Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Camp ALMA- 2013 Cajamarca

Camp ALMA are a girls camps that Peace Corps puts on in all of it's departments here in Peru. The camps are focused on supporting and training young female leaders from rural communities to go back to their community to perform mini-projects. It's three day camp that teaches leadership skills, problem solving, career and college planning, and health topics to teenage girls that have been identified as leaders in their communities. I've been apart of a few of these camps since joining Peace Corps (we do a boy's camp each year as well), and they're always a lot of work but very rewarding. This year's camp was different though, as the Peace Corps volunteers didn't go at it alone. To promote project sustainability, Peace Corps invited various local organizations and branches of government to participate. This made it a lot more work in the organization aspect, but also allowed us to grow the camp from the typical 20 girls to 40 girls, and insure the host-country's involvement, making it much more likely to be sustainable. Here are a few highlights from the camp:

The sunset on our first night at the camp. 

Our lodge was right next to the Banos del Inca Hot springs.

Brad welcoming the girls as they arrive. 

Campfire night with s'mores. 

First time s'more eater. 

Brad, Dylan and I bought that wood for 6 soles. 

Studies show that marshmallow blobs in you wilderness beard reduces your manliness by almost 100%.

One of the last charlas after 3 days of camp. 
Two girls taking a thank you picture for their local municipality in front of Inca Statue.  Their municipality paid for their transportation cost. In previous camps, volunteers paid these expenses, now other organizations are stepping up. 

Old Sol

A country's currency is a great historical storyteller that shows the various influences on country, and it's economic strength, during its history. Here's a little read on Peru's money (Peruvian Money History)*.

The current Peruvian currency is El Nuevo Sol (Literally translated as: The New Sun) as of yesterday, it's traded here in Cajamarca as 2.79 soles per US dollar. It was adopted in 1991 to replace "the inti" and to help solve Peru's hyperinflation at the time, and before the Inti,  they used the the Sol. 

So, there have been 3 different coins since 1985. The Sol, then the Inti, then the Nuevo Sol. Therefore, I was impressed when a volunteer showed me some Soles (the original type) that his host-family had given to him. One had the date of 1945. It was neat because, although finding a 1945 penny might not be tough for us, finding a currency that has been twice replaced, in a developing country I think would be a little harder. Here are the coins:

* When I was in Ecuador, I always found their story of switching to the US Dollar after a "perfect storm" of bad economic events very interesting. Asking around people told me about a debilitating combination of the El Nino weather event, a plague hitting the shrimp farms, and debts being called in to other nations, and other things... all happening at the same time. 

Welcoming the Peru 22ers to Cajamarca.

You know when you walk into the ACE Hardware in the Eastgate Shopping Center in Missoula and they have free popcorn for you as a welcome gift... We started doing something similar in Cajamarca when the new volunteers arrive. Only instead of popcorn we give them each a live chicken in the Plaza de Armas of Cajamarca.
Usually a current Cajamarca volunteer gives a short speech (i.e. "let this chicken symbolizes the winds freedom you'll feel under your own wings during your service") as the new volunteer receives the chicken. 

Then they stand there hoping the chicken doesn't poop or escape while the rest receive their birds for the group shot. 

Cajamarca's Peru - 22ers: (L to R) Marc Anthony, Matt, Hannah, and Jeff. 

It's a fun ice breaker that caps off a day of a scavenger hunt around town (find 3 places with Wifi, find Brice's Appt., Find where to buy a cuy, etc.) and a group breakfast. It's also a great welcoming gift for them to share with their new host-families, as these health volunteers are generally placed in a very rural area where protein consumption isn't as common as it should be and families are of very humble resources.

Site Visits to San Miguel

Apologies for the lack of updates. Life has been a little crazy lately, and I needed to enjoy the ride; but , I'm back in the blogging saddle, so look out. Anyways, let's get started:

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader demands that I split my work evenly between community projects and supporting the volunteers in my region. Both aspects of the job has his perks, but I think getting out and seeing the volunteers in their sites is one of my favorite things. Yesterday's trip to San Miguel was to see Brad and Taneesha in San Miguel. Brad is a Peru 19- Small Business volunteer, and Taneesha is one of newer volunteers, as she belongs to Peru-21 Youth Development.

