Tree Nursery Project

So I’m back after a long blog-hiatus, and this post and those that follow will hopefully catch you up on the last 3 months of my life.

Each year, the first week of November in Perú is the Semana Nacional de Acción Forestal (National Week of Forestry), so as an environmental Volunteer I wanted to organize some sort of event to commemorate the holiday. In talking with one of my socios (community partners), a science professor from my local school, we decided to create a small-scale tree nursery in the school. During 2 meetings, we created a Plan de Trabajo (Work Plan), that detailed the entire process and how we would execute the project, which was subsequently approved by the Director of the school.

The project started the last week of October with 3 presentations about the importance of trees, the construction of a vivero, and different forestry techniques. The following week, construction was to begin. According to our plan, the vivero was to be completed entirely in 1 week, with students preparing germination bags for the seeds on the final day.

On Monday, I worked with students from secundaria (high school) to prepare the camas (beds) that would house the growing plants. While clearing out the space, we quickly found the area had been used in the past to bury garbage (we found lots of broken glass), so the original site had to be scrapped.  I felt bad, because the students had worked really hard.

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Building the nursery beds.

Only slightly delayed, I thought we could still finish everything on time. The next day (Tuesday), with another group of students, we made a new cama, this time in a more suitable location (no buried trash), which was better protected. “Better protected from what?”, you may ask; from other people. I was told repeatedly that if we had stuck with the original site, people would have climbed over the wall to take the plants. This revelation was pretty shocking to me (who would steal plants?), but I decided to trust the wisdom of the students and teachers who knew the community far better than I did.

On Wednesday, I worked with the elementary school teachers to make some environmental signs talking about the importance of trees and protecting nature. They did a fantastic job on the posters.

Additionally, I met with some of the high school classes to prepare Tara seeds for planting. Not all seeds can just be planted in the ground and expected to grow; some need a little help. Such is the case with Tara, a tree species that is an absolute favorite of my program director, Diego Shootbridge. The seed coat for Tara is rather tough, so in order to help it germinate faster, you need to clip off part of the seed coat using cortauñas (nail clippers), and then soak the seeds for 12-24 hours. With the students help, we prepped about 350 seeds, which would equate to about 100-150 seed bags.

 

Now, Wednesday afternoon, I was supposed to meet with some students to make the shade for the vivero; without proper shade, the growing trees could easily dry out and die. So at 3:30pm, I showed up at the school and found only a few students, only 1 of which had brought materials to make the shade tent. Fortunately, I had a feeling that this might occur, so I had brought along my Frisbee; instead of working on the shade, I taught them how to throw a Frisbee.

Now, we didn’t finish the shade, but that was fine. We could do it tomorrow afternoon. Thursday was meant to be the principal day of planting the seeds into seed bags, but when Thursday came around I found out that the humus (worm poop) that the Municipality was going to give us wouldn’t be delivered until the afternoon. Another delay. So the seed planting was postponed till Friday, meaning the prepped seeds would probably be soaked for a little too long, but oh well.

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The humus aka worm poop from the Municipality.

Friday finally came, and it was to be the day of planting. We had arranged to do it all grade by grade. The soil was there, I brought the planting bags and the seeds, and the students all showed up. Grade by grade, they came into one of the classrooms and I explained the whole seed bag preparation process, after which we went outside to begin the process. It was a busy morning, working pretty much nonstop from 8am – 1pm. In the end, we prepared about 240 seeds bags, for both Tara and Molle, another beautiful native tree species. Since the vivero wasn’t finished, I had the students place their seed bags in their classrooms with the instructions to keep watering them every other day.

On Friday night, I left to Huaráz to begin my trip to Lima for my first In-Service Training back at our training center where I was living for the first 3 months. When I returned back to site and visited the school, the vivero was still in disarray, a few of the bags which had been left outside had been ruptured, and the majority of students had forgotten to water their seeds bags, meaning the seedlings either dried out or just didn’t grow.

I was frustrated; pretty much no success after having invested so much. However, once I got over the frustration, I sat down to think what I could have down differently. In this reflective process, I realized that even though it wasn’t a success, I learned quite a lot from the experience, especially with regard to project planning in Perú. Essentially, my project was too ambitious. I tried to rush it, wanting to just get something done, and perhaps being far too optimistic about schedules and delays. While I was disappointed in what occurred, I’m glad it turned out the way it did, because it made me realize several ways in which I can improve coordination for future projects.

Firstly, I need to schedule projects over a largo plazo, or longer timeframe, so that there is plenty of time to account for delays. Flexibility is key, even more so than I believed when first starting my Peace Corps journey. Secondly, I need to work with a clearly identified group of invested individuals. I tried very hard to include everyone in the process (all the grades) so that everyone would feel a sense of ownership, but I think in the end no sense of ownership was developed. This was the most valuable lesson for me, I think. I still want to make a vivero with the school, but for round 2, I hope to approach it differently. Rather than have everyone play a role, I think it would be better to make the vivero a responsibility of a single grade, such as 8th grade, with each future 8th grade class being responsible for the vivero, learning how to manage it from the previous 8th grade class.

