Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One month to go.

Since my last update I’ve been in my site, Tomas, running around like a madman doing a variety of environmental work, doing Peace Corps required reports and documents, and getting things ready to my replacement PCV. Throughout all this I’m making sure to leave time to enjoy a lunch with friends, visit some “relatives”, and celebrate my town’s 77th anniversary. Let me tell you a little about it.

Work recently has been going very well. We’ve made a few minor adjustments to our waste collection system, including acquiring and painting 6 cylinders (or trash cans, as we might say in English) to place in various places around Tomas which seems to be helping keep the streets a little cleaner. I’ve been coordinating things with my students who participating in the provincial science fair, where we won first prize, and are now headed to the entire Lima Region contest on the 29th of October. I’m really proud of my students who’ve learned a lot and put in many hours of work to be able to go to this science fair.

Then comes my town’s anniversary party. The 16th marked the 77th anniversary of the political creation of my town. We celebrated by having a traditional dance contest, soccer and volleyball tournaments, lots of food and a dance. This year, I participated in both the soccer tournament and the traditional dances. My group, which did a Peruvian costal dance about the harvest of sugar cane, won second prize. Below are a few pictures! My soccer team got third.

During the opening ceremony of the anniversary party, I was honored for the work I’ve done in Tomas. I was invited to sit with the Mayor and Governor of my town, and a teacher gave a short speech about the work I’ve done and the affect I’ve had on Tomas. I also gave a short speech, thanking my town for being so accepting and teaching me so much, and every gave a long applause as I sat down. It was very reassuring of the success I feel I’ve had in Tomas. It almost brought me to tears, feeling so supported and wanted by such a small, close knit community.

Right now I’m in Lima to give a training session to the environment trainees about pasture management and municipal waste management. I’m excited to meet the new group, and especially to make some guesses as to who is going to be my replacement in Tomas. I’ll let you know how things work out.

That is all for now. I’ll be home soon!



Secondary school students, who against their will a helping out.

Students collecting trash during the post-anniversary cleanup.

The environmental committee members dancing in the landfill to compact the trash, who knew trash could be so much fun?

The first half of the garbage we collected in a post-party cleanup campaign.

What anniversary would be complete without each community entity marching? This is my environmental committee. Nice vests, huh?

The winning traditional dance, performing at the anniversary opening ceremony.

My host family and I after the dances, my sister did a different dance.

This is what my hair looked like after a long weekend of working in with animals. No hair gel, just Jared's all natural styling product.

An uncontrolled pasture burn, degrading and eroding andean soils!

The finished World Map, the photo of all those who helped!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nearing the end.

Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around a while, you might miss it. –Ferris Bueller. That quote pretty much sums up how I feel about the last two years. Sunday marked two years for me in Peru, and since September 2008 I’ve been on quite a wild ride. I’ve recently taken some time to reflect on my past two years with all the other PCVs who are part of my same training group, Peru 12.

September 2nd and 3rd, just two days after a fun vacation with Elizabeth and Tippy (Tippy might not agree so much about the fun part), I attended my Close of Service, or COS, conference. The COS conference was two days in Lima with the 38 PCVs out of the original 47 people that have made it through their service. Peru has one of the highest PCV retention rates in the world, and losing 9 people might seem like a lot but it’s actually pretty good, considering the hardships of being a PCV. All nine people who left did so during the first year in Peru.

COS was a nice recap of what we’ve accomplished as a group, it was full of information about what we have to do to actually leave Peru, and there were helpful hints about writing résumés and getting jobs once we get home. I was expecting a much more emotional event, as it was the last time that we will be together as a group and most likely the last time I’ll ever see some of the people who I started Peace Corps with, but I guess we’ve all become immune to emotional hardship and the event ended up pretty being tranquil.

So, after two years, what do I think? We’ll that is a great question. Would I do Peace Corps again? 100 % yes. Do I think Peace Corps is a useful and worthwhile use of U.S. Government resources and the time of PCVs? Certainly. As a group, our list of accomplishments is impressive: thousands of trees planted, community and micro landfills built, many people educated, improved sanitation for many, list goes on and on. But that isn’t all.

Upon returning to my community after a ten day vacation and a week in Lima (a long time away from site), I’ve realized the biggest impact I’ve had isn’t the garbage collection system I’ve helped to start or the hundreds of trees we’ve planted, but the relationships that have been developed. That might sound funny, that relationships are worth all that U.S. Govt. investment, but I can attest that that is where the real difference is made.

