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!