San Miguel is a mountain town 3 hours west of Cajamarca City*, and was Brad's kingdom for the first year of his service; However, since Taneesha's arrival in late August, these two have been working next to each other in this cute little town of 2,500 people.

When I visit a site, usually meet a volunteer's host family and share a meal with them, then I see the volunteer's living conditions, and take a tour of their town and check on any work projects. Volunteers are generally excited to show of their town, host family, or work (sometimes all three), and it's fun to either share in their excitement or help try to problem solve any road blocks they may be having. Both Brad and Taneesha seems to be safe, happy, healthy and productive; thus, making my trip a breeze.

Voluntters feeling "alone" in site is very common. And having a site-mate is something that I'm sure that all volunteers desire at least once during their service. Feeling lonely can wear on you, and the quick fix solution is to have another volunteer there with you to share your experiences. But, as with most quick fixes, this isn't always the best thing. Sometimes it's just best to learn to be alone, but also sometime site-mates clash and step on each other's toes. I'm very glad to report that I saw no problems in San Miguel.

Taneesha is adjusting very well to her new site, seems to have a great connection with her host-family, and has very concrete, meaningful, and achievable goals for her service**. Meanwhile, Brad is probably more popular than anyone in the history of San Miguel, except for maybe last years "Miss San Miguel" winner (who, if Brad plays his cards right, could be the second half of a pretty impressive San Miguel Power couple. Think Beyonce/Jay Z or Tom Brady/Gisele). Everyone waves to him, the moto-taxi drivers stop to shake his hand, and the people in the municipality refer to him as "the Man from San Francisco" (almost reverently). However, even while being the most popular person in town, he still suffers from the chronic mispronunciation of his name, and it was very common to hear "BRAK" yelled from passer-byes at a very constant rate.

These two volunteers are making their marks in their community, but not crowding each other out. And I was surprised to hear that these two gringo neighbors (their houses literally share a wall) only meet-up once a week, every Thursday, for breakfast at the local juice spot (Pretty cool that they have that discipline).

*6 hours on a combi yesterday. Only one puker, a lady who had a BIG breakfast on the way up.

** Taneesha asked not to have her picture taken. She's shy***.

*** Brad on the other hand is a huge HAM.

Brad and the San Miguel Church, which is rumored to be the tallest adobe built church in Peru. We both want to fact check that before saying too loud. 

Your hero in front of the newly built San Miguel Mercado. Taneesha and Brad both avoid this place on market day as they hate the non stop stares they receive from the far away campo people that come in for market day, and aren't use to seeing people that look different from their normal. Imagine something like the Filling Station and Vani but all day, every Sunday. 

Brad with his artisan women in the municipality. Brad helped organize them for sales, classes, and business charlas. 

An Artisan working on a new bag to sell. 

Brad at his desk in the Municipality. 

An authorization for "Brak" to use the copy machine. 

The church had this sign painted on it. It reads: Prohibited to urinate on the house of God. Respect it. (Meant for: Town drunks and fiestas, I'm betting)

The view from San Miguel 

Brak only has 8 more months until this is just a fond memory. Crazy. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Peace Corps Volunteer Leader - Cajamarca

Brace yourself for a little bit of a change, as I set up the next part of this blog: My experiences of staying in the Peace Corps for one more year to be the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) of Cajamarca.

First, a little geography and information about Cajamarca. Cajamarca is a department (think of it as a State) to the north of Peru, and shares a border with Ecuador. Similar to Ancash, it too is mainly located in the Sierra, but does also have some jungle too. The elevation here is notable, Cajamarca City is at about 2,700 meters (8,900 Ft), and while it doesn't have the snow-capped mountains of Ancash, it does boast some very green high plains/hills. The department is generally known for a few things: It's rich Inca history; it's dairy production; the social unrest due to mining issues; and the largest Carnaval celebration in Peru (here's a wiki link for more info Wiki Cajamarca).

