When Meagan first came to Bolivia in 2008 as part of an exchange program, she was immediately impressed by the country’s diverse topography and vibrant cultural landscape. Her experience in Bolivia lead her to further develop her interest for international development and affirmed her desire to study and work in this sector.

After graduating from Dalhousie University, with a bachelors in International Development and Spanish Studies, volunteering in Bolivia appeared to her as a great opportunity to contribute to local development efforts by putting her knowledge to practice and gaining valuable international work experience.

Passionate about photography and with strong ICT and Spanish skills, Meagan’s attention was drawn to the Uniterra assignment in communications and events management with local partner La Paz Maravillosa (LPM). The mission of this municipal tourist development agency is to enhance the experience of tourists who visit La Paz, in particular by improving access to and appreciation for handicrafts and other rich cultural assets of the Bolivian people.

In Bolivia, the internal market for local quality handicrafts is limited. Greater sales potential does nonetheless reside in the more than 1 million tourists who visit Bolivia every year.  However, even though tourists are the biggest purchasers of handicrafts in the country, the lack of appropriate information leads many of them to buy products that are not made from traditional materials and sometimes not even made in Bolivia.

Since the beginning of her mandate, Meagan has contributed (in photographs, translations and graphic design) to many publications used by LPM, such as guides, maps of the city, gastronomic and artisan promotion. But her most important project is the development of a new website for the municipal agency. Once the project is completed, it will serve as a platform to promote local handicrafts as well as the cultural richness of the city as a whole.

“This new website, along with previous publications, contributes to promoting the work of our artisan partners. More and more tourists visit their stores, which increases their chances of direct sales and revenues. The goal is also to inform tourists on the benefits of buying fair trade and local products from artisans who use 100% alpaca materials combined with 100% Bolivian handiwork.” – Meagan Hancock

Meagan’s work with La Paz Maravillosa will have a lasting positive impact in Bolivia, as her role does not only consist in providing direct assistance to the local partner, it also focuses on training the personnel to improve their practices in the long term. “I am currently providing the technical expertise to build a website, but I will also capacitate my co-workers so that they can maintain the website once my mandate is over”, says Meagan. Her presence alongside LPM has also enabled her to share many of her soft skills, such as problem solving, innovative thinking or cross-cultural collaboration, with the organisation and has contributed to improving its efficiency and networking efforts.

Working in a different cultural environment has been both the most challenging and the most exciting aspect of Meagan’s mandate. Being a full time volunteer with one of Uniterra’s local partners, Meagan has been completely immersed in the Bolivian culture. The indirect communication style, for example, was hard for her to decode at first and sometimes still is. She has however been able to overcome most difficulties through exchanging experiences with other ex-pats and also learned a lot by example. But working in a field she’s passionate about, exchanging and transferring skills with local partner in the workshops she runs, have been extremely positive and empowering for her.
Learn more about Meagan.