Christmas Nacimientos

So as I mentioned in my post, Christmas in Caraz, from last year, Christmas is a very popular here in Perú, notably due to the fact the majority of the population is Catholic. Now, one of the Christmas traditions I noticed this year, but failed to appreciate last year, is the abundance of nacimientos, or Nativities.

For me, a Nativity scene typically consists of a wooden frame (resembling a small barn), with an assortment of people, straw, and animals underneath. You know, the typical image of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus depicted around the holiday season in the U.S. Well, here in Perú, nativity scenes (nacimientos) are done a bit differently, and in fact don’t much resemble the nativity scenes of which I am familiar.

You see, at least here in the sierra of Áncash, nativity scenes are usually created using a mixture of colored paper (usually brown, green, or grey), rocks, native plants from high up in the mountains, little figurines, sand, and whatever else seems to be available. The paper is usually used to create some sort of landscape (mountains, deserts, etc.) over which the rocks, plants, and figurines are placed to create a pretty scene. In some location of the nacimiento will usually go the typical manger with an image of Mary, Joseph, and on Christmas day, baby Jesus. These nacimientos can be tiny enough to fit on a small table, or large enough to fill up an entire corner of a room. Regardless of the size, the important factor is that almost EVERY public institution makes nacimientos: the schools, the hospitals, the UGELs, the market, etc.

Now for about a month or so, my office  in the Provincial Municipality has been planning to do a Christmas exposition of recycled products/furniture/art in the Plaza de Armas (Town Square) to get the community of Caraz thinking more about trash and how it can be repurposed. While the exposition hasn’t begun yet, one component has already been completed: a nacimiento made of traditional and recycled materials. Over the past 1.5 weeks, my office has been hard at work creating a fairly LARGE nativity scene in one of the gardens of the town square. Naturally, being partnered with the Municipality, I was also involved in the creation of the Nativity scene.

Check out some pictures of the entire process below!

It all started on Tuesday, December 6th when I walked into my office to see my desk surrounded by plants from the puna (high mountain plains).

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All the plants safely transported to the Plaza de Armas
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Moving stones for Day 1 of creating the nacimiento
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Start of the future stone path & arrangement of recycled tires/cylinders
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Decorating with the plants from the Puna
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Work completed by the end of Day 1. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole time.
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Cleaning water bottles & filling them up with H2O for the Plastic Bottle Christmas Tree!
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Work completed by the end of Day 2

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The final 3 photos show the finished product, bottle-tree and all!

I had a great time helping out my office in the municipality, and I think the final product turned out great! I am quite sad though that they uprooted so many plants from the puna just to make a nacimiento that will last a little over a month; perhaps they will return the plants, but I am doubtful. We’ll have to have a talk when I return from vacation about why taking the plants isn’t really that great for protecting the environment, but poco a poco.

Well, I hope you enjoyed some brief insight into another interesting Peruvian holiday tradition.

Until next time,

MGB

 

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Trash Talking: Eco-Ladrillos

As I mentioned in my first Trash Talking post, one of the biggest environmental challenges facing Perú, apart from Climate Change, is trash management.

Simply put, Perú produces a lot of trash (not as much as the U.S. though) and does not have the infrastructure in most places to properly dispose of it. Consequently, scenes like the one below are extremely common in many parts of Perú.

But, there is a lot that can be done to address the trash problems. One really awesome way to manage trash in rural locations, is to reuse it for types of construction.

Wait…trash as a construction material??? What do you mean?

Well, I’m talking about Eco-Ladrillos (Eco-Bricks) which are amazing. So what is an Eco-Ladrillo? Basically, Eco-Ladrillos are plastic bottles that are filled to the max with non-decomposable trash waste such as plastic wrappers, plastic packaging, plastic bags, etc. until they become a firm, durable construction material. In creating an Eco-Ladrillo, the key is compaction; you have to put the trash inside, smash it down with a rod, then add some more trash and some more smashing until you have a firm, trash filled plastic bottle. Below is a promotional photo for Eco-Bricks listing all their benefits: reduce contamination, minimize trash waste, serve as an insulating material, etc.

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Feel free to translate on your own time.

