Birthday Ceramics

As I mentioned in my latest post about my 3rd birthday here in Perú, I have received random, ceramic/plaster figurines for my two birthdays in Caraz. I promised a photo, and here it is.

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My strange figurines in all their glory. I’m not entirely sure what I am going to do with them whenever I eventually leave Perú.

Until next time,

MGB

My Third Peruvian Birthday

At the beginning of June, I celebrated my 3rd birthday since I’ve been to Perú and I am now a quarter of a century old. I’ve never been one to make a huge deal for my birthday, and so my previous two birthdays here in Perú were rather tranquilo. This past birthday was no different, just a little more strange.

I find it awkward to tell people when my birthday is, and so as I woke up on the anniversary of my birth, I just treated it as any other day. I got up, got dressed, and went in to have breakfast with my host-family. As I was leaving the kitchen and letting them know what I was doing for the day, something clicked for them and they remembered it was my birthday. I promptly received several “Peruvian hugs” which as my fellow Volunteers know consists of a half “hug”/half pat on the back, and was told to be sure to return for lunch.

And so, I continued the day as normal and went to the Municipality to prepare for my event with the UGEL. In honor of International Day of the Environment, we were hosting a training for student councils from several schools about environmental management and creating/implementing environmental plans. I gave the first presentation, talking to the attendees about the human impact on the environment, on the consequences of poor trash management, and what student councils could do in their schools to be more environmentally-friendly. We also did a practical activity where each group was presented an environmental problem that they needed to solve with a creative solution.

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Students presenting about their ideas
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More students presenting from another town

In between my presentation and the next, we had some time to kill so we decided to do a stretching IceBreaker. When we still had more time to kill, I jokingly suggested to my socia that everyone could sing me happy birthday since it was, after all, my birthday. Well, what I intended as a joke turned into a full blown chorus of the Peruvian Happy Birthday song which starts in English, switches to a verse in Spanish, and then finishes in Spanish with a verse about cutting the cake and giving hugs. It was nice, but also kind of awkward, and then only became more awkward when one of the students asked his professor to ask me if they could give me hugs. I acquiesced, and for about 5 minutes I was trapped in a never ending hug train from all of the students in attendance, all of whom were far smaller than me. Let it be known, that of the 40+ students that ended up hugging me & wishing me a happy birthday, I only actually knew one. I really wish someone had documented the experience. The event ended with all of the participants writing their compromiso con el medio ambiente (environmental promise) on a cut-out leaf and taping it to a tree banner.

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After the conclusion of the event, which ended up going really well,  I arrived late to my house where I enjoyed a special meal of Lomo Saltado, one of my favorite Peruvian dishes, that my host-mom had kindly prepared for me.

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Lomo Saltado

After lunch, I received a phone call from one of my socios asking if I was coming into the municipality in the afternoon. I told him I wasn’t planning to, but could, and would be in as soon as possible.

After catching a moto and taking my 1 sole trip to Caraz, I walked down to my office and was greeted by the secretary of my office saying that she was angry with me. I was confused, and asked why, and she said I knew why. Eventually, I got her to admit she was upset that I hadn’t told them it was my birthday. And thus began the “apology” and subsequent explanation that I find it awkward to tell people about my birthday.

Regardless, feelings were quickly mended and they organized a dinner at a Pollería (chicken place) for later in the evening to celebrate. Around 6pm, I show up to the pollería and poco a poco my socios started to arrive. We ended up spending about 1.5 hours eating pollo a la brasa and just talking, and it ended up being a nice night; words were spoken, a gift was given, and then we all went our separate ways for the evening.

When I got home I opened up my gift, which turned out to be a ceramic statue of a bearded Captain standing on a boat with a cigar in his mouth, along with a can of Cusqueña beer. So far, I’m 3 for 3 in receiving strange ceramic statues for my birthday. I guess gringos are hard to shop for jaja. I’ll have to take a photo of my growing statue collection and put it in a future post.

At the end of the evening, I remembered that my parents had brought me a card from my sister, with a note saying, Do not open until your birthday. The card was well worth the wait.

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My very own T.A.R.D.I.S.

The best part of the card were three quotes from various incarnations of The Doctor that, at least for me, ring quite true for me and my Peace Corps service.

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I think fellow PCVs can relate.

So all in all, my birthday was unusual, and nothing like any birthday I have had in the U.S. And, since I am extending one more year, I still have one more Peruvian birthday to go before I finish up my Peace Corps service.

Until next time,

MGB

 

 

From Tree Nursery to Tree Planting: Part 2

Sometimes I work at the town landfill. And in actuality, it is often rather fun because apart from disposing of lots of trash, they also make a lot of compost, have over 20 vermiculture beds, and have an old, unkempt tree nursery. This is the story of my fun times at the landfill, and how we launched an impromptu reforestation project.

