Volunteer in Bolivia at FUJEBO.
“Fundación Jessika Borda” (FUJEBO) was created in January 2004 to offer help to victims of violent crime in the Santa Cruz area. The Foundation is named in homage to Rhea’s beautiful and altruistic daughter Jessika, whose life was taken brutally in a carjacking the previous November.
Jessika was a vegetarian (unusual here in Bolivia), defender of animals, defender of those unjustly treated, and was adamantly against any type of social discrimination.
After her daughter’s death, Rhea discovered some of Jessika’s other altruistic ventures, including helping an association for disabled children in Warnes [a town just outside of Santa Cruz city]. They later changed their name to “Institución Jessika Borda” in her memory.
On another occasion Rhea was driving in the city when she was approached at a traffic light by a vagrant. He had seen the “FUJEBO” car sticker and was wondering if the driver was Jessika’s mom. He was a drug addict, one of the many who live in the dry canals around the city. He told Rhea that Jessika had spent an afternoon with them, feeding and watering them and trying to convince them that they did have an alternative – they could change their lives if they wanted to. He was able to describe Jessika perfectly and Rhea had no doubt he was telling her the truth. The faith that Jessika showed in him by wanting to spend time with them (they could easily have attacked her) was so convincing that he promised Jessika he would one day turn his life around. He repeated this promise to Rhea.
The creation of the Foundation
In a time of worry about rising crime levels (there had been a spree of assaults on taxi drivers), Santa Cruz was shaken to the core. Criminals were now shooting to kill.
This grieving mother was inundated with visitors at her house, wondering what could be done to help. There was even a march (with 14,000 attendees), but to Rhea this amounted to speeches.
Rhea had seen first-hand that no support at all was offered to victims. No-one told her that SHE needed a lawyer and that if a case was not presented on her behalf, the suspects could walk free due to legal technicalities. The Human Rights representative in Santa Cruz took 10 days after the death of her daughter to call her and then, only a message was left.
Rhea is educated, financially independent and an immensely strong person. Even during the terrible first weeks after Jessika’s death she was thinking about other people. She thought about other families suffering similar tragedies but who did not have her resources and capabilities to aid them in the fight for justice.
The work of FUJEBO
In Bolivia, despite the fact that filing a crime report is officially free of charge, it is known by the population in general that you are requested to “cooperate” with 25Bs (around US$3.50) to do so. To some people this may represent over half their daily earnings and they just do not have the funds to do it. Furthermore, the victim (or victim’s family, in the case of a murder victim) needs a lawyer, who of course needs to be paid. There are also fees for filing court papers. Most people have no idea what a legal process involves and there was just no place to go for information or orientation. Many fear retaliation and threats of revenge.
FUJEBO meets these costs if the victim and their family are not able to do so. They will also provide money for transport to attend all hearings required during due legal process.
Psychological help is available to the victim and their family. Spiritual help can also be arranged; however, it is important to note that the Foundation’s services are available to people of any faith as well as those of none.
FUJEBO only has resources to help victims of the most heinous crimes: some examples are murders, rapes and perhaps robberies where the victim has been physically injured.
The Foundation is preparing to donate a Gesell Chamber for Children’s Social Services here in Santa Cruz. A Gesell Chamber is broadly two rooms, one of which is lined with a one-way mirror. Inside this room a minor, victim of sexual assault, can tell the authorities what happened to them, and this will be recorded. They are provided with an environment of dignity, free of intimidation and re-victimizing themselves as they recall and repeat the experience many times during the process, many times in front of the accused perpetrator. Crucially, this means the victim will only have to tell their story once as the interview tape will be admissible in court. This project has been named by FUJEBO as the “Donation for Dignity” and will be inaugurated very soon (June, 2011).
In terms of crime prevention, the Foundation also holds workshops in schools, and also to adults at the invitation of employers and other organizations. They try to educate people on what they can do to minimize their chances of becoming a victim of crime. Promoting public awareness reduces vulnerability. It doesn’t reduce crime rates, but helps protect the law abiding citizen.
The Foundation also considers itself a link between elected-public officials and the voting public. As in all countries, politicians here may “forget” their election promises of street-lighting and better maintained neighbourhoods if there is no-one to “remind” them.
Every year in March FUJEBO co-ordinates “Non Violence” day in which citizens of Santa Cruz are encouraged to take part in a walk, wearing white clothing, demonstrating their pacific and graphic desire for a safer city.
The Foundation needs approximately US$5,000 per month just to stay afloat. Many institutions, private enterprises and individual citizens have contributed over the 7 years that FUJEBO exists. FUJEBO has managed to secure funding recently from VIVA (Bolivian mobile telecoms company), Aerosur (Bolivian airline), Ferroviaria Oriental SA (train company) as well as the Santa Cruz Governor’s Office. However, these monies are given for specific projects. In terms of donations, commitments to regular giving or promises to cover specific expenses (ex. the telephone bill) are helpful as it allows the foundation to make financial plans. However, donations of all size are welcome. To Rhea, perhaps the most meaningful donation received so far was one of 16Bs (just over US$2). This was put directly in her hand by a young girl in a provincial village. Rhea knew that this was all the money this little girl had; no institution or person ever donates all they possess.
