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.

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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

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

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

Ancash: they say it’s blue.

So unless you speak Quechua, you probably didn’t catch the significance of my title.  In Quechua, Anqa = blue, and adding “sh” to the ends of words adds the meaning “they say” or “se dice”, so Ancash (or Anqash) literally means “they say it’s blue” in Quechua.

So why kick this post off with a Quechua lesson?  Because Ancash in the departmento (state) of Perú in which I’ll be living for the next 2 years, and they speak Quechua in Ancash.  Specifically, as noted in my previous post, I’ll be living just outside the city of Caraz, in the Callejón de Huaylas.

So this past week was Site Visit week for all of the trainees of Peace Corps Perú 25, which means that we all got to spend a week at our future sites, to which we will be moving after we officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers in just 2 weeks.

For the Ancash volunteers, we got on a bus in Lima at 11pm on Saturday, July 4th, and arrived in the incredible city of Huaráz, which is the capital of Ancash, at about 6:30am on Sunday.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by 3 amazing Ancash Volunteers who took us to the Peace Corps approved hostel in the city.

After dropping off our stuff, we headed out to an amazing breakfast place called Café California, which is owned by an American from California, which means that they had US BREAKFAST FOOD!!!!!  I had my first pancakes in over 2 months and they were delicious.  In general, Ancash receives a lot of international tourists who come for the gorgeous hikes and mountaineering, which means there are a lot of expats, which means there are a lot of great international food places.

Café California
Café California

After breakfast, we headed out on a scavenger hunt throughout the city which involved finding some locations that would be useful to us as volunteers, whether to nourish our stomachs or actually provide support in some other capacity.  One of the stops was the Huaráz market, to which I returned later to prepare a canasta (basket) as a gift to my new host family, who I would be meeting on Tuesday morning.

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The rest of the day was spent exploring the city on our own, and chilling in our hostel which has free wifi and HOT SHOWERS!  It is the best.

The view from the roof of our Hostel.  Mt. Huascarán is the tallest mountain in Perú.
The view from the roof of our hostel. Mt. Huascarán is the tallest mountain in Perú.

Monday was an important day, because it was Socio day, or the first interaction we would have with our future host-country counterparts.  I had two socios come, Edwin, a CTA (science-technology-environment) teacher in the school down the road from my new home, and Miguel, the jefe de Ecología y Medio Ambiente de la Municipalidad de Caraz (boss of ecology and environment in the Caraz municipality).  They both were great, and we spent the majority of the morning going over Peace Corps policies, the role of a volunteer in the community, and other such things.

Tuesday was the more important day, in my opinion, because that was the day we met our new host families, the people who would be housing us, feeding us, and forming our new Peruvian family for the next 2 years of our lives.  My host-parents are named Edwin and Elli, and we hit it off right from the get-go.  They are both incredibly nice, and not only do they speak Spanish, but they also speak Quechua, so I will have lots of time to practice all the Quechua I have been learning when I’m permanently in site.  Edwin makes and sells bricks, used to drive transportation trucks, and is the president of our neighborhood of about 450 families (I quickly learned that he seems to know everyone, and he is even good friends with the mayor of the town).  Elli works around the house cooking, tending the chakra (farm/fields), and also sells fruits once a week in the large market in Caraz.  Based on my observations throughout the week, they seem to have a great relationship and divide the household labor fairly evenly, which isn’t always a common sight in Peru.

After we finished family orientation, we hopped on a colectivo (van) and began the ~1.5 hour journey from Huaráz to Caraz.  The journey was incredibly scenic, with giant snowcapped mountains to my right, and imposing mountains to my left.  When we arrived in Caraz, and eventually to my house, I knew I was in the right spot.  The climate is perfect (warm during the day, not too cold at night, and the water from the faucet is naturally warm).  When we got to my new house, I met the rest of the family which consists of a 9 year-old sister named Cielo, and a 4 year-old brother also named Edwin, who we just call Junior.  I was also happily surprised to discover that my host-dad had four children from a previous marriage who ranged from 21 to 28 years of age: more friends!

My host-brother, Edwin, in our backyard.
My host-brother, Edwin, in our backyard.

The rest of Tuesday was spent settling into my freshly painted room, meeting our 6+ dogs and various farm animals, and enjoying some wonderful food as I got to know my new family.  I hit it off with Cielo and Junior right away, and from the first meeting I knew that we were going to have a fun 2 years together.

