Year 3 Begins

So it has been a while since I last updated my blog (about 3 months), and in that time a lot has changed. After finishing up my service in Caraz at the end of July and then spending a week or so getting adjusted to my new role in Huaráz as PCVL, I got to go back to the United States for the month of August for vacation.

I had a great time being home and took advantage of the time to see a lot of family/friends, to go hiking, to eat lots of food (I gained a lot of weight), to go to the beach, to catch up on some movies I had missed while in Perú, and to go see the solar eclipse.

 

 

Overall, I had a fantastic time, but on September 1st, the time came to get myself to the airport and get on a plane back to Perú. Honestly, it was harder to leave this time than it was at last Christmas, but once my plane landed and I was surrounded by Peruvian Spanish once more, I felt at ease. I spent a day in Lima eating some tasty ceviche before catching a night bus on the 2nd to Huaráz.

Being back in Áncash was wonderful. The clean mountain air. The beautiful snow-capped mountains. The beautiful Sierra clothing. Coming back to Áncash after a month in the U.S. was quite refreshing, and I quickly remembered all of the reasons that I decided to stick around with the Peace Corps for an extra year. When I arrived at Huaráz, I went to chill at our Peace Corps hostel to drop some things off and relax before heading up to my apartment complex in the afternoon. When I got there and talked with the owner, she said my apartment was still occupied (turns out the person wasn’t leaving til October 1st, not September 1st like I had been told originally), so that I would stay in one of her older daughter’s old rooms for the month. Not what I was expecting, but if I have learned anything in the Peace Corps, it is how to be flexible. And so, while inconvenient (less privacy, no place to cook), I’ve been through more stressful and awkward things when working in Yuracoto/Caraz, so it was no big deal.

So after moving my stuff in, I treated myself to a nice dinner and then prepared for the upcoming week. On Monday and Tuesday, the Regional Department of Education of Áncash was hosting an Environmental Education Congress for teachers, students, and science/technology/environment teaching specialists from all over the Áncash region. The Environmental Education Congress is one of the many activities included in the  National Plan for Environmental Education sponsored by both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Environment that must be implemented in each region (state) of Perú. While the implementation of the Congress fell under the purview of the Regional Department of Education, the planning involved various institutions, including SERNANP (the Peruvian National Parks organization), who is my partner organization for my 3rd year of work with the Peace Corps. Consequently, I was involved in some of the planning of the Congress and was asked to give a presentation during the Congress about my work with composting/vermiculture with the schools of Caraz & Yuracoto.

So, on Monday, September 4th I gave a presentation about the benefits of composting to about 50 people representing teachers, students, etc. from various schools all across Áncash. The presentation went over well, and the entire first day of the Congress was a huge success.

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The mesa de honor at the start of the Congress

Day 2 went swimmingly as well, and I ended up giving another unexpected presentation at the end of the day about the environmental plan I co-developed and co-implemented with the teachers at Micelino Sandoval Torres in Caraz. The coordinator of the school’s environmental committee was originally going to give the presentation, but unfortunately, she had to leave early. For the first year of implementation and coordination, I think the inaugural Environmental Education Congress was a big success. There were a lot of interesting presentations, from both different environmental experts as well schools, and I hope that the event inspires the teachers and students who attended to continue implementing new environmental projects in their schools and homes.

So, all in all, my return to Perú and Huaráz started on a high note! In the next few days/weeks, I’ll be updating you all on how the rest of my last 1.5 months have gone and what I’ve been up to.

Until next time,

MGB

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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

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

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

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.