 

Now, I learned about Eco-Bricks during training and I have been obsessed ever since, hoping that I would get the chance to use them during my service in Caraz. Well, that opportunity finally came when I became involved in development of the Environmental Plan for one of the schools I work with, Micelino Sandoval Torres. In creating the environmental plan, we decided to address various issues: poor trash management, lack of green spaces, lack of cleanliness in the bathrooms, etc. When we began to talk about trash management, I made sure to give a pitch about Eco-Ladrillos to the professors involved in the plan’s creation, and fortunately a few were as interested as I was.

So with 2 teachers we made a plan to create a bunch of benches in the school in the school using only cement and trash.

The project started back in August when the two teachers began teaching their students how to make eco-ladrillos, and giving each student the assignment to make 10 with 2 months. But, we didn’t just stop at the students, we also got the parents involved. On September 1st, we had a session with some padres de familia (parents of the students) to teach them how to make Eco-ladrillos. It was really fun, and each parent was tasked in making 2, which their kids would later bring to school.

From there, the teachers took over and kept reminding their students to make more and more Eco-Ladrillos. Until we had a decent amount, we wouldn’t be able to make anything.

In mid-October, we had a big session with a few different classes of students in second year of secondary school to address quality control of the Eco-ladrillos; the students would pass me an Eco-ladrillo and I would evaluate whether it was up to snuff (think Willy Wonka). The good ones were put into costales (basically potato sacks) and the bad ones (too soft, not enough trash, etc.) were returned to students who got to work shoving more plastic bags and plastic wrappers inside.

By the end of the session, we had approximately 240 Eco-Ladrillos which were good to go. In order to complete our bench, we estimated that we needed about 300, so we were just a few short. Over the next 1.5 weeks, we had the students at full chamba (full work) to create more Eco-Ladrillos out of all of the remaining trash we had collected.

Finally, after starting the project in August, the construction day came on October 27, 2016. My counterpart teachers picked a class of seniors to assist with the construction, and then we were off. Like most activities, things didn’t go perfectly; we started late, the “sand” we had to mix with the cement was too large, and the students fooled around quite a bit. However, with the students’ construction expertise, lots of patience, and lots of trash, we were able to create an AWESOME bench.

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The students of 5to E mixing the cement.
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Laying the base-layer of cement for the bench
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Putting down the first layer of Eco-Ladrillos
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Onto the second layer of Eco-Bricks, also adding a fresh layer of cement.
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A few layers in to the future trash-bench.
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Adding the final touches- gotta make sure they get the credit for their work
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The final product!

And there you have it, a bench made out of trash! In the end, the bench includes around 300 Eco-Ladrillos (I still need to count them) across five rows, amounting to about 60 kilos (132 pounds) of trash re-purposed. The bench has since been improved slightly; the front face has been smoothed over with cement and two trees were planted inside. As soon as I can snap a photo of the finished product, I will be posting it up in here.

And so, after 3 months of work, our first dive into the world of Eco-Ladrillos was a success! The teachers and students all had a fantastic time, and the plan is to continue the work when school starts again next March. The dream is that for the following year, EVERY class in the high school (~950 students) will learn how to make Eco-Ladrillos and will have to contribute at least 2 so we can continue to create more of our beautiful, trash-filled benches. And who knows, maybe we’ll even create something else out of Eco-Ladrillos, such as chess tables. Honestly, the possibilities are endless since I’ve seen walls, bathrooms, and even school rooms made out of these materials.

Now, even though Eco-Ladrillos are touted as a rural solution to trash management, the technology should be limited to Perú, and other countries who struggle with trash management. I’ve come to realize that in the U.S., we produce SO MUCH waste, especially plastic waste, and so I would love to see this technology employed back home in the States. Yes we have great trash collection in the U.S., but if we try to follow the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), we should constantly seek solutions for how to reuse our waste before we taking the easy route of just throwing it in the trashcan.

Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s installment of Trash Talking, and that some of you readers (especially other Peace Corps Volunteers), will take initiative and see the feasibility of using Eco-Bricks in your communities.