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On Wednesday, the work began.  The purpose of the site visit wasn’t only to meet our new host-family, but also to start to get to know our community, which means doing lots of presentations.  My Wednesday morning kicked off with a visit to the Caraz Municipality, where I thought I was just going to be introduced one-by-one to some of the important directors.  Boy was I wrong!  When I arrived, I was guided into a room full of municipality workers, and given a seat at the table in the front of the room.  After a few minutes, a vey formal presentation began, during which I was asked to give a speech about Peace Corps, my role as a volunteer, and what I hoped to accomplish.  It was a tad overwhelming, and the whole thing was filmed/photographed, so there very well might be an article published about me sometime soon in Caraz.  However, I think it went over very well and the workers seemed to resonate with my words.

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View from my room; bricks, mountains, and all.

After that, the rest of the week ran rather smoothly.  I visited 3 local schools, of which 2 seemed very receptive to working with me on environmental education.  I also quickly realized that everyone, and I mean everyone, wants me to teach English. The schools, the municipality, my host-dad, etc.  I am happy to help out with English classes when I can, and to work with the English teachers to improve their pronunciation, but I made it very clear that I was not a teacher, and that my environmental goals take priority.

In addition to visiting schools, I visited the Health Post in my community of Yuracoto, where I met the doctor in charge and offered my support for any work they might do in the schools, such as with sex ed, promoting self-esteem, or environmental education.  I also met the director of the UGEL, which is an organization responsible for overseeing the schools in each community within Perú.

Some other highlights of the week were:

  • Sharing meals with my host family.
  • Eating Manjar Blanco, an incredibly delicious milk-based cream spread.
  • Watching Ben-10 with my host-brother and Combate with my whole family.
  • Feeding our chickens and ducks.
  • Eating ice cream and a snow-cone equivalent in town.
  • Visiting the municipality’s vivero (tree nursery) at which I hope to plant lots of trees (hopefully with students).
  • Visiting the municipality’s “zoo” which has ostriches, a monkey, and some farm animals.
  • Seeing my office space in the Office of Services to the City which happens to be in the town’s soccer stadium.
  • Seeing the stars and the Milky Way every night.
  • Learning some new Quechua words from my host-parents.
  • Visiting some ruins within Caraz and seeing some ways to spruce them up a bit.
  • Picking up my host-sister from school and meeting her friends, who kept asking me how to say certain things in English.
  • Finding a great potential new socia who is an English teacher in my host-sister’s school, and who already has a TON of ideas about how to make the school much more environmentally conscious.  Plus, she has a son who runs a tourism-by-bike business in Caraz, which I want to check out.
  • Finding toad eggs & tadpoles in my backyard, and teaching my 4 year-old host-brother about the life cycle of a toad.  I’m hoping we can raise some in the house when I get back, and possibly use them for a school project.

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Overall, Caraz is absolutely beautiful and I’m really looking forward to my tranquil lifestyle on the outskirts of town.  I really have a wonderful set-up in my site, because there are SO many opportunities for work, both in the city and in the surrounding rural areas.  The municipality needs a lot of support in promoting their environmental programs, the schools need a lot of support, and there is a lot to be done to promote environmental advocacy and eco-tourism.  I’m really excited to get back to my site in two weeks, so I can finally get started with my work.  There is still a lot to learn about my site, and still a lot of preparations to complete before getting started, but I know now that I’m ready for this, and that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

-Mark

P.S. I expect lots of people to come visit me, because Ancash is gorgeous.

Where in the world is Mark Goldy-Brown…Site Assignment Day!

This past Wednesday was a huge day in Peace Corps world, well at least in the world of Peace Corps Perú 25 trainees.  This past Wednesday was the day we received our site assignments, or in other words, the location in which we would be living and working for the next 2 years of our lives.  This day has been long awaited by everyone in my training group, and I must say that it was definitely the happiest and most energetic day of training thus far.

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Site Assignment, 8:30am

We kicked off the morning with a little stalling for time from the training staff, since all of the regional coordinators (they will be our first line of staff support at site) were running a little late.  However, the stalling was appreciated because we watched this hilarious video about Peruvians bringing their culture to Perú, Nebraska, and the hilarity that ensues.

Now, on to the good stuff.  So around 8:40, all of the regional coordinators arrived and we finally were able to get started, of course going alphabetically by departamento name.  First up was Amazonas, followed by Ancash (where I knew I was going), then Cajamarca, Junín/Lima, La Libertad, Lambayeque, and Piura.

If you can’t tell from the photo of my Anca$h crew, I was super happy.  After the excitement of finding out who was going to Ancash with me, I managed to calm down and glance through the dossier of my future site, which is…..

