Andrea Paltzer didn't really escape city life, she avoided it by moving straight to Latin America after university to work with NGOs as a project coordinator in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. She is now back in London (partly in the city) - as a consultant for the UN World Food Programme and as director of the charity she founded; the Earth Education project.
If you are looking for a break and some inspiration you can intern with EEP in London or Nicaragua - we are looking for volunteers for 2013. Sadly we can't pay you but we can share with you what we do. And I am happy to speak with others looking to start similar projects.
The Earth Education Project (EEP) is a vocational skill training workshop in La Chuerca, the largest rubbish dump in Central America, Nicaragua. We teach women to recycle scrap paper by hand to produce one-off works of art on greetings cards, notebooks and gift bags.
For participating in the workshop women receive an economic learning stipend which they use to feed and support their families. They also receive social, nutritional and school education as a compulsory part of the workshops' structure and philosophy.
My role as founder is all about fundraising, getting support for what we do, finding clients for the products the women make, creating monthly plans for the workshop, evaluating our programmes and liaising with our NGO partners and of course good old social media updates. I travel to Nicaragua twice a year.
Sadly this does not pay my bills so I moonlight as a consultant for the UN World food progarmme; raising awareness about Hunger.
I worked as a programme coordinator in Costa Rica for the Cloud Forest School and as Project Coordinator for SchoolBOX in Nicaragua.
A visit to La Chureca in 2008. I had been a few times but this visit was different; I knew some of the children living on the dump by then and had developed a relationship with a few of the community members.
I left that day feeling like I could no longer just pass by but needed to find a solution, an opportunity, for them to change their lives themselves.
I started to volunteer in my spare time with the local education centre (Juntos Contigo) to get to know the community better and after 9 months I came up with the idea of a paper workshop.
I designed a survey and spent 6 months canvassing the community speaking to them about the idea of the workshop, what they felt they needed as assistance in their community and gauging what their educational levels were and finally devising a pilot workshop scheme which I then approached the education centre with; to set up the workshop in their centre as a trial. It was successful.
I decided that to make it a sustainable entity so that it can benefit numerous people we needed to register as a charity and create support and awareness around what we were doing.
The worst bit was not knowing anything about how to register a charity in the UK, where to start looking for funding, explaining where Nicaragua was to many many people, and sometimes feeling like I was the only one who cared.
The best bit was how many people have helped by donating their skills: lawyers, accountants, friends and family to help make this happen. The women have changed - they have a better life because of EEP - they are empowered, all can read and write now, they have a job, they are proud of what they do and all their children go to school.
If you have a passion go for it and follow your heart.
But you need to stay objective. Most projects fail because the leadership is not willing to change or see that there are better ways to providing a solution. It's hard to stay objective when it's your 'baby' but you need to relinquish control and surround yourself with a good team.
Make sure to bounce your ideas off people, canvas the market before you launch a product or start a development project. If there is no need or demand for it there is no point in forcing it.
Also get good with numbers!
The Charity Commission website.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
MANY a fundraising book - currently I am reading Joan Flanagans 'Successful Fundraising'.
But do not underestimate the opinions of those around you and the community where you are working.