Some people in my town (usually old people) still don’t know exactly what I “do” as a PCV, but what they do know is that I’m the “environment guy”. In my town people are starting to think about the environment in a new way. They’ve always been dependent on the land here in Tomas, but now a few people’s thoughts are set on maintaining and improving the environmental quality not only for their wellbeing, but also to be responsible citizens of Peru and the world. This environmental consciousness will stay with many of my students, my environmental committee, and a few others long after I leave. That is the most sustainable way to improve the wellbeing of many people, along with the environment here in Peru.

Aside from the work aspect, I’ve developed friendships that I’ll never forget, and I can only hope that they’ll never forget either. This group of friends includes about 100 students ranging from ages 3 to 17, many professors, community members, park guards, and many Tíos and Tías (literally meaning uncles and aunts, but also the generic term a young person uses with elderly people). I won’t forget all the “buenos dias joven Yared” (meaning “good morning young man Jared”) and “hola hijito” (meaning “hi son”, said with care) that I’ve recieved. I have no idea how these friendships will affect the people of Tomas, but I know that these friendships will have more affect on the people than if the U.S. Govt. came in giving donations to the people.

So, I thank all you tax payers for the opportunity to have this wonderful experience and all who have supported me in many ways during my service here in Peru. You helped to affect many lives, in ways that will forever be unknown. To sum this up, when someone asks me, “How was the Peace Corps?” I think my response will be, “It was the toughest, most rewarding friendship that I’ve ever had.”

I’m sure my opinions of Peace Corps will change a little as I actually leave Peru and have a time to process this whole experience. My worldview is a little more jaded than before, although I still have great hope for the people in Tomas and in Peru. But, when I officially end my service on November 24th, 2010, I’ll leave being fulfilled by what I’ve been able to do here and enriched by the relationships I’ve had with my fellow community members, my fellow PCVs, and the country I’ve gotten to know so well, Peru.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Peruvian Independence Day

The month of July is almost over, Peruvian Independence day is here and I only have 4 more months as a PCV.

With only 4 months left, I can happily say that I have visible results (finally!) as a PCV. I guess the first 18 months or so were worth it to be able to have accomplished something worthwhile and important.

I’ve often talked of a Garbage Collection system in Tomas, but now the dream has become a reality. As of July 12, the town of Tomas has trash collection twice a week! Each Monday and Thursday, a worker who is paid by the municipality, passes through the streets from about 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. collecting trash from each house. Some people still throw trash in the river and there are many families that don’t know how to separate their recycables, but the vast majority of the town participates in the trash collection and we’ve kept a LOT of trash out of the river. The worker completes her duties very well, and my environmental committee makes sure that the Micro Landfill is well managed and that no flies or dogs or other vectors are in/around it. It is awesome to say that I’ve been the driving force of this work!

Aside from that, our world map is only one day away from being done (a few minor details to finish), and I’m the foreman of a high school science project that we’re preparing for a national science fair. Life is fun, and life is good.

Even before my service ends in November, I must use my vacation days before September, because during the last 3 months of service I must stay in Tomas. So, in planning to use these days, I recently took a three day trip to climb to a glacier in the department of Junin. The glacier is called Huaytapallana, and it was seen as sacred to the Incas. I went with three other PCVs from the Junin department and we did one day hiking, one day mountain biking, and one day horseback riding. The trip was fun, although it wasn’t nearly as “hard core” as the guide said it would be. The first day was supposed to be 4 hours hiking, but since we PCVs are already well acclimated to altitude and we ourselves are pretty “hard core”, we did the hike in 2 hours. Even though it didn’t meet our expectactions, it was still a fun trip and a great chance to see a dying glacier and know the Andes a little better.

I’m excitedly waiting the arrival of two good friends from the States, Erik Torgerson and Linnea Johnson, who’ll be here next week, and latter on in August the visit of Elizabeth and Tippy. I can happily say that before September I’ll use all my vacation days. Does Peace Corps seem a little like the “Posh Corps”? For the moment, maybe a little, but the vacationing is my last chance to know Peru and we are still advancing well with our environmental work in Tomas. So I look at it this way, these months will be good for the mind, body, and the spirit of a PCV. Travel, experiencing new places and things, and doing my best to make a positive difference in the lives of my community members.

The view from high above my town, pretty much the ceiling of the western hemisphere.

Standing on the Glacier at Huaytapallana.

Jatuncocha, which is Quechua for "big lake" at Huaytapallana.

My seniors in high school working on our research project for the science fair.

Me, sporting the new vest of my environmental committee, with an Alpaca. You know, standard life of a PCV.