The Foundation is a legally established not-for-profit organization and publishes financial accounts; this mainly to ensure transparency and credibility necessary in this type of organization.
About Rhea Borda
Born and raised in the USA, Rhea has spent most of her adult life in Bolivia and identifies very strongly with the Cruceño people. Such is her integration into Santa Cruz that it sometimes seems that Spanish is now her first language. She is not only bilingual, but bicultural, as well.
At the time of Jessika’s death, Rhea was Consular Agent for the US Government, having previously enjoyed a successful career in public, private and international enterprises, mostly in the oil & gas industry. Her high-profile role meant that this tragedy was picked up by Reuters, AP, CNN; all the friends and contacts that Rhea had made in her previous roles heard this sad news by way of a newsflash.
Rhea still holds a demanding job but combines this with a hands-on role in FUJEBO.
Rhea says that the Foundation is particularly popular and well-received in the provinces (where people tend to be poorer and thus in greater need of the Foundation’s help with cases and information on crime prevention). I have seen first-hand the love and esteem that urban Santa Cruz has for Rhea and the Foundation. They might not know her face but they certainly know her name and when they find out she is in their presence they all want to shake her hand and thank her.
Coca Cola (arguably the world’s strongest brand), wanted her name mentioned in the same sentence as their business and asked her to speak at their 125th anniversary celebration here in Santa Cruz (see below).
Volunteering for FUJEBO
Volunteers are essential to non-profit organizations – indeed there are only 4 people on the payroll of FUJEBO (of which 2 are lawyers). The Foundation has yet to receive a volunteer from abroad but Rhea would love for this to happen.
Due to the nature of the duties involved, any volunteer in Santa Cruz dealing with members of the public would need to speak fluent Spanish. If you are a qualified psychologist or therapist or have other skills you believe could be useful and a period of time to commit to Santa Cruz, please get in touch with FUJEBO via the contact form. Even driving services for errands are appreciated, as taxis are expensive.
If this isn’t you, that doesn’t mean you can’t help. Maybe you fall into one of the following categories:
- volunteers abroad who can help you with forming alliances/ partnerships with other similar organizations
- those who can help with overseas fundraising
- people abroad who would like to make a cash donation
- people already in Bolivia (or who are coming) and would like to make a cash donation
- people who are visiting Bolivia soon and have space in their suitcase to bring something which can be secured more cheaply in their home country ex., refurbished computer equipment, new printer inks etc
- people who are living in or visiting Bolivia and would like to give physical goods rather than cash ex, reams of paper, boxes of pens, cleaning equipment, other office supplies
- anything else you can think of!
View the FUJEBO website at www.fujebo.org or use the secure contact form here to Volunteer in Bolivia at FUJEBO.
A reason to believe in a better world
What is your reason to believe in a better world?"
Rhea Borda was asked by Coca Cola to speak at their 125th anniversary celebration in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. She was chosen as someone who values life, who has struggled in the past, and who has contributed to society. As Rhea prepared to take the podium to speak, she herself was introduced as "a reason to believe in a better world"
The following are exerpts from interviews conducted with two long-serving volunteers of FUJEBO. (Photo: Jessika Borda)
Interviews (translated from Spanish) with FUJEBO volunteers Katherine L, aged 33, and Karina G, aged 31
What are your duties and responsibilities as a volunteer at FUJEBO?
Katherine L: I help with activities that the Foundation organizes or participates in. My particular area is seeing what needs to be done next with the legal paperwork for cases.
Karina G: I am a psychologist. I am in charge of the FUJEBO psychology and education committees, I attend to victims, I conduct various workshops on crime prevention. I direct, prepare and co-ordinate the volunteers of both committees.
How long have you been working as a volunteer with FUJEBO?
KL: 7 years
KG: Since inception in 2004 [7 years]
Are any special skills required for your volunteer position?
KL: Actually you do not need special skills [for this role], what you need is eagerness to help. You need to sacrifice a little of your time usually devoted to rest or leisure in order to return a little of everything that life has given you.
KG: In the case of my position as the chair of the psychological committee, I needed my qualifications as a psychologist in order to support both my work and that of my peers. But to work within our committees you only need a sense of responsibility and desire to work, to help others, to have charisma and above all to have a lot of empathy in order to work with victims.
What motivated you to volunteer? For example, there was a specific event in your life that prompted this?
KL: Volunteering is something I’ve done since I was a child. My parents are very caring people and are always working for social causes in our native Montero [town outside of Santa Cruz city] so it was very natural for me to go to the Foundation and offer my help. Help there is always appreciated.
KG: No, there was no specific event. I always liked this kind of work, helping other people. It is very rewarding on a personal level to help others. All the work we do is needed. I'm proud to know that I am doing something useful and I can put my knowledge to good use.