Until next time,

MGB

Trash Talking: Recycled Costumes

As I mentioned in my first Trash Talking post a few weeks ago, one of Perú’s biggest challenges at the moment is trash management. While the biggest barrier to advancements in trash management here in Perú is probably lack of infrastructure and technical experience, another important one is a general lack of environmental awareness. Simply put, many people just don’t know the consequences of pollution or how to properly manage this waste. Consequently, a LOT of my work revolves around sensibilizando la gente sobre los residuos sólidos (raising awareness about solid waste) via various means; charlas (presentations), conversaciones informales (informal conversations), programas de radio (radio programs), y eventos (events).

Oftentimes, teaching about trash management and raising awareness can be extremely fun, as is the case with the event I am highlighting today. A few weeks ago, I participated in a super fun event that I coordinated with the Provincial Municipality and the Environmental Youth Group (Club Verde) with which I work; a recycled costume contest.

You see, we wanted to engage the creativity of the schools in the city and at the same time celebrate trash management, and this is what was born. We invited all of the schools of Caraz to participate in the event, and had four categories: pre-school, primary school, secondary school, and post-secondary education. The rules were simple; design a Halloween costume using only recycled materials (wrappers, newspaper, plastic bottles, old trash bags, old wire, etc.). Each school was allowed 2 participants, and in total we had over 10 schools participate with over 40 students showing up in their “recycled” costume.

Like most Peruvian events, we started off with a parade around the town square to show off all of the hard work by the students!

 

Afterwards, we headed into the Coliseo Cerrado for the actual contest. Here are some photos of the amazing competitors, photos courtesy of one of my counterparts, the Municipalidad Provincial de Huaylas.

I’m hoping that this event was just the first installment of something that will continue and evolve año tras año (year after year).

Until next time,

MGB

Peace Corps Pumpkin

When I lived in the United States, summer and winter were my favorite seasons. I loved summer because of the generally nice weather, and the fact that it usually aligned with vacation time, beach trips, and lots of sports. I loved winter because I loved the snow, and I loved liked the idea of wrapping myself up in warm clothes and sitting by a fire.

Living here in Perú, while we have summer and winter (rainy & dry seasons), they aren’t the same as back home. But having lived over one year here in Caraz, I’ve realized something; Summer and Winter aren’t really my favorite seasons, fall is. They say you never know what you got ‘til its gone, and the same goes for me as I truly didn’t appreciate how much I loved fall until I missed out on 2 Falls here in Perú. I miss the warm yet chilly Fall weather and I miss the beautiful fall colors from the changing leaves in my forest-filled Pennsylvania. While I can’t get my fix of changing leaves here in Perú where everything stays mostly green, I can get my fix of one of the great fixtures of Fall, Halloween.

Halloween is a recent arrival to Perú, and therefore not as well established as it is in the United States. Still, it is slowly becoming more popular. For instance, this year in the local market I saw plenty plastic jack-o-lanterns for trick-or-treating as well as many stores decorated with fake cobwebs,  and on Halloween day I even saw a lot of children dressed in costume going around with their parents to Truco-o-Dulce in Caraz.  So while Halloween is definitely not part of the cultural heritage of Perú, it is definitely becoming a new cultural practice. The emergence of Halloween has probably been spurred onward by cultural overflow from the United States and in small part by Peace Corps Volunteers sharing some Halloween traditions with their host communities.

Last year, I did nothing in my site to celebrate Halloween. I went to a Halloween party organized by other Volunteers, but I neglected to do any kind of celebration with my host-family. This year was different, this year I wanted to make more of an effort to share the holiday with my host-family. Things started off by watching some Halloween movies with my host-siblings; I was happy to find that the Disney Channel here in Perú ALSO shows Halloween movies every night for the month of October. We had a good time watching Hocus Pocus, one of the ALL TIME Halloween classics.

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In the following days, I hatched a plan with my host-siblings to make a Jack-O-Lantern. Unfortunately, pumpkins aren’t exactly available here in Caraz (although seeing photos from other Volunteers they seem to be available in other locations in Peru…), so we had to make do with what was available. The closest things we have to pumpkins here in Caraz are zapallos, which are essentially bigger, green pumpkins. After searching and searching with my host-siblings, we finally found a complete one (almost all of the zapallos were missing large pieces to show they were ripe) and I bought it for S/. 27 (about $8). We took it home, and a few days later when I had some free time, I taught my host-siblings how to carve it up.

