“I wonder why we’re always demanding and not doing anything for our society. For example, there's a fire and you say ‘It’s burning’, but what are you doing to prevent wildfires in your city or your country? What are you doing? You have to do something and that change comes from yourself.” Said, Luciana Veizaga a firefighter volunteer of GEOS Bolivia.
In July of 2014, five friends (Carlos Azcarraga, Emilen Chavarria, Roger Aspeti, Fatima López & Fernando Álvarez) decided to create Firefighter Volunteers GEOS Bolivia in order to help Bolivian people from natural disasters and to support humanitarian causes. They continue growing since then.
How did they start and how do they continue?
“About funding we supported ourselves, giving part of our salary to keep this going.” Said Carlos Azcárraga, National Coordinator of GEOS Bolivia. Nowadays they organize cultural events and activities aimed towards collecting funds. Most of these activities involve volunteers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, musical artists, etc.
Monthly, volunteers make an economic contribution of 20 Bs (3 dollars approximately) to sustain GEOS Bolivia. Third party institutions aid them through financial donations, firefighter tools and food. GEOS Bolivia goes above and beyond in order to generate funding for the acquisition of their equipment.
“We stand next to the traffic lights and ask for economic contribution. Obviously we always try to give something in return like stickers or presentation cards with our numbers… in case of someone needs us, we’re going to be there.” Pablo Garnica, National officer of operations of GEOS Bolivia
Do you want to join them?
Nonprofit institutions in general not only need fundraising, but also need people. In 2014, they visited universities and academic institutions in order to recruit volunteers. Social networks like WhatsApp helped them get corresponding feedback.
Most of their publications address their social labour. Some of them show the firefighting process, lives being rescued and their fundraising events. This helps people get interested in firefighter volunteering and encourages them to apply to this program.
One of the reasons that the GEOS family grows is due to an inclusive mindset within the organization: “We don’t discriminate against anyone. We respect every ideology and we’re happy because that allows us to be diverse, to have better harmony and work as a team.” Said Carlos Azcárraga, National coordinator of GEOS Bolivia.
In these seven years, more than one hundred fifty firefighter volunteers joined GEOS Bolivia. They're specialized in attending fire emergencies, accidents and how to save lives. But all the volunteers need to train to make possible that.
They train for call to action!
Being a firefighter volunteer requires mental and physical effort for an emergency. “As firefighter volunteers, we enter into what is called high-risk volunteering. And all we know that our lives, our physical well-being, is compromised.” said Mr. Garnica, National officer of operations of GEOS Bolivia
The process of a firefighter training is about three areas: fire and rescue, life support, and technology innovation. The last one uses technological tools to make rescue operations easier. Volunteer instruction takes up to six months. After that, people can continue their training but at higher levels for four years to become an official firefighter volunteer. When an emergency happens, a group goes to solve the issue. In those situations, they must work as a team.
“I’ve always said that teamwork is the most efficient way of doing something. I think that in an emergency or within the group, we are one. There is no weak element… And I think that if we all go to the top, [in a forest fire] we all go down. [come back] So… my way of encouraging the one who comes after me is to convey the feeling that one can follow. [in reference at the longest distance from the fire]” A firefighter volunteer, Emilen Chavarria, quote taken from “Bitácora de vida” event.
With those actions, volunteers use their abilities in order to prevent losses even though they put their lives at risk.
How do they make a social impact?
Some volunteers join GEOS Bolivia to help animals, or to know what to do in accidents or emergencies. They usually receive multiple reactions to their volunteering work.
“Some [volunteers] clash with their relatives. ‘what are you going for’, ‘You waste your time’, ‘They don’t pay you’. It is confronting with your family, friends. You no longer have available time that you used to have…” said David Rojas, firefighter volunteer of GEOS Bolivia.
This nonprofit institution is still receiving postulations as well as help from external people. After seven years of selfless work, GEOS Bolivia wants to create a volunteering community that generates volunteers for life, not just for a while.
“The person who enters GEOS, is a person that not only serves you when he is in his uniform but also when he is a civilian walking the street. He’ll have the same impetus and desire to serve whenever someone needs it no matter if it’s a person, animal, or plant. They are agents of change within our society” said Mr. Garnica, National officer of operations of GEOS Bolivia.
All the experiences they have, show their enthusiasm for helping others. Emergency cases come at any time and they need to be prepared to take action, being a perpetual example for others.
How can you support them?
In Cochabamba, Bolivia there are nonprofit institutions with the same objectives as GEOS Bolivia. If you want to help them, you can make your contribution in the contact link below:
GEOS Bolivia [Cochabamba]
Contact number: +591 60777577
Contact number: +591 62629999
Contact number: +591 78187734
People of GEOS Bolivia, as well as other firefighters’ nonprofit institutions, decided to take action in the shoes of a firefighter volunteer. Despite all the risks that involve going to an emergency, they go anyway because it is their way of making a change.
Every volunteering requires time, effort, and commitment, but if you want to do something for society, just do it. Because you don’t know who may need you.