Our community Micro Landfill, before being used.

OUr community Micro Landfill, this time in use.

The environmental committee in our new office. It could use a spicing up.

Mountain biking with Lauren, Briana, and Will in front of the glacier at Huaytapallana.

The Under 14 soccer team, after a celebratory trout lunch with our team photo.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Happy Winter Solstice

It has been a long but very productive time since I’ve last written. Life has been moving REALLY fast; it is hard to believe that I only have 5 more months as a PCV and only 5 more months with my town and family that I love here in Peru. Yikes.

The last few months I’ve been focusing on trash management here in Tomas. The biggest thing was to write a project for the annual (and mandatory) municipal participation budget. Every year local municipalities are required by law to spend about %60 percent of their budget on projects that community groups, members or organizations propose, for the benefit of the entire town. This is part of a national government initiative to de-centralize a government that has been run strictly from Lima for a few centuries. So, with my Community natural resource committee, we took advantage and propose the “Trash system implementation and management for the district of Tomas”. Our project was well received by the municipality as a project that generates work for a few community members and gives benefits to all. So, we were awarded the top priority project for 2011, and granted a budget of 92,000 soles, or about $30,000. This is a huge deal, and the PCV that replaces me here in Tomas is going to have a great start by working with this large fund strictly for waste management. It is also a huge development for the community, as they will have a fully funded, complete waste management program, helping public health and the environment.

We’ve also encouraged the municipality to fund the construction of a provisional micro landfill and hire a worker to collect trash twice a week. Constructing the provisional landfill is a great start, although it does not use technical, sanitary techniques such as a ventilation chimney and tubes to extract the liquid wastes. Therefore, it is essentially just a large hole were we’ll bury our garbage. But that is much better that directly throwing trash in the river or burning it. The landfill should be done today (I’ve been given the responsibility to oversee the digging) and on either Thursday or next Monday we’ll begin the collection. I’m terrified that something will go wrong or not work out, but that is part of the learning experience.

In other activities, my under 14-year-old soccer team (that I coach) had a little winning streak. We won the North Yauyos tournament (all local teams) then the Yauyos provincial tournament, against a much larger a better group of teams. Sadly, my boys lost the final in the all department tournament (equivalent to a state tournament), but it was a fun streak nonetheless. It will be nice now that we are done with soccer to get back to some more PC oriented activities, like finishing my world map and getting back to English club. Also, coaching 12, 13, and 14 year olds is often a test of my patience; so not coaching means a little less stress.

Like I said, life is moving really fast. I’m excited to see how much I can get done in my town as far as waste management goes and I’ll be soaking up as much of the Peruvian lifestyle as possible as my time here winds down.

And now, not the most interesting pictures, but something to look at for sure.

My Environmental Committee cleaning up our site for making compost.

Horseback riding, preparing to swim in the glacial fed lake down below.

My buddy Brad on his horse, looking like a pro (but really a first time rider).

Environmental PCVs at an abandoned village in Yauyos.

My U-14 soccer team, taking a march with all the other teams before the tournament started (this is one that we won).

A hike up to Lake Churup in Ancash, which is a glacial lake that we also swam in. This picture with my buddies from Yauyos, Mark and Brad, and Alex from Ancash.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Random things that make my life awesome!

In the month and a half since I’ve last written a few cool things have happened. I’ve met a very important person, made some new things, been called a few new names, learned some interesting things about the Spanish language, and seen things that will make you lose your head (or at least boggle your mind)!

First, my host dad and I started a project that I never would have expected when I started with the PC over 20 months ago. We make yogurt! Seriously, we make a small amount of yogurt each week (usually 10 to 12 liters) that we sell to anyone who comes looking for it. We’ve made pineapple, lucuma (a Peruvian fruit that doesn’t have an English name) and unflavored. We sell it for 3.50 soles per bottle, which after cost of production earns about 2.50 soles. The 2.50 soles per liter of milk profit is great, considering that selling fresh cheese (which we also do) only earns about 1.00 sol per liter of milk. Yogurt takes a little more time, but it is worth it and after only about 3 weeks of production we’ve developed a pretty steady demand. The quality is high and it is all natural. It is a great income generating project. I’ve helped to get the initial materials, my host dad has used great initiative to have a sticker made so our product looks professional, and we’ve done the actual production (which takes about 3 hours of work and 5 hours of incubation) together. It is fun and I enjoy being “paid” in fresh yogurt.

