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.

IMG_4629.JPG
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

Advertisements

Foto Friday: Llama van

So this past Wednesday was a holiday here in Perú, and I decided to aprovechar and go into Huaráz for the day to talk to my U.S. family, hang out with my host-uncle, and get a cheap smartphone and data plan to better stay in touch with friends and other Volunteers.

Now, to get to Huaráz, I have to take a combi which is basically a large, white van in which they squeeze in anywhere from 5-20 people on tiny benches. In my site, Caraz, there is a station where these combis leave about everyone 5 minutes for Huaráz, so naturally this is where my story begins. Now, I hop on the combi in Caraz, and about 20 minutes later I have arrived at the neighboring city of Yungay, where my friend Diana works. At Yungay, there is a mandatory stop that all the combis must pull into, waiting their turn until they are allowed to continue the journey to Huaráz.

Usually waiting in the stop (paradero) is quite boring, but this time was filled with a little excitement. As I was sitting in my van, listening to music, I see a man walking around with a llama. Now, I assumed that this man had brought his llama out to provide a photo opp for the social media obsessed tourist or two that might be passing through Yungay. But, I was quite wrong. In fact, llama man was in search of a llama van, in other words, he wanted a ride for him and his llama, presumably to Huaráz, but I can’t be sure.

IMG_1678
Prepping the combi for the giant llama

So, in a short span of time, the combi in front of me popped open its back door, and a man quickly compressed all of the seats to against the windows to make room for the llama. Now, this was a big llama, and despite moving about 2 rows of seats, the llama barely made it inside. The man needed to push the llama in a bit further to close the door, and knowledgeably asked the owner “La llama se patea?” (does the llama kick?), to which the owner said “No, no no. No se patea.” (no, no no, he doesn’t kick). Now let me tell you, that llama did kick, and it took a good 3 tries before they could successfully close the back door of the combi and send the llama van on its way.

IMG_1679
They finally fit the llama inside the van.

One thing I’ve learned in Peace Corps is that you are surprised constantly. I can only hope that in the future I get to witness this spectacle once more.

Until next time,

MGB

Foto Friday: Green Spaces and Sustainability

As an environmental management Peace Corps Volunteer, my three work goals have to do with Environmental Education, Natural Resource Management, and Solid Waste Management. While most of my work has been centered in the Municipality with trash management, this year I branched out and begun working in the largest school in Caraz, I.E. Micelino Sandoval Torres.

Over the past few months, I have been working with the Environmental Committee of teachers to elaborate an integrated environmental plan to implement in the school for this year. The plan has various activities ranging from presentations about the environment, improving the school’s trash management system, and teaching the kids about proper personal hygiene. However, another important component of the plan is the creation of more green areas and spaces within the school. After lots of planning in the elaboration of the plan, 2 weeks ago we finally took our first steps to achieve the goal of making the school greener.

At the beginning of June, the school Director, a few teachers of the Environmental committee, and myself walked around the grounds of the school to identify all of the free spaces which currently lacked greenery and maintenance. In total, we identified 21 spaces within the school, 21 spaces which were photographed and then marked on a map to be distributed to the different teachers. Below you can see one of the larger areas available within the school; as you can see, there is a lot that can be done in the space.

IMG_1638
I wonder what this will look like in a few weeks/months.

Last week, the Environmental Committee began distributing the map with corresponding photos among the different elementary and high school teachers so that each teacher can claim a space for their students. The idea is that one (or a few) class(es) will be responsable for each area within the school, using the spaces to plant grass, trees, flowers, or even to create a garden to produce some vegetables for the school breakfast system known as Qaliwarma.

The hope is that in the following weeks, the teachers and students will begin formulating and implementing their plans, and that by the end of the school year in December, the school with have a much greener and healthier look. Hopefully in a few months I will be able to post some photos of the before & after shots of the school.

While elaborating the environmental plan with the teachers took a while, it was worthwhile since the projects and activities implemented won’t be of my own design, but rather of the teachers. Yes, I will be helping with the activities, and yes, I may have helped with some of the organization of the environmental plan, but at the end of the day, the plan was made by the teachers and will be implemented by them. As Peace Corps Volunteers we are here to develop capacities and work sustainably, and while this is the longer and less traveled road in development, for me it seems worth it despite the challenges.

Until next time,

MGB

Foto Friday: On the Radio

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, a lot of our work involves repetition. We give a presentation about how to separate trash, and then have to give another one, and then bug people multiple times until some of them finally adapt the practice, if only for a short while.

However, you can’t just give the same presentation over and over again, because as we all know, that would be boring. You have to know your audience, tailor your words to impact them; elementary school kids can’t be taught the same as parents in a rural community. But more importantly, you need to be creative, think of different ways in which you can spread your messages.

