with them?

The biggest motivation was the impulse to always learn and improve myself. With Minga House Foundation, there was an opportunity for interacting with different cultures and the opportunity to improve my English.

Best of all, I was able to stay working within the social programs field in my own native community.  Minga House gave me the opportunity to learn, serve, and travel. I am very happy I made the decision to be part of the Minga House family.

Children in classroom at desks with nurses in back

Traveling and helping the community through health & education

How have your past work experiences prepared you for your role as program coordinator?

My previous experience as an art instructor and a programmer gave me different perspectives and approaches to problem-solving as I tackle social program programming challenges.  Each of those jobs formed me as person, and at the same time it gave me the pedagogical, cognitive, theoretical, and practical tools to apply in my day-to-day, with the motivation to serve and learn every day.

In what ways do you support volunteers?

Each volunteer is a totally different person in terms of experience, age, ability, knowledge, personality, and language, among other characteristics. Those differences are why the support must cover a large number of aspects giving a humane, friendly, and professional approach.

And above all, teaching and showing the best of the positions we have is important. My role as a coordinator and host is to make sure the volunteers have the best experience where they learn, have fun, and feel that they have traveled to fulfill a purpose.

Group of people posing in front of cityscape and landscape

Minga House team and Chinchina on the background

How do you approach managing relationships with so many different people and organizations?

First of all, it is important to understand the context of what we are doing within the community.  The concept of volunteering is something very new in our Colombian culture and human values ​​are very important for us here.

Each institution and each volunteer is different, and one of the characteristics that has allowed us to move forward during these past four years has been having a strong and sincere communication with each of the institution, as well as with our volunteers.

Having all of our legal records in order gives us the ability to demonstrate to our national governmental, partner institutions, and visiting volunteers the necessary data to illustrate the value of our congregate work. This allows us to show that our intentions have materialized with concrete evidence, illustrating the tangible value of thousands of volunteering hours by our international volunteers.

What are your favorite activities to share with volunteers?

The activities I like to share can range from music, fishing, trekking through the villages, visiting restaurants, theater, and art, among others. As for volunteering activities, I consider myself very lucky because I can "work" doing what I like, and I consider that each of the activities has qualities that make them unique.

Volunteer doctors with group of people on and near truck

My first volunteer group

Why is Colombia a great location for volunteering?

Colombia is the perfect place thanks to our incredible value of human connection. No matter where you are, you will feel the human warmth and gratitude of the people. We value each person we help, giving the best of ourselves no matter how much or how little we have. We extend smiles and excitement.

Even the children have endless questions for those that come to our country. They always want to know more and follow the example the volunteers set for them. Our cultural and gastronomic diversity is also great for visitors. And finally, all of the landscapes that Colombia can offer to everyone.

What qualities make up the ideal volunteer, in your opinion?

We believe that the experience is 50/50, since it is my job to generate the support for the volunteer to develop in their role. But we always ask our volunteers to have the best attitudes and to be understanding with every situation they find themselves in. And most importantly, the ability to approach and overcome all of the difficulties that may arise.

Children and adults with clown noses and make-up in front of school

Social work with volunteers and kids in the village

If you could volunteer through one of Minga’s programs, which project would you want to be involved in?

 Without a doubt, I would choose the educational program. While teaching, I know I can learn at the same time. It also is a chance to set the foundation for future generations, and generate a direct impact on the short and long term goals from the social, environment, cultural perspectives.

Traveling to communities in need to teach, share, and learn is good for social and personal development. All of this is part of the bilateral cultural immersion that we are implementing and wish to continue for Minga Teacher's Project.

What hopes do you have for yourself and for Minga House?

My hope for the future is to continue growing professionally and personally, to keep learning, to have a good foundation for becoming an agent of change, and to continue working for the community in various capacities —especially teaching. And it is my desire to accomplish all of this with the Minga House Foundation. 

I see Minga House in the short term strengthening and expanding relationships with different institutions, and generating growth and improvement of what we already do. Looking more towards the future, I see it growing as a nationally and internationally focused foundation with a strong team. And in the long term, I hope that Minga House is an agent of change in more and more communities with projects that generate growth and prosperity and continue to increase the vision of what we already do.