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The Great Green Pumpkin

My host-siblings had a great time learning how to carve a pumpkin, despite being disgusted by the slimy interior. While I did most of the knife-work, they were responsible for the gutting; got to be safe.

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We decided to go for the traditional Jack-O-Lantern design of triangle shaped eyes & ears and a jagged mouth. I think it turned out well.

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Now, in case you had forgotten, I currently live in Perú. While back in the U.S., we are entering the winter season, here in Perú we are approaching summer/rainy season, which means it isn’t exactly cold. Consequently, our big Jack-O-Lantern didn’t stand a chance, and only lasted about 2.5 days before my host-mom fed it to the pigs. It never even got to see the light of Halloween, but oh well, it was fun, and I was able to successfully share one of the more fun U.S. cultural experiences.

So I know Halloween was over a month ago, but unfortunately internet issues and a vacation made it challenging to post this much sooner.

Until next time,

MGB

Trash Talking: Solid Waste Management in Perú

Today, we are going to talk trash. I mean, talk about trash.

Trash, or solid waste (residuos sólidos) is a huge problem here in Perú. While countries such as the U.S. or even England probably produce more waste than Perú, the biggest challenge here is the lack of trash management infrastructure: there are few places where trash can be securely managed.

In the United States, I took the trash collection service and abundance of public trashcans for granted; we have many landfills, most people learned how to recycle and not to litter in their schools, and waste for the most part seemed to be processed safely. We have it pretty good, and consequently we don’t feel as guilty about the abundance of single-use items that permeate the daily lives of most U.S. citizens. We don’t feel the need to renovate the system, because we think we are already doing a great job.

In contrast, Perú is isn’t so well off with regard to trash management and is currently in the midst of its first trash revolution. Things started picking up in the year 2000 when Perú created its first law about trash: la Ley General de Residuos Sólidos (the General Law of Solid Waste). The law was a good start; it outlined a general basis for trash management in Perú, specifically noting the role of location municipalities in managing waste. While the law was a positive beginning, it wasn’t until a few years later that larger strides were made at national and local levels to deal with the trash problem.

In 2004 and 2008, the Ley General de Residuos Sólidos was further elaborated to include specific roles and competencies in trash management for municipalities and other entities, thus becoming a more complete and definitive law. In 2005, the Peruvian Government took another step forward and created the Ley General del Ambiente (The General Environmental Law) that established the environmental rights and obligations of all citizens, such as the right to live in a healthy environment free of pollution and trash. In subsequent years, further laws were created to address the issues of electronic waste as well as informal recyclers as well.

However, the biggest catalyst came in 2008 when Perú created MINAM (The Environmental Ministry), which fused several different pre-existing environmental authorities into one unified ministry to address all of Perú’s environmental concerns. The previous iteration of MINAM was CONAM (The National Environmental Council), a non-autonomous organization that held little power and served mostly to advise the presidency.

Since the creation of MINAM, trash management in Perú and in fact environmental management, has become a national priority, and there have been countless initiatives to upgrade Perú’s trash management system. However, tt the moment, only 9 officially recognized sanitary landfills exist in all of Perú, half of which are localized in Lima and almost all of which were created within the last 15 years. What this means is that many parts of the country are still relying on informal trash dumps or other poor solid waste management practices to deal with all the trash produced.

In many sites in Perú, trash management is a family affair; each household takes care of their trash however they see fit. Here in the Sierra of Áncash, the most common practices involve burying trash in crop fields, burning it, dumping it along the side of the road, or throwing it in water canals or even directly to the river. There is also no culture, yet, against littering; I can recall countless times when I have been traveling in a car or bus and witnessed someone throw a bottle or plastic bag out of the window. But this happens because this is what everyone is accustomed to; when public trash cans aren’t readily available and there is no trash collection service, what can we expect?