Here in Caraz, we are fortunate to have several different forms of public communication, each of which I have slowly but surely been taking advantage of in order to share environmental messages with the wider community. Firstly, we have a Municipal TV station that shows movies, documentaries, and footage of the different events and activities that the Municipality puts together. Recently, thanks to a little help, they have begun showing Planet Earth in Spanish so that the community of Caraz can see a bit more of the world and learn more about nature. In addition to the T.V. channel, we also have several radio stations, and it is the radio that I am highlighting today with my Foto Friday post.

I have had the fortune to talk with my community counterparts on 3 of the radio stations here in Caraz, spreading different environmental messages. Below, is a photo of me and two workers from the UGEL-Huaylas (Local Unit of Educational Management) on the UGEL’s weekly radio show. They take advantage of the space each week to talk about different educational initiatives and highlight different schools in the province.

P1040239.jpg

That day, I had the fortune to attend and talk about Climate Change, the start of the school year, and give a shout out to all of the schools that had committed to working on environmental initiatives in their schools for this year. Since then, I have been able to talk on this show, and a few others about different environmental topics such as recycling, trash management, environmental contamination, and water pollution.

When I joined the Peace Corps, I never once imagined that I would be talking on radio shows to promote environmental awareness, but I must say, it is quite fun. I’m hoping to work with my counterparts to take advantage of the TV and Radio more in the future, because they are great mediums for promoting environmental awareness and maybe even teach some new skills.

Until next time,

MGB

Foto Friday: Pastoruri Glacier & Climate Change

If you didn’t know, Perú is ranked #3 in terms of countries most at-risk for the effects of climate change. Even only having lived here for a little over a year, the evidence of Climate Change is quite apparent; the once consistent dry and rainy seasons are now changing significantly from year to year. On top of this, an abundance of anecdotal evidence from rural communities as well as verified scientific data, shows that in many parts of Áncash and all of Perú, temperatures are more extreme than before, and weather patterns are different. In Perú, the most notable evidence of climate change would have to be the melting of glaciers along Perú’s Cordillera Blanca, which is a part of the Andes Chain.

During Holy Week in March, I had the chance to visit some touristy locations in Áncash with a few other Volunteers. The first place we visited was the Pastoruri Glacier, perhaps the most prominent example of the effects of Climate Change here in Áncash. Believe it or not, the Pastoruri Glacier used to be a skiing destination here in Perú, but as you can see in the photo below, there isn’t much left to ski on. To give you an idea of how big the glacier used to be, most of the black areas in the photo below used to be covered in ice and snow.

P1040468
Pastoruri Glacier in Huascarán National Park, Áncash, Perú

The Pastoruri Glacier is such a prime example of the effects of climate change, that they even established a Climate Change Route at the visitor’s center and along the walk to the Glacier in order to educate visitors about the effects of Climate Change in Perú.

As an environmental Volunteer, it is disheartening looking up at the various snow-capped mountains in Áncash, knowing that in 20, 30, 50 years, they might have all disappeared or at least become shadows of their former selves, as has Pastoruri. Climate Change is a global concern, but I think we, as humans, often think it is such a large, overwhelming problem, that there is nothing we can do on an individual level to contribute to the solution.

However, there is one simple way in which communities all across the world can “fight” Climate Change; plant a tree. Most scientists agree that Climate Change is occurring due to the increase of CO2 (once trapped underground as fossil fuels) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So how does planting a tree help? Well, trees absorb CO2 in order to grow, and therefore serve as Carbon Sinks, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and instead “trapping” it in their woody bodies. Plus, when we plant trees, we get all of the other benefits such as increased Oxygen production, soil conservation, shade, water conservation, water purification, etc.

So maybe it is too late for Pastoruri, and maybe it is too late for the rest of the glaciers here in Perú, but I hope that we as a global society can do something to curb the speed of Climate Change, whether that be by planting trees or switching over to renewable energies.

Until next time,

MGB

P.S. Get out there and plant some trees; fighting climate change one tree at a time.

 

Foto Friday: Stars

One of the nice things about living out in the campo here in Perú, would have to be the absence of light pollution. Sure there are some lights here and there, but the light pollution is no where near as strong as from my home in the U.S., which by many standards would be considered quite rural as well. And so in the absence of most man-made lights, the natural lights of our universe are able to shine even more brightly.

Stars.