Second, the Reserva Paisajística Nor Yauyos Cochas (RPNYC), the protected area where I live, celebrated its anniversary. To celebrate, the minister of the Ministry of Environment, Antonio Brack Egg (that is his real name) made a visit. The Minister knows about Peace Corps because PC has a contract with Peruvian protected areas, but it was fun to share lunch with him nonetheless. He is in the top 15 in terms of power rank in Peruvian government, so he’s kind of a big deal.

Thirdly, the annual Tomas horse race and duck pull (Jale Pato) happened. The horse race is exactly what it sounds like, people bring teams of 4 horses and there is a round robin style contest of a 300 meter sprint race. It is really fun to watch, the entire town is sitting in the hills watching, there is lots of food for sale, and it ends with the Duck Pull.

This, unfortunately, is also exactly what is sounds like. To decide who is the padrino, or sponsor of the next years race, they pull the head off of a duck. Besides the question of why, you might ask yourself how do you pull the head off of a duck. The answer is simple, tie a duck by a rope between tow large poles, then ride underneath the duck on your horses and pull on the head. If you pull hard enough or after enough tries, someone will eventually get the head. To make things more interesting, many people who were watching the races all day drinking get on horses to have a pull at this event. It is completely chaotic and looks like it could be right out of the wild west, except (thank God) without guns. It is a little cruel, but in the Peruvian highlands certainly not unusual. In many places they are adopting new ways to decide who is the Padrino without killing a duck, but for now it was at least a sight to see for this American.

Besides those things, I’m co-coaching under 14 soccer with the Priest, I’ve been working to keep up the tree nursery, SLOWLY making progress with the municipality to start having municipal trash collection, and I’ve been helping with the harvest, which is back breaking work that started last week. Life is good!

Now, enjoy the view from Peru!

My host brother, Dany, gathering a tuber called Oka during the harvest.

My sunburn from the harvest. I was fully sunscreened, although little did I know that being hunched over for hours could leave a small part of skin exposed...
The cup next to me is fresh aloe, thanks to my neighbor lady.

Yauyos "family" dinner of spaghetti and honey wine. The original 4, Brad, Sarah, Kate and I

After a pole holding the duck fell down, they used the community truck to hold the duck up so the riders could pull its head off.

Sarah, Sasha, Antonio Brack Egg, and Myself at the anniversary of the Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos Cochas.

Proudly holding our yogurt bottles, my host dad and I.

Eating the remains of the yogurt...delicious.

My host dad proudly putting the stickers on our yogurt bottles.

Pasteurizing the milk before making the yogurt. Although it looks sketchy, we practice very good hygiene.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Life has been moving quickly. Trees have been planted, school has started and all the students are back, world map painting has begun, we are making advances in our community landfill project, and many educational activities are being prepared! Overall, life in Tomas is busy and that is a good thing. Apart from my life here, I recently had the experience to work with a group of 16 PCVs and the Connecticut based NGO Builders Beyond Borders. Let me tell you a little more about that experience.

Builders Beyond Borders (B3) is an NGO that runs work-based service trips during spring break for Connecticut high school students. The students raise all the funds, provide most of the materials, and then do much of the labor themselves. The concept is great and is an opportunity for well off students to see different, and much poorer, parts of the world. This year B3 came to Peru. In Peru they coordinated with a 3 different PCVs on the coast to help organize their project. I was asked by the Peace Corps to help during one of these projects, translating, organizing a small work group, and just doing whatever was needed to help things go smoothly. So, last week I worked in the costal department of Ica, helping to build 15 pour flush toilets. Things went well and I learned a lot.

Working with Builders Beyond Borders was a really good experience for me. Not only did I learn a lot about construction, as in laying bricks, installing PVC tubing, building doors and corrugated metal roofs and other basics, but I saw a whole new interaction between Americans and Peruvians.

The interactions between the students and the families were very interesting because the students come in with almost no cultural sensitivity. They wear short shorts, are loud, rarely say good morning or another greeting that is important in Peruvian culture, and they just generally act as they always would without much consideration to the families. Yet despite this lack of cultural sensitivity the families were very excited and happy to have the American students in their town. It wasn’t so much about the bathrooms they received or the materials they brought, although those things were much appreciated. Mostly, the town was really excited about all the excitement that the students brought with their energy. The town had new things to talk about, new people to watch, and everything was different from the daily drone of working in the asparagus fields that surround their town. It made me realize the importance of presence. The presence of the students was more important than the work that they did.