So my first experience with doing a project in my Peace Corps journey wasn’t an overwhelming success, in fact it was far from it. But, I’ve long since come to terms with the “failure”, and will use the experience to help guide my future work in my site over the next 19 months.

Until next time,

Mark G-B

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What has Mark been up to in Perú?

So it has been quite some time since my last blog post, so I figured a general recap of my work over the last 2 months was long overdue, but unfortunately I’ll only be recapping what I did in September, because otherwise this post would be incredibly long.

Sports:

I have been playing a lot of soccer and volleyball as of late, and most specifically with the Vaso de Leche group from my neighborhood. Vaso de Leche is a Perú-wide organization in which mothers of children under the age of 6 can receive free milk and Quaker from the Peruvian Government. Vaso de Leche is incredibly important because it helps to ensure that growing children recieve proper nutrition. In order to foster camaraderie among the various Vaso de Leche groups in my provincia (think county), the Municipality of Caraz organized a huge 3-part soccer/volleyball tournament. Being the local gringo, I was of course selected to help train my neighborhoods Vaso de Leche group, and so for quite a few weeks I was playing volleyball/soccer quite regularly with a group of 10-20 moms.

Playing soccer with the moms of Inca Huaín
Playing soccer with the moms of Inca Huaín

Despite all of our training, we didn’t rank in either Volleyball nor Soccer, so we’ll just have to train harder for next year.

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The moms of Inca Huaín on the soccer pitch.

English Classes

As a way to get to know people in my host community of Inca Huaín/Yuracoto, I started English classes in my house each Saturday afternoon. While the first one or two lessons resulted in about 10-11 students, over the weeks the number of devoted students has dwindled to just 4. With these four students, all girls, we have learned Greetings/goodbyes, colors, animales, numbers, and just this weekend, fruits. These girls, including my host-sister, are really excited to learn, and their enthusiasm has really helped to keep me motivated. In fact, one of my proudest moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer came from a moment in which my 4 students took on the role of teachers, sharing their newfound English knowledge with some other children who showed up at my house with their parents for some sort of political event.

I got to practice my drawing skills when we learned about animals in English.
I got to practice my drawing skills when we learned about animals in English.

Apart from the English lessons in my house, I have taught English a few times in the local school where we have covered Greetings/goodbyes and a personal favorite, parts of the body, which of course includes Head-Shoulders-Knees-Toes. The kids really enjoy learning songs which is perfect for me since I love to sing songs. During one of the English classes, I gave the students some free time to ask me questions which of course led to questions about my family, my pets, my travels, where I live, etc. The diagram of our conversation can be seen in the image below.

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Fishing:

 One Sunday, I went fishing in the Río Santa with my host-dad and two local kids. Although I never got the opportunity to cast the net, I did help collect the fish out of the nets and of course, document the entire experience.   The experience was quite fun, and I enjoyed seeing some new scenery (and finding some toads).

One of my neighbors casting the net.
One of my neighbors casting the net.

With all of the fish we caught, we had a lovely fish fry for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner again, and breakfast once more, and maybe another lunch.

Trash Management Education:

One of the biggest environmental problems in Perú at the moment is trash management, and consequently, a lot of my work with the Municipality of Caraz has focused on this theme. Coincidentally, trash management is also the third goal of my Peace Corps Program, Community Based Environmental Management. Therefore, I have given some charlas (presentations) to local schools/students about how to conserve/protect the environment and how to properly manage trash. In these presentations, I talked about Climate Change, Environmental Contamination, the 3Rs (Reducir, Reutilizar, Reciclar), and how to properly segregate (organics, inorganics, reciclables, dangerous, etc.) and store trash for proper disposition. These two presentations were my first big presentations for students here in Perú, and I’m really looking forward to continue working with schools during the next 2 years.

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Community Clean-ups

During two Saturdays in September, the Municipality organized two community clean-ups, focusing on a different barrio (neighborhood) within Caraz each weekend. The clean ups started bright and early at 6am each morning, and continued until about 11-11:30am, involving mostly just workers from the municipality (although more community members participated in the second event). We cleaned up everything from trash to food waste, and construction waste to the pounds and pounds of dust that abide in Caraz due to the unfinished roads in the upper sections of the city. I successfully managed to break the broom given to me for the clean-up, which happened to be the third broom I have broken in less than 2 months. Oh, and I was also interviewed during the first clean-up event and the footage was shown on the Municipality’s TV cannel.

Faena de Limpieza (Clean-up)
Faena de Limpieza (Clean-up)

Peace Parade

September 21st was the International Day of Peace, and so to celebrate, my Municipality put together a big parade, which is the #1 way to celebrate any event in Perú. I got an awesome white shirt, got to hold a sign for my Gerencia of the Municipality, and was also on TV again (although only in passing this time). How fitting that a Peace Corps Volunteer got to march in a Peace parade?

Doves being released to celebrate the Day of Peace.
Doves being released to celebrate the Day of Peace.

As you can probably see, I have been very, very busy the last few months.  I have learned a lot, started working on a lot of different projects, and this has only been the briefest of glimpses into my activities thus far.  As some of my projects develop further, I will be detailing them up here on my blog.

Un abrazo,

Mark G-B