This post is the second of a series that will cover one of my larger projects here in Caraz; building a tree nursery & consequently planting the trees grown. I will be publishing one post in this blog series/week over the next month or so. This series will cover all aspects of the project, starting with planning, the actual creation of the nursery infrastructure, the plant production, and finally the most rewarding component: tree planting. I hope you enjoy the series, and be sure to check out the first installment before reading this latest in this great tree-venture.

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Once we had the basic infrastructure up to snuff, it was time to move onto phase two of the “reactivation”; substrate preparation. You see, most tree production in Perú is done in black, polyethylene bags that are filled with potting substrate (a variable mix of organic material, sand, and soil that you prepare). There is no Miracle Gro Potting Mix here in Perú!

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An example of the black, polyethylene tree germination bags

With the workers at the landfill, we spent one morning carefully mixing our potting substrate. Preparing a proper potting substrate is essential; the sand provides proper drainage, the organic material helps to retain humidity, and the soil provides nutrients as well as substance to the mixture. Every plant species requires a slightly different mixture according to its growth, ideal habitat, etc., and so the proper ratio is important. Too much sand, and the substrate could dry out quickly, too little sand, and the poor drainage could promote the growth of fungi. It took us a little while to find a mixture that seemed suitable, but in the end, I think our mixture consisted of a fairly even mixture of soil, humus (worm-produced organic material), and sand. Once the substrate was prepared, we had to disinfect it; a sterile potting mix is important so as to minimize the spread of disease and growth of fungi in the tree nursery. There are many methods to sterilizing potting mix, including roasting it in an over or cleansing it with boiling water, but due to the inaccessibility of those techniques, we settled for disinfection with an extremely mild bleach solution. Not the best, but not the worst either.

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Sand on the left, soil/humus on the right
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Mixing the soil, humus, and sand, and adding a bit of water
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More mixing

 

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Disinfecting the substrate with the bleach solution

With the substrate all prepared, I worked with the Club Verde to begin filling germination bags and it was VERY SLOW. I think we managed to fill about 100-150 over 2-3 hours (some dogs later knocked over all of bags we had filled, so our toiling had been meaningless). Something needed to change. In the following days, we struck gold! A local business that produces blueberries threw out a few thousand black plastic germination containers that we could use to instead of germination bags. We were able to fill several hundred of these containers in the time it took us to fill only 100 germination bags. In total, we ended up filling about 1300 containers with substrate, which would equate to 1300 trees assuming all the seeds germinated and grew.

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The containers and bags filled with substrate- they erected a temporary “fence” to keep animals out
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Leveling out the germination beds

So now, poco a poco, we were advancing. Over the subsequent weeks, we continued to fill more containers with potting substrate and began to plant seeds. Additionally, the workers at the landfill managed to obtain some mesh, which we used to enshroud the tree nursery, turning it into a type of greenhouse. Now, when stepping inside the tree nursery, one noted a significant change in humidity and warmth compared to the outside environment. This humid, warmer environment was essential for promoting growth of the trees we desired to produce.

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Filling the germination containers in the newly enshrouded tree nursery. The white substance is cal (lime), which is used to control diseases/smells/flies.

Now, I would like to make clear that reactivating this tree nursery was not planned. It was not a project proposed at the beginning of the year that had a designated budget or anything. This project was somewhat spur of the moment, and was completed with essentially no operating budget. Due to the somewhat spontaneous nature, we decided to just produce whatever seeds we had available. We settled on two native tree species: tara (Caesalpinia spinosa) and molle (Molle shinus). Check out the next two posts for some more deets on these two native tree species.

Until next time,

MGB

From Tree Nursery to Tree Planting: Part 1

Sometimes I work at the town landfill. And in actuality, it is often rather fun because apart from disposing of lots of trash, they also make a lot of compost, have over 20 vermiculture beds, and have an old, unkempt tree nursery. This is the story of my fun times at the landfill, and how we launched an impromptu reforestation project.

This post is the first of a series that will cover one of my larger projects here in Caraz; building a tree nursery & consequently planting the trees grown. I will be publishing one post in this blog series/week over the next month or so. This series will cover all aspects of the project, starting with planning, the actual creation of the nursery infrastructure, the plant production, and finally the most rewarding component: tree planting. I hope you enjoy the series, and be sure to check in each week for the latest installment in this great tree-venture.

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Way back in July of 2016, the gerente (boss) of the Gerencia de Servicios a la Ciudad y Gestión Ambiental (Department of City Services and Environmental Management) of the Municipalidad Provincial de Huaylas (Provincial Municipality of Huaylas) and I were approached by a group of students from the local university. As part of their studies, the students had to create a work plan to address a local issue in the community. This group chose to address some of the environmental issues facing Caraz, notably the dirtiness, contamination, and abundance of trash often found at the town market.