Seeing this gave me a great feeling of pride, knowing that here in Tomas my service is much more than the technical and environmental advances that we are making. In Tomas the people appreciate the improvements, but I think it is my friendship and presence in their lives that makes my time here so important. Knowing that I’m making a difference in so many lives has a large effect on me personally and my perception of service work. Service work is showing people care and love, and that can be done in so many different ways. It can be done with the excitement of a group of high school kids or by developing relationships on a personal level. That difference is certainly worth my time here in Peru.

Now, some pictures to please your eyes!

My work crew at B3.

Some B3 students and our Peruvian bricklayers.

Putting a cement top on a small septic tank. That's not light work.

Building the outhouse.

The welcome parade the evening the students arrived. Pictured is fellow PCV sarah.

A beautiful night for the welcome parade.

A change of subject, some students in Tomas cleaning the wall to paint a world map.

Planting trees in Tomas. Running total for this year: 1473 trees!

Plant with care!

The 3rd annual cleanup campaign in the Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos Cochas, were I live.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rainy Season Fun

These last few weeks since my last update haven’t been overly eventful. It is the rainy season, of course, which completely changes my town’s makeup. Some important things have happened though, and we have made some great advances with some of my main Peace Corps goals.Mostly I’ve had a pretty relaxed last month with time to prepare for school, which officially starts on March 1 (unofficially starts around March 15, thanks to teachers and students that are used to classes starting at the end of March).

The biggest, or most important I should say, thing I’ve done this February is finish our community trash composition study. That sounds exactly like what it is, we studied the type, weight and volume of garbage production per capita in my town of Tomas. With this study done, which entailed going to a select number of houses (or in our case, as many houses as had people in them) and collecting their trash and separating and measuring it, we know what size of micro sanitary landfill to build. It turns out that to build a landfill that will last at least 5 years it will have to be about 25 x 15 x 6 meters in size. This seems really big, but it isn’t too bad considering it is for my town and the town just up the road. Construction starts in April and will be done by June. The next step (besides making sure that the construction happens) is to start educating the people on garbage management in their homes!

Besides that, we’ve been going forward with tree planting. So far, 293 eucalyptus, 30 tara, and 25 queñuales, for a grand total of 348 trees! That may sound like a lot of trees (or maybe only a few?), but I’m still short of my PC goal of 1,000 but much more importantly, our tree nursery still has over 3,000 trees ready to plant this year. I’m not too worried though because March 3 is our big day. We have a community work day, called a faena, which means that all community members have to come and help plant the trees. We won’t plant all 3,000+ trees, but we should make a pretty good dent with over 1,000. That leaves me with about 2,000 trees to go. Yeah…I’ll let you know what happens. I have faith that they’ll make it into the ground. Things here kind of seem to work out, with enough pushing.

Besides my community projects, I’ve been travelling to new parts of my district (called Tomas, which entails my town and lots of surrounding land only accessible on foot) and of my province (called Yauyos, which is kind like the county I live in.). I’ve been to a community called Tupe that has its own language, Jaqaru. Tupe also has its own very unique dress, which they still use today. This community still exists because they have a sling-like leather piece that they used to throw rocks and defend themselves from first the Incas and then the Spanish. That sounds ridiculous, but when you see the pictures of where this place is, you might realize that just getting there is difficult, let alone if someone is hurling rocks at you.

I’ve also confirmed what I already knew regarding the District of Tomas (which you can Wikipedia, “Tomas, Yauyos”), that we have some INCREDIBLE natural surroundings. I’ve seen waterfalls, mountains, and animals that would make most any tourist willing to test their lungs at the high altitude just to see them.

Life is going well but school starting will be a welcomed change from the relaxing, slow paced, quiet life that takes place during the rainy season. And now some pictures…

The mountain called Cajarreal, the Sacred Mountain of my town of Tomas. A very prominent peak.

Some alpacas running from our community truck.
A waterfall that i've never seen before, since it is about a 5 hour walk from my town. Thanks to a community pasture planting event, i was forced (luckily!) to make the journey.

My family's new dog, Oso, and my friend Luis (age 9) in front of some of the newly planted pastures.

A landslide blocking the road up to my community's cow farm. Some heavy rains are the cause of this.

The little girl is wearing the traditional "Tupe" clothing, including the head wrap. All the women and girls wore this style of clothing.

A view of the valley that eventually heads to my town. My town is about a 3 hour drive up the valley from here, so it is a VERY different climate where I live (colder and wetter).

My boss, Diego, head of the Community-Based Environmental Management program during his visit to my site. We're on the short hiking trail that passes through some pre-Incan ruins, with my town of Tomas is the background.