Those responsible for trash management and  at the local level are the municipalities, however tackling the trash problem is formidable. Even when a municipality has interest in implementing a trash collection service, such a service often can’t be implemented to the letter of the law due to various factors: insufficient budget, lack of infrastructure, lack of community support, lack of expertise in environmental themes. According to the law, all municipal waste should be deposited in a sanitary landfill, however the construction of one is multi-year, multi-million “soles” process and so not something to be done from one day to the next. Therefore, most municipalities who are trying to do something about the trash have to rely on informal trash dumps, which can vary in quality. From talking with other Volunteers, informal trash dumps could be a hill overhanging a river, or a small trench where the municipality deposits its waste. Essentially, there is a lot of work to be done.

But despite all these challenges, Perú is making great strides at national and local levels to improve how local governments approach trash. For example, each year the Peruvian government launches a “Plan de Incentivos” (Incentive Plan) that allows municipalities to earn more funds for the following year if they can meet several different goals or tasks. Generally, many of the Plan de Incentivos goals are environmentally focused; complete a solid waste characterization study, implement a trash segregation program, survey local communities about water availability and sanitation, etc. Trying to accomplish the goals of the Plan de Incentivos is definitively one of the biggest factors guiding environmental progress at the local level; money is a great motivator. Apart from incentivizing, MINAM and the Peruvian government spur environmental progress through fear of sanctions and fines as well: municipalities that don’t comply with environmental laws can receive heavy sanctions, which can take away from the year’s budget and carry other consequences. Once again, money is a great motivator.

The organization responsible for environmental monitoring and consulting is the OEFA, which is a sub-entity of MINAM that has similar functions to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). About once a year, OEFA visits each district and provincial municipality in Perú to evaluate compliance with environmental regulation, provide technical support when needed, and in general inform municipalities and communities of their environmental rights and obligations according to the law. When met with non-compliance or great environmental challenges in a municipality or community, a report can be made which can lead to sanctions down the line. I’ve worked with OEFA on a few occasions and in my opinion the organization is doing a good job of spurring environmental action in municipalities and even communities.

While Perú has a long way to go, everything is in place so that rapid change can occur with respect to environmental management, and more specifically trash management. I have already noted a change during my short time here in Perú, and I can’t imagine the progress that will occur over the next 5-10 years. Only time will tell.

This was just a general overview of trash management and the relevant players here in Perú; I hope I didn’t bore you all. To the best of my ability, each week I will try to publish a post detailing a specific aspect of trash management here in Perú; perhaps new policies or initiatives by the Peruvian government, and of course the various trash projects and activities in which I am involved as an Environmental Volunteer in Caraz. I also plan to give my two cents about trash management in the United States, because after living in Perú for almost 1.5 years I perceive SO MANY ways to improve trash management back home.

Hope you enjoyed the first installment of this new series, and my first blog post in about 4 months. Be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to know about trash management.

Until next time,

MGB

P.S. When I have a stronger internet connection, I will try to upload some photos for this post.

Foto Friday: the Environmental Committee

So in the past, Peace Corps Perú had 5 different programs: Youth Development, Community Economic Development, Community Health, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, and Community-Based Environmental Management, my program.

However, all across the world, Peace Corps posts (countries) were asked to cut down the number of programs, and so Perú followed suit, eliminating the environment program. My group, which arrived to Perú in May 2015, was the last group of environmental Volunteers to come to Perú to work.

Environmental work is important in rural communities, such as the many in which Peace Corps Perú Volunteers work, because oftentimes the community’s health and livelihood is dependent upon its relationship with the environment. Oftentimes these communities lack basic services such as clean drinking water or a trash collection service, both of which can lead to community health problems. An unhealthy environment means an unhealthy community. Clearly, environmental work should be continued in Peace Corps.

So while the environmental program in it’s current for won’t continue, us MAC (environment) Volunteers began brainstorming last fall about how the environmental program could live on in some capacity in Perú since there is a need for environmental work to continue. What we decided was an environmental committee, the idea being a permanent committee consisting of Volunteers interested in environmental topics and promoting environmental projects among other Peace Corps Perú Volunteers. We wrote up a proposal, submitted it to the Peace Corps Perú staff, and waited. Finally, we received a supportive response from Peace Corps staff saying that they liked the idea, but that we lacked the funds for a permanent committee, but a short term one would be allowed. And thus the Environmental Committee was born.