Living here in Perú, I have looked up and seen more stars than I ever have in my life. I’ve even seen an abundance of shooting stars, which makes me realize that they aren’t so rare, and in fact the rarity is the presence of a clear, dark, unpolluted night sky in the U.S. However, the most exciting thing I have seen looking up into the vastness of our universe, has been the Milky Way Galaxy. Prior to joining the Peace Corps and moving to Perú, the only time I had ever seen the Milky Way was in photos from books or videos from the internet. Now, I can look up nearly every night and enjoy its beauty.

I have tried my best to capture a proper photo of the Milky Way and the vast arrays of stars I see at night, but unfortunately my digital camera is not up to snuff for capturing the subtle light of the beautiful celestial bodies above us. However, with some fiddling, I was able to capture a familiar site to many, the Big Dipper Constellation (Ursa major to some). While I can’t see the Big Dipper all throughout the year, when I do manage to see it, I am comforted in knowing I could see those same stars back from my porch in the U.S.

IMG_1618
Can you see the Big Dipper? If not, trying putting your device at maximum brightness and look at the bottom center of the photo.

For whatever reason, looking up at the night sky has always brought me peace and calm, and this is even more the case here in Perú. Much like the music of James Morrison, whenever I am feeling the stresses of work life here in Perú, gazing upwards at night and just watching the stars all around, gives me great tranquility and satisfaction.

For those of you who can, I hope you take a few minutes each night to ponder the beauty of the stars above us. Living here in Perú, I often think that it would do us well back in the U.S. and elsewhere to turn off the lights from time to time, and just appreciate the light of our universe.

Until next time,

MGB

Foto Friday: Hazel Leia

So it has been about 4 months since one of my neighbors brought Hazel Leia into my life. Those 4 months have been filled with a lot of trials and tribulations, such as choosing a name, teaching some basic tricks, convincing her to not eat chickens like her bad older brother, and trying and trying and trying to get her to stop crossing the road in front of my house. But, these 4 months have been extremely happy months for me as well because each day when I am returning to my house, I am greeted by an exuberant little puppy who can’t seem to contain her excitement at seeing me. Whenever I am feeling a bit down, her goofiness picks me right up, and she is certainly one of my favorite aspects of my Peace Corps service here in Perú.

Whereas when I first got Hazel, I could easily carry her in one hand, it now requires both just to pick her off the ground.  When I first got her, she loved to enter my room and squeeze under my bed to take a nap for the afternoon or the evening. Now, after a few months of eating a wide assortment of foods, she had grown quite significantly and has quickly outgrown the underside of my bed, instead choosing to upgrade to the underside of my desk, where she now naps on my bags of Tara seeds. Given that Tara is a type of legume, you could say she has her very own personal bean bags.

P1050266
Hazel Leia during a brief hike with some of my recent US visitors

But, everything hasn’t been sunshine and daisies unfortunately. About 1.5 months ago, after I arrived very late to my house due to an movie event in Caraz, I was greeted by my host-dad who let me know that my beautiful puppy Hazel Leia had been hit by a car. Since that was all my host-dad told me, I assumed that she had died and they had already disposed of her. However, after mourning her during a sad dinner, I decided to go check the spot where my host-dad was sitting earlier and found that Hazel was not dead, but was in fact severely injured. She could hardly move, had blood coming out of her nose, appeared to have difficulty breathing, and had several cuts all across her body. I was devastated, but thankful that she was alive. I sat with her for a while, and woke up several times during the night to check on her. When I finally woke up Sunday morning, she was lying outside my door, still very weak, but at the very least responsive. Since she had managed to move in front of my door during the night, I knew that she could walk in some capacity, and so I had lots of hope for her recovery. So, I scooped her up into a plastic tub and took her into town to visit a vet. Now, vets here in Perú are not equipped to a similar level we are accustomed to in the U.S., but it turns out that this vet had just enough. She gave Hazel a thorough check-up, cleaned off her wounds, and then gave me a script for medicine and told me some signs to watch out for in the following days.

While I was extremely worried about the fate of my new puppy, by the following day her spirit had renewed and she was up and about, probably operating at about 30%.  Within 4 days of the accident, she was miraculously back to her old self, walking around without much hesitation, regaining her appetite slowly but surely. Those first few days post-accident were extremely trying, but she pulled through, recovered to her old self, and is now once again a happy and healthy puppy.

Unfortunately, her date with death hasn’t deterred her from crossing the road as I had hoped it would, but I do my best each day to scare her away from the road in the hopes that she will learn.

Now, all that remains is to get her dewormed and get her up-to-date on all of her necessary vaccinations. Hopefully by the end of next week, she will have reached the “US standard of puppy health”, apart from being a tad bit more dirty (she hates baths).

So to Hazel Leia and ALL of the Peace Corps Pets out there in the world, thanks for bringing us comfort and solace during our 2 year journeys.

Until next time,

MGB