Here's a map of Peru. I'm currently in Cajamarca (the area traced in red), I used to live in Caraz, Ancash (the place in green). To help, Lima is the purple dot, and Cusco is blue. Also to help put the distance (and how difficult it is to climb the sierra) in perspective: A bus to Lima from Cajamarca is 15 hours. A bus from Cajamarca to Caraz takes me about 16 hours (not including lay overs).

Now for my role as PCVL in the department. Basically, in most Peace Corps posts, PCVL is a full time job of helping coordinate and support current Peace Corps Volunteers; however, it's my understanding, due to Peru's visa requirements, PCVLs here can't just support other volunteers, they need to also work part-time. So my current role involves spending half my time doing volunteer work, and the other part of my time supporting and coordinating volunteers. I'll save the details of my volunteer work for a future post, but basically I'm teaching English and American culture at an institute here in the city, while also trying to set up a volunteer network using Peruvian high school  and college youth to work in social projects lead by the municipality or local NGOs. As for my other half of my job, it involves running monthly regional meetings with the 20+ volunteers in the region, coordinating Lima staff visits to the department, checking-in and supporting volunteers in the field, and helping locate and establish future sites. (This last part is my favorite aspect as I get to go out and see the country).

I like my new role as it's been a drastic change from my last two years. Although it's been really hard not having the Pachamacs to hangout with, its been interesting living in my own department in the city. I'm 5 blocks away from the town's main plaza, have hot water and a toilet; which are all things I went without during my time in Yuracoto. The city is bustling, and I can hear traffic at all hours of the day (that was a hard change for me the first 3 nights). There is a lot of NGOs and other non-profits in the city, 5 universities, and plenty of work for me to do. Cajamarca is said to be one of the poorest departments in Peru, and I'm starting believe it. There appears to be a stark contrast in the classes here, as you often see a highly wealthy person in nice clothes and a car (usually due to mining money) and a person living in extreme poverty within a one block walk from each other. Also child labor is a significant issue for the city.

On a lighter note, here's a quick video I made of a public aerobics class I stumbled upon in the main plaza de armas in Cajamarca City. Although difficult to see, it's being led by what appears to be a Peruvian knock-off version of Richard Simmons (I'll let someone else use this to expand on the pros and cons of globalization). Enjoy this very short clip:

As for the volunteers, they too are divided. Half of our volunteers are to the north, based around a town called Chota, and the other half are based around the city of Cajamarca. It's a 4-6 hour drive (depending on weather, driver, strikes, or road construction) and means that we hold our regional meetings on a rotating schedule between Cajamarca City and Chota. Here's map that give an idea of how the volunteers are spread in Cajamarca:

I live where the red star is. The green star farthest to the south is Cajabamba and is about 3 hours away. The green star farthest to the north is Cutervo, which is about 4 hours from Chota (or about 9 hours away from me). 

My favorite part is getting to hit the road and see the sites and volunteers in action. Recently I went on a 4 day adventure with our Regional Coordinator, Jose, to try to identify where the next group of volunteers will live and serve. We know that we are getting 5 new volunteers in November, so Jose and I have been planning for their arrival. A lot goes into this, including a ton of luck. We always hold a meeting with the local health post, the local elected officials, and schools to announce the arrival of the volunteer. Usually this means getting everyone in one room, explaining the at a gringo is coming to live with them, that the gringo is not related to any church, mine, or political party, and that they need a loving family to take them in for 2 years. Although I was able to sum this up in less than a tweet, it's a very long process. Jose and I were based out of a hotel in Chota for 4 days, hitting the road at 5am everyday, and not returning to the hotel until around 9pm each night. Although it was fun and interesting, it really was draining.

This last trip out was to set up for Peru 22 Health Volunteers. Health volunteers generally are placed in the most rural sites, and this meant Jose and I got to go on some real back roads and visit some pretty small communities. Imagine this happening in some of some of our favorite local stops (Shout outs to:  Pony, Norris, Helmville, White Sulpher, and Belt! Come meet your new neighbor!! ). All the communities received us warmly, and most are excited to have an American live with them; however, some made very difficult requests (One town requests that their volunteer to be a girl that is good at soccer. Jose and I have very little pull in that area...but we'll see). Here's some videos and pictures from this last site identification trip:
The highlands of Cajamarca.