Now, you might be thinking, but wait, this is supposed to be a series about trees, why are you talking about trash in the town market? Well, over a few meetings, I worked with the group to develop their plan about the trash in the market, but during these visits, it became clear there was a desire to do more. And so, my boss at the Municipality talked the students into become a somewhat more formalized entity, a group of sorts that would collaborate with the municipality on environmental activities and projects. Thus formed the Club Verde (check them out in this other post).

So, now that we had a committed group of young people, we began to brainstorm some plans for potential collaborations, other than addressing the trash concerns in the market. One of the big ideas we settled on was to do a big reforestation campaign, planting lots of trees around Caraz. However, we had one big question: where are we going to get all of the trees?

Well, we quickly realized that we were going to have to produce our own trees if we wanted trees to plant. But where? In the end, we settled on the town’s landfill since it conveniently had old, unused tree nursery infrastructure, as well as an abundance of organic fertilizer (compost, humus), which would be essential for tree production. And so, the stage was set: we would reactivate the landfill’s tree nursery.

But what does “reactivate” a tree nursery mean? Tree nurseries aren’t robots or computers. Well, it depends. Tree nurseries require many components to function: a water source, a system of irrigation, a source of organic material for the soil substrate, germination beds to grow the plants, shade (young plants can burn with too much sunlight), regular workers, etc. In our case, most of the infrastructure was present, but was just old and unkempt, having been left unused for several years. Consequently for us, “reactivating” the tree nursery meant first and foremost a LOT of cleaning.

Across two to three visits to the landfill, the Club Verde, some of the landfill workers, and myself spent most of our time de-weeding and reforming the once immaculate germination beds (long cut-outs where the trees are grown). After a lot of work, we managed to get 6 germination beds up to snuff, meaning we could commence with the following phase of the project.

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De-weeding and digging out the germination beds.
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Lots of shoveling was involved

Check-in next week for phase 2 of the tree nursery reactivation project.

Until next time,

MGB

Albino Toadlet

For those who know me really well, it is common knowledge that my favorite kinds of animals have always been herps, which is to say reptiles and amphibians (lizards, turtles, snakes, frogs, etc.).

Consequently, while here in Perú I have been on the look for reptiles and amphibians everywhere I go. I will add a post at some point with photos of all of the different reptiles and amphibians I have seen and/or captured while here in Perú, but for the moment enjoy this little tidbit.

Last week, while visiting the tree nursery in the landfill where I sometimes work, I noticed baby toads hopping all over the ground. Seriously, with every other step I took, you could note tiny, brown figures hopping along the ground. I wasn’t too surprised to be surrounded by toads since there is a small riverbed near the landfill that fills with water during the rainy season, but it was an unexpected occurrence. There must have been eggs and tadpoles there for some time, which had finally metamorphosed into toadlets.

Anyways, while walking around the landfill I noticed a small hopping figure that looked a bit, well, different. It stood out, and on closer inspection I realized because its legs were PINK! I quickly scooped it up, examined it more closely, and discovered it had red eyes, which would indicate that the toadlet had some form of albinism. It was an awesome discovery; usually albino animals don’t survive for long in the wild given their atypical colorations. After a brief photo shoot, I put the tiny toad inside the tree nursery with the hope that he would be safe from predators for sometime within its protective mesh. We shall see. Enjoy some pics!

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Unfortunately I neglected to take any pictures of a normal looking toadlet for comparison, but rest assured they look anatomically identical but with brown skin and bumps.

Until next time,

MGB

2 years in Perú

Today, May 7th, 2017, marks 2 years since officially landing on Peruvian soil (I think our plane touched down at like 10-11pm). While I haven’t officially reached 2 years in my site of Caraz, Áncash (gotta wait until July 25th, 2017), to commemorate this occasion enjoy some of my favorite photos of scenery that I have taken in my beautiful department of Áncash.

Enjoy the photos!