Caraz, Ancash.

Caraz Plaza de Armas
Caraz Plaza de Armas

Caraz is the capital city of the province of Huaylas (think county), and is located in what is known as the Callejon de Huaylas, or the Huaylas Valley, which is a valley formed between the two mountain ranges that divide Ancash: the Cordillera Negra to the west, and the Cordillera Blanca, to the east.  Ancash is an incredibly beautiful departamento and well renowned for it’s snow capped peaks, glacial lakes, and absolutely incredible hiking and trekking.  Also, Ancash is coincidentally the first province to ever host Peace Corps Volunteers in Perú, way back in 1962.  But, I’ll talk more about Ancash in a future blog post.

My site, Caraz, is known as Caraz Dulzura by most Ancashinos (people of Ancash) because it is well renowned for its sweets and ice-cream (music to my ears!).  The city has about 28,000 people, with about half living within the city itself and the other half in the surrounding rural areas.  The weather is fairly mild compared to other Ancash sierra sites because it lies in a valley, and is only at ~2200 meters of altitude, but there is still a strong rainy season that lasts from about November to April.

Laguna de Parón
La Laguna Parón: the largest lake in Ancash, which is located about an hour outside of Caraz.

In terms of my job, I will primarily be working with the Municipality in Caraz to help implement a solid waste management program that they just recently started.  They have a location designated for a landfill, but still need to improve the facility as well as launch a city-wide trash separation campaign to educate people about how to separate their trash (recyclables, organics, waste, etc.).  The municipality even has it’s own radio and tv channel, so I hope to eventually hit the air (in Quechua and Spanish) to teach people how to segregate trash.  In addition to working with the municipality, it seems likely I will be working with some of the local schools in areas of environmental education, tree planting, and maybe even teaching some English.  With my site, it seems like the possibilities are endless right now, but I’m sure I’ll have a much better idea of what I want to do, and what I can do, once I move out there in a few weeks and get started.

Now, while my work will center around Caraz, I will actually be living in a smaller community about 15 minutes away by bike with a host family.  While I haven’t met my family yet (I will in about 2 weeks), I do know that I have a mom, dad, little sister (9), and little brother (4).  I was really excited to find out that I would have little siblings because I brought Play Doh and bubbles with me from the states, but haven’t had anyone to give them to yet.  I’m hoping that my host family will speak both Quechua and Spanish so that I can continue to practice both in site, but I guess I’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out!

If you have any questions about my site, leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them based on the information I have!

Look out for blog posts in the future about my site/Ancash once I actually arrive, and until then.

Peace,

Mark

P.S. I hope you guys caught the Peace/Peace Corps pun.

The Hills Are Alive…

with the sound of happy MAC aspirantes (trainees).

So this past week, all of the trainees went off to various parts of Perú for Field Based Training.  All of the MAC volunteers, myself included, left the overcast and dusty skies of Chaclacayo to head to the fresh, clear skies of the city of Jauja, in the province of Junín.

We left early Monday morning on the swankiest bus I have ever been on, to start our ~7 hour journey to Jauja.

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My seat on our Cruz del Sur bus, complete with my own personal touchscreen.

There is only one road from Lima to Jauja, and it is a steep, windy one that curves its way up one side of a mountain range and then down the other.  At its summit, the road is the highest in all of Perú, meaning altitude sickness is a definitive concern, but also that you get a close-up of some gorgeous snow-capped peaks.

Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.
Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.

Fortunately, the altitude didn’t give me any problems during the journey (or for the rest of the week, for that matter), and we arrived safely and without incident around 3pm.  Upon arrival we checked into our hostel, and then I went out to grab a snack with some volunteers; we got a giant avocado and 7 pieces of bread to share for the equivalent of $0.66.

The next day was when the fun began, because we kicked off the day by going to a nearby school to teach a 30 minute class about some environmental theme.  I had a fantastic group of third graders to whom I taught the life cycle of a frog.  They were surprisingly attentive, and got me very excited to work in the schools when I eventually get to my site.

Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.
Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.

After class, I played soccer with a bunch of the kids during their recreo (recess) and showed them how my waterproof camera worked (they were pretty amazed).  After classes, we headed over to a PCV’s house for a delicious lunch, after which we met up with his local Club Ambiental (environmental club) to go plant some TREES!  I paired up with an awesome kid named Luis (who happened to be the PCV’s host-cousin), and we planted 3 trees up on the hill.  We were a killer tree planting team, and we named each of our trees after different Avengers (Hulk, Captain America, y Iron Man).

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Luis and I with our second tree, Captain America.