We're around 4,000 meters at this spot with a very strong wind. 

A pair of llamas in a moto-truck outside of Chota. 

Our regional coordinator Jose getting ready to meet with the health post staff at one of the future sites we visited. 

This is our car, a government issued Toyota Parado. Jose said he once complained about the choice in car, saying felt bad driving up to a poor community in such a huge car. Then one night a volunteer was deathly ill and he had to drive in the middle of the night, during the rainy season, to evacuate her. There was a landslide closing the main road, and he had to 4x4 it on a side route to get there. Luckily he had this car, because after he made it through,  the 3 cars that tried to follow him didn't make it. 

The last picture of this series is one I took when Jose and I climbed up to the top of that large cliff in the background. Interestingly, the locals call that rock "Donde El Condor Caga" (loosely translated as: Where the Condor Shits). Look for the picture below.

Me catching the morning sun before meeting with the locals to plan the arrival of the volunteer. 

Jose meets with the local big-wigs. L to R: a nurse from the health post, the town mayor, and a local school teacher (Jose is in the blue shirt). 

Jose and I check out a possible house and family for a volunteer. 

Your hero at the plaza de armas of Huamblas, Peru. A future site for Peru 22. Interestingly enough, there once was a Youth Development Volunteer in this area years before... This volunteer's claim to fame, while being a Youth Development Volunteer, went rouge and turned into one heck of a Environmental volunteer. Peace Corps legend has it that he got his community so involved in forestation projects that he (and his community) planted more trees than all of the 'real' Environment Volunteers combined (to the tune of more than 50,000 trees in one year)... soon I hope to return and investigate this a little more. 

As I mentioned before, the health volunteers are usually in small rural sites that are generally off the beaten path, hence the mud tires on the ambulance. 

Another town where a volunteer will work. This town reportedly has a significant case of young mothers, and should be a hot bed for work for the future volunteer. Although he doesn't know it yet, this shy kid will soon have an American for  a neighbor and teacher for the next two years. Good luck kid. 

Looking off to the east towards the jungle. 

It was very hard to find a good possible host family here. Usually we try to get 2-3 options, but here we couldn't even find one. One suggestion was that the volunteer live in the church, not an option; Therefore, I think the volunteer will live in a nearby town and bike or walk over here to work here.  
This same small town has a large population of young people who have left to find better jobs or education in the larger coastal towns; however, those same young people have such strong roots to their home town, that they've sent money back every month to the community so they could build this town hall. 

A bird's eye view of the town. 

The plaza of armas of Chota, at 5:30am, as Jose and I head out for a day on the road. 

This town's plaza of armas wins the busiest award...

... not because it was bustling with people, just because there was so much stuff in such a small space. Still it was better than Yuracoto's Plaza (they don't have one). 

This is the town that requested a female soccer player. As you can see soccer is a big deal here. Look how the whole community is build around the soccer field. There's no plaza de armas, the houses are all built facing the field (Which I bet is pretty cool whenever there's a big game). Jose tells me that this little town is well known throughout Cajamarca for it's soccer players. Hopefully their future volunteer can hold her own on the field.

Jose meeting the health post doctor. 

Again the main attraction, the soccer field. 

Some obstacles in the road on our way home. 

Here we are on where "the Condor does his business", overlooking a site of a future Peace Corps Volunteer. 

And when I'm not helping Jose find future sites, I'm on the road to do check-ins with the volunteers to make sure they are safe, happy, and productive in their sites. Here's a couple pictures of two site visits I did with our newest volunteers (Peru 21ers), as they are just completing their first month in site:
Linnea, a youth volunteer, with her twin sisters.

Dylan, a business volunteer, in his town's plaza. 

So that's basically half of my new gig here in the Peace Corps. Look for future post on my travels and work soon to come!