The testimony of Andrea Marciandi

Andrea: his experience in El Salvador

Tarabuco, November 2016. Photo credit: World Food Programme

My name is Andrea Marciandi, and I am writing from La Paz, Bolivia, where for the past two years I have worked for the World Food Programme. My experience with KIP International School and the Legislative Assembly of the Emilia Romagna Region (Italy) began in 2013, when I was awarded a René Cassin scholarship.

When Sara Swartz, the director of the KIP Universitas programme, received me and the other recipients in Rome to define our future destinations, I had no doubt: I wanted to go to Latin America, and the possibility she offered me to live in El Salvador was perfect. So I ended up in the ADEL (Agency for Local Economic Development) of La Unión, a small province of western El Salvador, in February 2013.

It was a hard and lonely experience, but undoubtedly rewarding. El Salvador is a complicated country, where the aftermath of the civil war can still be perceived in everyday life. Social conflicts were still very strong in 2013, despite the ceasefire signed between the State, the Church, and the pandillas, and my life was consequently conditioned; not being able to take a bus, and having to be alert every time I left home, made the feeling of freedom that characterized my life fade rapidly, and I had to begin to conform to an everyday life that was anything but normal for a young Italian at his first experience in such a context.

Nevertheless, the job was very satisfying. The ADEL was created in the framework of a programme launched by UNDP, the ART programme (Articulation of Territorial Networks). The ADEL´s job consisted of supporting micro and small enterprises in developing their possibilities and capacities, through the promotion of local economic development of the eastern region of the country. We worked with companies of all type and size: local bakeries, local farmers, restaurants, and small tourist spots. The contact with the people who benefited from the program was what felt most rewarding, because it taught me that a different and surprising humanity existed in this world. In addition, it was my first experience with international cooperation, and it allowed me to get to know first-hand how the world in which I would – shortly thereafter - decide that I wanted to dedicate my life functioned. Specifically, thanks to my task of assisting the ADEL director in the formulation of project proposals, I began to learn more and more in detail the dynamics: the difference between donors and recipients of donations, implementers and beneficiaries, and so on.

After about six months of life in the small town of San Miguel, and of work in the difficult reality of La Unión, I received a call from Sara Swartz: she proposed me to relocate to Winnipeg, Canada, in September, to work on a new Universitas project with the local indigenous community.

Photo credit: World Food Programme

I had finally managed to create a life for myself in El Salvador; I had found a good balance, between friends, work, and life; I had also adopted a cat, Melquíades! Nevertheless, when the news came through, I recall that I did not think twice; even though Latin America was entering my heart, the opportunity was too tempting to let it pass. And then again, I could always come back, I thought. So, after several despedidas, including soccer games, pupusas, and a few last little trips, I moved to Winnipeg.

I think a more definite change in one´s life does not exist. Switching from the humidity of the tropics to the dry, northern climate; from the confusion of Latin America to the Canadian order; from a place where hierarchy is extremely important to the surprising informality of a gigantic and unknown country. I was excited like a child on Christmas Eve.

Unsurprisingly, the job was amazing. Jointly with a few local associations, among which the universities of Winnipeg and of Manitoba, the provincial Government of Manitoba, and indigenous associations, Universitas launched the first "Laboratory for urban development and poverty reduction". The inaugural act was a study visit for experts of human and community development, local economy, and urban poverty, who visited Winnipeg over the course of a week, to learn about the methodology undertaken in this city to tackle the difficult situation of the indigenous population, especially in the inner city, and share their experiences and knowledge. Participants included experts from El Salvador, Mexico, Italy, Albania, and Canada. The event was a success and the project generated a great amount of material for us to work on.

Being in a place where the very concept of authority (and hierarchy) could not be any more different from what I had experienced in Latin America, I found myself perfectly at ease in Winnipeg. Blending in was extremely easy, and the singular beauty of the city had me convinced I would try my best to stay in Canada, once the scholarship would be over. Then, I received a call from the United Nations.

I had been invited to an interview for a job in Bolivia, through the "UN Fellowship" programme offered by UN/DESA (the Department of Social and Economic Development of the United Nations), sponsored by the Italian Government, to work in the Italian UTL (Local Technical Unit, now AICS), the Italian Cooperation in La Paz, Bolivia. Again, the temptation was too great. Just thinking of having another chance to go back to Latin America, only this time in a Capital City, a marvelous and dynamic place, was too much. I felt that so many options were presenting themselves; I just had to gather my courage and take the risk. So I accepted the interview, and a few weeks later, I was awarded the Fellowship.

Photo credit: World Food Programme

Thanks to the René Cassin experience with KIP/Universitas, I was able to prevail in the competition represented by a high level interview for the United Nations; a great effort, especially for a young Italian with expat dreams. Had it not been for the Salvadorian and Canadian experiences, I would not be here, now, writing during the Bolivian fall (that is, sun, rain, hailstorms, and a ridiculous temperature range that alternate over the course of 24 hours at the end of April), about the adventures of these past two years.

Because the adventures were just about to start. Once I finished the year with the Italian Cooperation, during which I had the luck to travel throughout the country and meet many new cultures, all the while learning a some Quechua, I was hired by the World Food Programme, to work as field monitor (the person responsible for all WFP projects in a specific area) in the Amazon region. It was likely the most sensational experience of my first 30 years of life. And after a further year in the Amazon, riding my motorcycle through half-hidden paths under the pouring rain, dodging crocodiles and anacondas, WFP transferred me again to La Paz, where I have been living since. My new position is Resource Mobilization officer, which means I have to take care of donor relations and prepare project proposals, among other tasks; and as life goes on, I grow up professionally, and my family becomes larger, thanks to little Sophie Marciandi, who was born in February 2017, giving way to a new, very small life in an extremely fascinating country.

The René Cassin prize has allowed me to undertake this incredible trip through the world of international cooperation; It has allowed me to continue exploring afterwards, when other possibilities came along; but most of all, it has taught me to get to know myself, understand what I wanted from life. Had I not received that call in the fall of 2013, I would probably not be working for the most important humanitarian agency in the world right now, and I would not be rocking my first daughter in my arms. The importance of the René Cassin scholarship? Simple. It changed my life forever.


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