Had you volunteered before FUJEBO?
KL: Since childhood, I helped and participated alongside my mum in various voluntary activities with the Rotary Club of Montero and the Fraternity of Hugo Mendez Leigue.
KG: Yes, I've always done different activities within the voluntary sector, ex., with a group of friends we undertake the “Caravan Esperanza” [Caravan of Hope]. This operates over the holiday season by distributing toys, visiting cancer wards, etc.
What were you hoping to gain (if anything) by volunteering?
KL: All human beings experience good things and bad things. When something bad happens we tend to dwell on it, as if the world would we finish - we are naturally selfish beings. If we look around we see that there are simple things we can do to help others, people who actually suffered terrible things in their lives. The thanks that you get after helping, that smile, that hug that comes from the heart, that feeling that you know you're doing something good for society - it is invaluable. That's what I was looking for and I found it.
KG: Being able to give something to the community makes me grow and feel good as a person. Other than that I am improving my skills and always learning new things.
How did you hear about the organization FUJEBO?
KL: I had known Jessika Borda since we were children. So after the terrible event that led to the creation of the Foundation, I decided to approach FUJEBO to see if I could help. That is how I joined the FUJEBO family.
KG: From the television and the news I knew of the institution and then received an invitation from Ms. Rhea Borda to join its team.
Could you describe a typical day as a volunteer? How many days you volunteer in a month?
KL: Now I am on the board, which meets once a month. My other tasks do not have regular days or hours, you can give your time as you want. It is on a day-to-day basis that I find out the things that need doing, but they do not take me all day. The Foundation knows that they can count on me and that I will be there when they need me.
KG: Well, I have different days, once a month we meet with volunteers from the psychological and educational committees to coordinate our activities throughout the month and work on different cases. The other days I am required to give different psychological therapies to our cases. Each receives therapy at least once a week, sometimes twice a week. In schools we also do workshops known as "My Personal Safety Plan". This takes us half an hour per class. And some Saturdays we participate in various community events such as fairs. We also give workshops as requested by groups, businesses and organizations.
Have you met other volunteers from FUJEBO? Have you made good friends?
KL: You meet lots of people – I’ve met all different types of people and there are people who are very valuable to the Foundation as volunteers and who have also earned a place in my heart for all the work they do.
KG: Within FUJEBO are like one big family where we are all sowing the seeds and reaping very nice friendships.
Do you feel you are doing something useful?
KL: I am totally sure that I am doing something useful. I am not trying to change the world, but I know I'm doing my part to make each day better for future generations.
KG: I am very happy - it is very gratifying to know that through our work we are helping a lot of other people and doing our bit for society.
What have you learned or gained from this experience?
KL: I’ve learned so much. I’ve met many people and I helped all I could. The Foundation is definitely one of the things that has made me grow as a person.
KG: A great deal of knowledge, lots of experience and countless friendships.
Do you have a special memory of FUJEBO you can share with us?
KL: In the first meetings of the Foundation, when we used to meet once a week, people had to stand and we were all huddled together. Everyone wanted to participate and help, but slowly people saw that the work was hard. Now there are not so many of us but we have a strong desire to battle and help.
KG: The best memory is the ability to help victims, which we do day after day. You see them when they first arrive, often anguished and perhaps crying. But they leave us with a different face and that is something I carry in my heart and it gives me more strength to keep going. The faces of the children in the workshops - they feel like someone is taking notice of them and they have someone to talk to and explain their problems. Actually every day brings new life experiences...
What is your favorite thing about volunteering with FUJEBO?
KL: Just know that you're working to make your society better, somehow helping to mitigate the crime plaguing us. We open the doors for those who have been victims of atrocities and who hunger for justice.
KG: Helping the victims at the time they need it most and giving to society.
And least favorite?
KL: When you take on a commitment, you can’t be displeased by it. Nobody forces you to be a volunteer. If you dislike something you move away or retire from it. I feel very comfortable with the work I do at the Foundation.
KG: When we find very difficult to get justice - it's like our hands are being tied and I get frustrated.
What would you say to someone who is reading this in another country and is thinking about volunteering for FUJEBO but not sure? Do you have a message for them?
KL: To volunteer with FUJEBO, you just need to want in your heart to do it, to desire to leave something better for your children. If you do not have that, do not even try. My message would be that if you come forward, there will be lots for you to do, many projects to take forward. For lack of financial resources or people involved, sometimes things have to stay in the filing cabinet at the moment. Nothing else will give you the satisfaction that you will receive from being a volunteer. That is what is missing from the life of each person who is searching to find true happiness.
KG: To give is the nicest thing that we can do. To see that we are useful and can each play our part is the greatest thing that has happened to me. By each contributing his/her grain of sand to this work we’ll be able to make a difference. Above all, we work for justice and aim at reducing to a minimum the amount of victims of crime in our society.
If you accessed this article from our June 2011 Ezine click here.