After tree planting, we headed back to Jauja where we went out on the street for dinner.  A few of us found a great pizza place where I shared a delicious Napolitana Pizza with another trainee.

We started off the next day exploring the local Feria, which is basically a giant market that happens every Wednesday and Sunday.  I talked with a few vendors and some kids to learn a bit more about Jauja, bought some fruit, and also bought a trompo, which is basically a wooden top that all the kids play with.

Mi trompo
Mi trompo

Later in the morning, we headed to the pueblo of Sincos to listen to a presentation about compost and then help another PCV with a compost/vivero (tree nursery) project in a local school.  Our group worked to make a box for the compost as well as to prepare two camas (beds) for the future trees.  It was hard work, tearing out grass and picking the soil, but it was super fun to be doing some manual labor.  After we finished, we lunched at the volunteers house before heading out to the town of Tunanmarca to visit a small museum and some pre-Incan ruins.

Getting to the ruins involved a short bus ride up a small hill, and then a short hike up to the entrance.  In order to enter the ruins, our guide had to perform a really cool ceremony where he asked permission from Mama Patsa y Tayta Inti (Mother Earth and Father Sun, in Quechua) to enter the ruins.  After the ceremony, we all had to deposit a stone that we brought up the mountain with us in a small pile.

The ruins themselves were gorgeous, and the view from the hilltop was incredible.  It was amazing to walk around and touch the stone houses that had been built stone by stone several thousand years earlier.

The ruins were truly incredible, and you could feel nothing but peace walking through them, with beautiful scenery all around.  My time up there, among the history, will be something to cherish.

The next morning we all headed out to a nearby town called Concepción, to visit their “Relleno Sanitario”, aka a landfill.  One of Perú’s biggest challenges is solid waste management, and so it was nice to visit one of the few sanitary landfills in all of Perú, that will hopefully eventually serve as a model for other towns and cities across the nation.  The landfill serves about 25,000 people in the area, and is remarkable in that they separate organic and inorganic materials.  Organic materials are used to make compost on the premises which is either sold to local farmers or used to fertilize the áreas verdes (green areas) of the town, while inorganic materials are either recycled or buried.

After we finished touring the landfill, we returned to Jauja where we had lunch together with some other MAC volunteers from Jauja.  One of the volunteers was actually from Lancaster, so it was cool chatting him a bit about Pennsylvania stuff.  I actually sat next to his socio (in-country partner) Oscar, who was a guardaparque (park guard) with SERNANP (think USFW) in the Reserva Nacional de Junín.  I talked with him in-depth about my research experience with invasive species in college, and then talked with him at length about SERNANP’s efforts with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, which is in-danger of extinction.  I had heard about the frog when I first found out I was going to Perú, so it was amazing to be able to talk with someone who worked directly with them.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to make my way over to the reserve at some point during service to help out with the project a bit.

After lunch, and a brief presentation by Oscar about all of their projects in the Junín National Reserve, we headed to a nearby Lake to do some bird watching (there were flamingos, irises, and many other avifauna).  While everyone else was walking around looking at birds, I hung out on the shore to talk with the PCV from PA about his work with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, since I still had a ton of questions.  While this was going on, a few trainees and facilitators decided to cross a small land-bridge across a portion of the lake.  Not everyone made it across safely, as the lake claimed 3 victims (you can see the aftermath of one fall in the picture below).

The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.
The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.

When everyone had safely reunited, we took our first group photo with all of the MAC staff (we look pretty good).  And before heading out, being the good little environmental guardian that I am, I picked up a few plastic bottles that were lying around on the ground.

For my last night in Jauja, I ate lots and lots and lots of food and sweets, since it would be a while since I would find them so cheap.  On our last morning in Jauja, we went to the municipality for a presentation on solid waste management by the Director of the Environment for Jauja.  It was really interesting, since they were implementing their first ever recycling program that very Monday, and so the information he shared could be really helpful for starting up recycling efforts in site.

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Pre-final presentation selfie in Jauja.

All in all, FBT in Jauja was absolutely incredible, and it was very nice to get away for a few days and see a different part of Perú.  After this short trip, I’m extremely excited to get to my site in a few months time and get started (we find out our sites this coming Wednesday morning!).  The return journey was fun, and filled with lots of word games since our touchscreens were not functioning.  I was sad to leave Jauja only to return to little old Chaclacayo, but we were gifted with a surpise snow squall on the drive home that made everything cooler (literally and figuratively).

Until later this week (when I’ll be updating with a post about my PCV site)!

MGB