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

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Lake Hopping

Last weekend, I organized a trip among some other Ancash Volunteers to Laguna Parón, a huge glacial lake about 1.5 hours from my site.  This lake is quite important to my site because it provides all of our drinking water.  However, this lake is also famous internationally because it is home to the mountain of the Paramount Pictures Logo.

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The mountain from the logo is called Artesonraju, and unfortunately, due to cloudy weather and some trail closures, we were unable to get a glimpse of the famous peak.  However, at least now I can respond “Sí” (yes) whenever I am  asked “¿Conoces Laguna Parón?” (Have you been to Laguna Parón) in site.

Below, you can find a photo series documenting the beautiful trek.

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Combi ride up the mountains pre-hike
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View of Laguna Parón before we began to walk around.
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Had to take this one just for Mom.
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Taking a brief break in the hike.
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Looking back towards the entrance of Laguna Parón.
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A little stick bug we found.
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Cheesin’ in front of the nevado.  Unfortunately, no one wanted to go further along the lake.
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This tree is a Queñual, a typical tree of Parque Huascarán. I love them.
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A marker honoring two former Peace Corps Volunteers involved in the founding of Parque Huascarán.
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A final panoramic of the lake.

Perú is gorgeous (at least Áncash) and I’m so lucky to be living here for 2 years.

Feel free to come visit!

Until later,

MGB

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