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.
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.
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,