We were given two different sets of meetings, first in April and the second in July (these past few days) to figure out a plan, organize resources, and leave something behind for future Volunteers to use. What we decided on was to create several presentations showing how environmental projects and themes can be incorporated into the other programs. Some of examples we came up with are the following: using recycled materials to create early-stimulation toys (Health), initiating recycling programs as an income generating activity (business), planting trees to preserve water sources (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene). In addition to the presentations, we have been creating and compiling environmental resources to create more of less of an “Environmental Projects for Dummies: Peace Corps Perú” file. I was responsible for creating a guide on trash management here in Perú and compiling all of the accompanying resources.

The idea is that during training with the new Trainees each cycle, the Peace Corps trainers will present the environmental presentations, and then each Volunteer will receive a copy of the environmental resources folder, which has information on recycled art, how to grow and plant trees, how to make compost, how to start an eco-tourism group, etc. With this information, we hope that interested Volunteers will have the resources necessary to address environmental concerns in their communities.

This past week, we had our last meeting to finalize all of the presentations and accompanying materials and hopefully by the end of July or start of August, we will have a finished product to present to the Peace Corps Staff and hopefully all current and future Peace Corps Perú Volunteers.

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The hardworking Environmental Committee in our only group photo

In the Peace Corps, we strive to develop sustainable work and projects with our host-community partners, but it isn’t so often that we get to tackle a sustainable endeavor with other Volunteers. I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve accomplished with the other environmentally minded Volunteers above, and I hope all of our blood, sweat, and tears, will lead to more environmentally conscious Peace Corps Staff and future Volunteers.

Until next time,

MGB

Martes de Música: Shaqsha

For today’s Martes de Música, we are covering a traditional dance of Áncash, the Shaqsha. But Mark, this is Martes de Música, not Martes de Baile, why are you talking about a dance on a post about music? Well, anonymous reader, that is because the Shaqsha is not just a mere dance, but also a way for creating percussion music.

You see, not any person can just go out and dance the shaqsha like it were breakdancing, the tango, or even salsa. In order to dance the shaqsha, you need to have the proper accessories. Below, you can take a look at a fairly standard attire for shaqsha dancers.

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The first item of note is the crown, which is believed to have been used to poke fun at the royal Spanish family who once controlled Perú. The shirt and kilt-like clothes are also intended as parodies, mimicking the clothing worn by the early Spanish Conquistadores. In the hands of some of the dancers, you will also note whips, which could be a reference to the farming lifestyles of the past.

However, the most important accessory to the shaqsha is what you see around the legs of each of the dancers in the photo above; the shaqapas. What you are seeing is more or less a ton of small dried seed pods tied together with string which is then fastened around the legs and occasionally the arms of each dancer. The shaqapas are integral to the shaqsha, because as the dancer moves, the seed pods and the seeds inside shake, creating a vibrant and entrancing sound, a sound which is generally interpreted as “shac shac”, hence the name of the dance. So you see, the Shaqsha is as much as a dance as it is a musical style, with the shaking of the seeds creating a beautiful sound.

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The dance itself is incredibly energetic, involving lots of hopping, jumping, screaming, and foot pounding. Honestly, it looks absolutely exhausting, and I can’t imagine how shaqsha dancers manage to keep up their energy in the intense sierra sun. The dance is generally performed during religious festivals here in Áncash, with the shaqsha groups being accompanied by a small group of musicians playing wooden flutes and drums. The photos above are from a religious festival celebrating the Virgin Mary held at my local school in Yuracoto, I.E. Estenio Torres Ramos.

Shaqsha is my absolute favorite dance here in Perú, and I’m hoping to eventually try it out with the help of some of my students in Yuracoto. With one year left in my service, I feel like I should be able to squeeze in a little time for a practice or two (or five). So to finish out this post, I leave you with a video of some Shaqsha performed in Yuracoto last week so you can fully appreciate this entrancing dance and enjoy the melodious sounds of the shaqapas.

 

Until next time,

MGB