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Mount Huascarán as seen from Huaráz
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The valley visible from the cliffside behind my house
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The soccer stadium where my municipal department’s office is located
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The Cordillera Blanca as seen from Huata (Cordillera Negra)
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One of many beautiful sunsets I have seen from my house
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A panorama of Cuncash, Santa Cruz.
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Río Santa- for once not looking as contaminated as it actually is
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More sunsets from my backyard
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The entrance to the Quebrada Llaca (Llaca Ravine) outside of Huaráz
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Inside the Quebrada Llaca
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Laguna Llaca (Llaca lake) – the lake is formed from glacial melt and rainfall
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A dry field behind my house- reminds me of the savannah
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My host-siblings with a fiery sky in the background
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Laguna Parón (Lake Parón) – this lake provides most of the water to my town
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Snow capped mountains on the way to Punta Olímpica (Olympic Point), where you can cross the Cordillera Blanca to the “dark side”
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Yuracmarca, Áncash. My host-mom’s home turf, this region is only 1.5 hours north of me, but is basically a desert.
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A panorama of Yuracmarca, Áncash
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Laguna Querococha on the way to the ruins of Chavín de Huantar
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The archeological site, Chavín de Huantar
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Colorful, natural springs inside Parque Nacional Huascarán (Huascaran National Park) on the way to the Pastoruri Glacier
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At the Pastoruri Glacier, looking at other travelers
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The Pastoruri Glacier- once famous for its skiing, it is famous for its melting due to climate change
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Laguna Llanganuco- the reddish trees are called Queñuales
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A waterfall on the way to Laguna 69
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What we thought was Laguna 69; the real laguna 69 is way up there below the snow
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The real Laguna 69 – the water wasn’t too cold
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Laguna Parón once more. The mountain in the back is called Pirámide (Pyramid)
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Wilkacocha – a lake near Huaráz on the Cordillera Negra
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Caraz – my home for the last 2 years
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Another beautiful sunset from a site near Huaráz
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Mount Huascarán as seen from the town square of Mancos
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The Callejón de Huaylas as seen from a hike up to Huascarán
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Sunset during a hike up to the base of Mount Huascarán
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Sunset in the other direction
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First glimpse of Mount Huascarán in the morning. We eventually reached the “snow” line
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A contemplative selfie on the way back down the mountain
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Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Fellow Volunteer Kevin hiking in Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Laguna Tullpacocha at the conclusion of our hike into the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Some cool clouds as seen from my backyard
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Laguna Churup- one of the most beautiful lakes I have visited
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The Campiña de Yanahuara – the place I’ve called home for the last 2 years
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From an excursion with three of my former students
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An abandoned church in the hills near my house
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A beautiful, moony night at my house
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The start of a sunset during the rainy season
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Fresh snow on the mountain after a heavy rainfall elsewhere
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One last sunset
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Mount Huascarán once more
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The municipal soccer stadium & Mount Huandoy, the famous snow-capped peak of Caraz

I live in a very beautiful region of the world and I am extremely grateful for the wonderful experiences I have enjoyed during my Peace Corps service. Here’s to one more year!

Until next time,

MGB

 

Earth Day 2017

Each year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Why do we have a day to celebrate the Earth? Well, because the Earth is our only home (for the moment), and we need a yearly reminder that we should care for and protect this beautiful planet on which we live.

As an environmental Volunteer here in Perú, the different environmental holidays that occur throughout the year provide perfect opportunities to plan environmental activities or presentations with my host-country counterparts. One group with whom I have been working since last July is the Club Verde (Green Club), which consists of a bunch of young people from Caraz who are interested in improving the environment in and around the city. While they started as just a group of students from the local University, they are now a more formalized entity (Asociación Club Verde –Caraz) and I have been working with them on the implementation of their plans and ideas for this year.

As a group, they decided they wanted to implement some sort of activity for Earth Day, but after 2 meetings we had about a million ideas, but no one, concrete idea to execute. However, in the days leading up to Earth Day, they finally decided on two different activities.

The first was to plant flowers in one of the less-cared-for parks of Caraz during the morning of Earth Day. I mean, it’s Earth Day, so you are pretty much obligated to plant something, right? Here are some pictures of the process! Also, check out the Club Verde on Facebook!

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The flowers to be planted

 Planting the flowers

 

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The flowers became a tad wilted, but that is completely normal

The second activity was a screening of two environmentally themed movies, one for kids and one for “young adults”. My site-mate, who is a Youth Volunteer, had started a Sábados de Cine (Saturday Movie Nights) with her youth group, and so she let us take over the process for the weekend. For the kids, we decided to show The Lorax, which was a big hit and has a great message. Deforestation is an enormous problem in Perú, and so I hope that those in attendance were able to take something away from the movie. For the young adults, we decided to screen The Day After Tomorrow, a movie that rather dramatically shows the potential consequences of climate change in our world.

While the day was exhausting, it was great to be able to celebrate Earth Day through a diverse array of activities. In addition to my activities with the Asociación Club Verde – Caraz, I also worked with the UGEL (local branch of the ministry of education) to distribute about 200 trees to different schools in the province to be planted. We are also currently working to organize the production of more trees for a huge reforestation campaign in November.

Well, I hope this past April 22 you all took some time to appreciate this wonderful planet we call home. If you didn’t, there is still time to do something to help our planet, like plant a tree!

Until next time,

MGB