Adriana Ospina from Colombia was a Progressio development worker in El Salvador from November 2006 to July 2009, with Flor de Piedra.

What have you done since leaving Progressio and what are you currently doing?

When I finished my time as a development worker in El Salvador, I returned to Colombia where I stayed for a few months finishing my teacher training. I then began a year-long journey around the whole of South America doing community workshops and working in universities on the subject of recovering collective memory; one of the many issues that El Salvador has shown and taught me about.

For the past two years, I have been a university lecturer, I also work as a consultant on community processes for the recovery of collective memory through theatre, in the context of armed conflict in Colombia.

Please describe your role and the partner organisation that you worked with as a Progressio development worker.

I worked on public policy supporting sex workers with Flor de Piedra, and more specifically with the Organisation of Sex Workers, whom they work closely with. My main role was to strengthen the sex workers’ advocacy strategies, helping them to organise, and strengthen their leadership and collective action.

What inspired you to become a development worker?

The idea of a model of cooperation that is built upon everyday contact with the people; a partnership that is based on the exchange of knowledge and is not limited to funding that doesn’t change reality or generate networks of solidarity.

What struck you most about Progressio’s development worker model?

The opportunity to build strategies with the partner organisation along the way; the flexibility and freedom of creating strategies through agreement according to what people need and what the context demands.

What did you enjoy most about your role, and of your experience as a development worker?

Daily life with the women who undertake sex work in El Salvador; learning about their day-to-day lives and discovering theatre together as a means for empowerment and advocacy.

What were some of your main achievements while working as a development worker?

Completing a study on the economic abuse of women in El Salvador in a team with other female development workers.

Listening to and later writing some of the stories of the women I worked with.

And what were some of the key challenges and lessons learnt?

Interpersonal conflicts within the organisation caused some distrust on a personal and professional level. Understanding that power struggles between women are a mechanism of the patriarchal system, and the relationship between everyday violence and the historical context of socio-political violence in El Salvador, allowed me to learn to listen and assume a position of ‘neutrality’ during my two and a half years’ placement.

Did this experience change you as a person in any way?

Yes definitely. I learned that a true model of cooperation is one that is built day by day with people from the real opportunities offered in that context, and that is based on equal, two-way knowledge sharing. I also learned that solidarity doesn’t consist of ‘teaching’ or imparting strategies on others who we assume ‘don’t know’, but in building strategies shoulder to shoulder with those who know what they need in order to transform their reality.

Did your experience as a development worker influence your career/future direction, and help you to get to where you are today?

Yes. It has been very valuable in my current job as a university lecturer.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?

I would encourage anyone who wants to grow, as a person and professionally, to have the experience of sharing academic, technical and, above all, life knowledge with other people in other countries, and to not hesitate in applying to be a Progressio development worker. It’s an experience that you will carry with you always.