Name: Liza Fisher
Hometown: North Carolina
Nationality: United States
University: Meredith College
Degree: Business Administration
Languages spoken: English, Spanish
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Cultural Enterprise Development in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 12 weeks
Start month: April 2013
Claim to fame: Spent time in an island in Belize with little electricity, wooden huts, and rainwater showers
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG volunteer?
There are a few things that led me to be a UBELONG volunteer. First, I had been wanting for several years to do some kind of volunteer project. It was also one of my goals to live abroad for a significant amount of time- long enough to really get to know a place and its culture. I wanted to be more than a tourist.
What attracted me to UBELONG specifically was the Cultural Enterprise project. I had done a lot of research, and it was the only project like it that I had found. I thought it would be a great way to put my Business Administration major to good use, to improve my Spanish, and to get to know a different aspect of the Peruvian culture.
What was your impact on your project?
One of my main goals with this project was to get more exposure for the business. We were in a bit of a challenging location and weren’t attracting a lot of people to the shop. I focused a lot on submitting AYNIART and Qosqo Wasinchis to travel websites, travel books, and Peruvian websites that publish events and attractions. I was able to call on my experiences as a traveler to figure out ways to reach other travelers to Cusco.
I also tried to come up with ways to create relationships with similar businesses in Cusco. Brandon (another UBELONG volunteer) found out about a responsible travel company that another employee and I were able to connect with after Brandon left. We ended up having a few good meetings and got them to sell some of our products in their shop! It was a big deal for us to have the opportunity to get our name out there and have our products in another part of the city.
My most time consuming project was working on a video that some other volunteers had started and not been able to finish. They filmed and interviewed the AYNIART artisans for a video to display on the website and in the shop. It was my job to edit it and add information to educated viewers on the mission and goals of AYNIART. It was really hard but really fun!
What were your major challenges?
Personally, my major challenges were getting over my fear of speaking Spanish and getting used to the uncertainty of business in Peru. I knew that operations would be different so I adapted pretty quickly, but it could still be frustrating at times. Trying to pick up flyers from a print shop that keeps telling you to come back later, even though they told you the flyers would be ready yesterday, will always be frustrating to an American :-). Luckily, I have a pretty “go-with-the-flow” personality.
What is your favorite memory?
I have two favorite work memories. The first is the day that I went to visit the women in the countryside and see them working. It was my first week in Peru and I couldn’t stop looking around me. Everything was new. The landscapes were incredible and the people were fascinating. The women were very shy but welcoming.
I loved seeing the camaraderie between them. They got so much joy out of coming together to work and socialize. They all called each other ‘compañera,’ even Coqui (the owner) and the volunteers. It really produced a sense of community and respect between everyone, which I thought was really cool.
My other favorite work memory seems kind of strange, but it’s when the manager of the shop took me to the more local market in Cusco. I hadn’t even heard of that market because everyone always goes to the more touristy one, San Pedro. She took me with her so I could learn where to get things cheaper for the shop. Along the way she explained what people were selling on the street and told me helpful things about getting around Cusco or fun things to do. In the market she pointed out local foods and let me try some fruit and cheese. We bought everything from cheese to cleaning supplies in that market and could have gotten clothes or a hair cut if we had wanted to.
It turns out that I learned a lot about Cusco from running errands for work. By shopping for supplies, printing flyers, and paying bills at the bank I went to places I never would have gone and had cultural experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t been part of this project.