Monday, November 30, 2015

Living Leyte People Features: Carolina Rodoli, Aid Worker and Consultant

Carolina Rodoli, 36 
Originally from the Dominican Republic, also lived in New York Position held prior to coming to Leyte: Aid Worker in Haiti/Consultant for other projects

One of the times I spoke with Carolina about ST Haiyan/Yolanda I remember her distinctly stating, “When we saw the pictures in the news, we had to do something, we had to come.” This she said with sincerity and this touched me in such a viscerally. A lot of good can be said when you meet someone whose openness is palpable from the outset and it's an added bonus when that person also turns out to be selfless and full of purpose . Carolina fits that bill perfectly and so much more.

LL: Carolina, Can you describe where you come from? 

CR: I come from an island in the Caribbean known as Hispaniola. This island is in fact shared by two countries: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I was born on the Dominican side but can’t help calling the whole island my home, since I’ve lived in Haiti and have a lot of love for that country as well. We are jovial, outspoken people. We love our music, our cuisine, our Caribbean identity. When I was younger I had the opportunity to do sophomore year of high school in New York and an exchange program in Arizona during college. Those were very new scenarios for me, where I had to rely on my confidence and the kindness of people to be able to navigate completely different systems from those in the Dominican Republic. Fortunately there were always communities of Latinos or Caribbean friends I could reach out to. I think they made the transition a lot easier. Eventually I felt ready to let go of that safety net and now I find it quite exciting to throw myself in a completely different culture.

LL: What’s your impression of Tacloban? 

CR: I’m an islander too so a lot of things are very familiar to me. Like the weather and the proximity of the ocean; the chaotic streets and friendly attitude of the people; the fiestas and family-oriented culture. Perhaps the first difference I noticed was that in our island people are generally more blunt, whereas here, they are more careful to voice things out. What I didn’t expect was for Taclobanons to be so warm and thoughtful. That was a really nice surprise. And resilient too, I don’t think I have met people this resilient before. Really. I arrived here in Nov 2014, right before the first anniversary of Yolanda, and it’s remarkable how the city has coped with the aftermath of the typhoon. It’s both powerful and empowering to witness that. 

LL: What pivotal moment made you choose to become a volunteer/aid worker? 
CR: I did my undergraduate studies in Communications, so I was first a journalist. While working on a story about the challenges of an immigrant family in the Dominican Republic, I realized I had become very attached to this issue. I started doing volunteer work on the side for projects advocating and bringing services to these communities. Cut to present tense, and after a master’s in Project Management and some studies/work in Development and Human Rights, I am now an aid worker. It was a shift in my career path but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

LL: Why did you choose to be a volunteer and aid worker in our place? 

CR: Well my husband came here first. He is with CRS (Catholic Relief Services) as a Shelter & Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Specialist. I came to accompany him and decided to try consultancy in the mean time. Sometimes remunerated, sometimes pro bono, it didn’t matter much to me because I just wanted to be useful however I could. This year I have done strategy development, grant writing, project assessment, and through these experiences I have met truly amazing people doing meaningful work: from NGO’s such as Street Light dealing with child protection, to volunteered-based initiatives like All Hands that builds homes, schools and public space projects in the barangays. Their contribution might be small compared to larger scale projects but their work is definitely significant to the people they are reaching out to. Doing consultancy work like developing communication strategies requires for you to know the people in the community in order for the project to be effective in implementation.

LL: How do you go about with this one? 

CR: Although there are Best Practices in different fields that are used as references internationally, I always try to work with the local people too. As an outsider I cannot impose my views upon them. It is important that as aid workers we internalize that whatever has worked on one project in another country, will not necessarily work here.

LL: Have your experiences here affected or changed you as a person? And do you think that your experience here will be useful for you in the future? 

CR: Because of the nature of the work, I have been exposed to several communities facing challenging situations. I can honestly say though that I have been inspired by the Taclobanons, who face adversity with faith and sense of humor. People here are fighters! Like Pacqiuao, they go on fighting. It may sound like the biggest cliché but it’s true.

LL: Are you an activist or an advocate?  

CR: I am more of an activist, since my work has been just as intentional but more action-oriented and less vocal than the typical advocate. Everyone with a sense of right who sees injustice and does something to change it is really an activist, in the most fundamental sense of the word.

LL: Given all that has happened in the world, the news we see, the political and religious wars between countries, there’s terrorism and the natural disasters which we cannot control. Do you really feel there is hope for the future of our planet? 

CR: Sometimes I worry about the future of humanity. Nature can and will go on, with or without us. But I also feel that losing hope is the basis for failure. History has taught us what we are capable of achieving so I prefer to have confidence in our resilience, in our resourcefulness, in our ability to use science for the collective good, and above all I am confident of our capacity to mobilize for change. We are bombarded with bad news every day and it might make us believe human nature is generally hostile, but there is so much positive that goes unnoticed.

LL: Given an opportunity to resolve one disaster or conflict going on in the world right now, which one would you take a gander at? 

CR: There is a lot going on in the current time, but I think education is a very powerful tool I would always support. Especially because I feel it is the lack of it what’s causing most of these conflicts or preventing us to manage them appropriately. This generation is overexposed to information but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we know more. If every kid in every corner of the world had access to quality education, I think there would be hope for the next generation. I am not talking about formal education alone, but something more comprehensive, something that really stimulates all aspects of our humanity (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and ethical). The things I want to happen are more abstract and more about change in behavior.

LL: Can you still find time for your personal life given your very busy life as an aid worker of an NGO in the field? 

CR: Yes, I’d say so. At the moment my schedule goes from very busy days to periods of no work. It has not always been the case so I am enjoying it while I can. 

LL: What’s next for you? 
CR: We are in the process of figuring that out.

LL: I have 7 one-word-answer questions I want to ask you, you must choose one answer between the 2 choices and you are not allowed to explain why. Shall we have a go at it? CR: Alright.. 

Moon or Sun? Sun
Monochrome or Colored? Colored
Flats or Heels : Flats
Paris or Tuscany? Paris
Beach or Shopping? Beach!
Coffee or Tea: Tea
Eagle or Dolphin: Dolphin 

Bonus: Star Trek or Star Wars: Star Trek

As Carolina walks out of the café, I am also inspired by her presence in our island town because we are all recipients of her benevolence. Her cheerfulness is infectious and everyone she comes in touch with is blessed for it.

Carolina, from all of us: Thank you. 

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