Normally, he commutes between Berlin and Leverkusen. But last year, Bayer employee Tobias Ludwig participated in the Bayer People Care For Society program run by the Bayer Cares Foundation and spent three months in Bolivia. There he worked at the Hogar de Niños Santa Cruz children’s home and helped the youngsters plant a garden. It proved to be a very special experience for the management consultant.
Tobias Ludwig never felt so out of place as he did when he arrived in Bolivia, in the midst of chaos, surrounded by people, noise, sellers, honking cars, heat, dust and dirty streets. He of all people, the clean-cut management consultant in suit and tie? Is he really supposed to live and work here for the next three months?
The newcomer sighed, shouldered his backpack and made his way to the Hogar de Niños Santa Cruz children's home, unaware that he would pass this very spot three months later on the way home – in jeans and a T-shirt, with a farewell letter in his bag.
I wanted to go abroad to expand my horizons – and contribute to society at the same time.
A few months prior to his arrival in Bolivia, the 32 year-old had applied to the Bayer People Care For Society program run by the Bayer Cares Foundation, which enables employees to support various social and health care projects around the world. “By going abroad, I wanted not only to expand my horizons but also manage my own project and improve on my management skills,” he explains. “At the same time, I was able to contribute my knowledge and skill for the benefit of others and to help where it really matters.”
Ludwig flew to Bolivia on an assignment: to plant a garden for the Hogar de Niños Santa Cruz children's home. He also took care of the PR work for a training program at the children's home. Until then, the management consultant had never had anything to do with Bolivia. “When I arrived, I first had to get over the culture shock,” he relates. “The living conditions are at a much lower level and I was very moved by the fates of the children in the home.”
The children's home is a large, yellow building in Santa Cruz, run by Amigonian Friars, and home to 85 boys aged from six to 18. “Most are from broken homes, in which alcohol and poverty were the determining factors,” says Ludwig. “Many of the children were totally neglected and living on the streets until the friars found them.”
The order of the Amigonian Friars was founded in 1889 by the Capuchin friar Luis Amigó. The friars are active worldwide, running schools, children's homes and various projects for street children.
Tobias Ludwig moved into a small room inside the home and was accepted right from the outset. The serious biochemist suddenly found himself wearing sandals and sporting a scruffy beard, and surrounded at all times by a crowd of children. And what surprised him most: he loved it! “I spent a great deal of time playing with the children, helping them with homework and teaching them yoga,” he says. “In the time that was left I planned the garden project.”
Ludwig's assignment was to transform a small plot of land into a blooming fruit and vegetable garden with the help of colleagues from Bayer Bolivia and naturally the children themselves. “What sounds so simple was really a complex task,” Ludwig says. It took a lot of patience and perseverance to motivate the children to stay with the project over a long period. “You have to explain to them precisely what they need to do – and why,” he says. “I learned a lot in those three months about how to manage people.”
And Tobias Ludwig succeeded: after three months of hard work - digging ditches, planting, fertilizing and watering - fruit and vegetables began to grow in the new garden, and many of the children stuck it out to the very end. Even 13-year-old Jonathan, the home's “problem child.” The withdrawn outsider grew to trust Tobias Ludwig, and soon never left his side.
The two became friends, and saying goodbye was hard: The 13 year-old gave the German visitor a very personal farewell letter. “I decided then to become the boy's sponsor.” Since returning to Berlin, he provides financial support for Jonathan and stays in contact as much as possible via Facebook and e-mail.
Back in the cool weather of Germany, Tobias Ludwig sees a lot of things differently. “Bolivia was a learning experience for me both professionally and personally,” he says. “Our problems here seem so trivial to me now compared with the life stories of many of the people I met there.”
Ludwig also plans to see Jonathan again very soon: he has applied for a sabbatical and wants to tour South America, and naturally to stop by the children's home on his way. “This place and the people here hold a lot of memories for me.” But there is one thing he learned above all: helping other people can be a source of happiness.