Trash Talking: Eco-Ladrillos

As I mentioned in my first Trash Talking post, one of the biggest environmental challenges facing Perú, apart from Climate Change, is trash management.

Simply put, Perú produces a lot of trash (not as much as the U.S. though) and does not have the infrastructure in most places to properly dispose of it. Consequently, scenes like the one below are extremely common in many parts of Perú.

But, there is a lot that can be done to address the trash problems. One really awesome way to manage trash in rural locations, is to reuse it for types of construction.

Wait…trash as a construction material??? What do you mean?

Well, I’m talking about Eco-Ladrillos (Eco-Bricks) which are amazing. So what is an Eco-Ladrillo? Basically, Eco-Ladrillos are plastic bottles that are filled to the max with non-decomposable trash waste such as plastic wrappers, plastic packaging, plastic bags, etc. until they become a firm, durable construction material. In creating an Eco-Ladrillo, the key is compaction; you have to put the trash inside, smash it down with a rod, then add some more trash and some more smashing until you have a firm, trash filled plastic bottle. Below is a promotional photo for Eco-Bricks listing all their benefits: reduce contamination, minimize trash waste, serve as an insulating material, etc.

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Feel free to translate on your own time.

 

Now, I learned about Eco-Bricks during training and I have been obsessed ever since, hoping that I would get the chance to use them during my service in Caraz. Well, that opportunity finally came when I became involved in development of the Environmental Plan for one of the schools I work with, Micelino Sandoval Torres. In creating the environmental plan, we decided to address various issues: poor trash management, lack of green spaces, lack of cleanliness in the bathrooms, etc. When we began to talk about trash management, I made sure to give a pitch about Eco-Ladrillos to the professors involved in the plan’s creation, and fortunately a few were as interested as I was.

So with 2 teachers we made a plan to create a bunch of benches in the school in the school using only cement and trash.

The project started back in August when the two teachers began teaching their students how to make eco-ladrillos, and giving each student the assignment to make 10 with 2 months. But, we didn’t just stop at the students, we also got the parents involved. On September 1st, we had a session with some padres de familia (parents of the students) to teach them how to make Eco-ladrillos. It was really fun, and each parent was tasked in making 2, which their kids would later bring to school.

From there, the teachers took over and kept reminding their students to make more and more Eco-Ladrillos. Until we had a decent amount, we wouldn’t be able to make anything.

In mid-October, we had a big session with a few different classes of students in second year of secondary school to address quality control of the Eco-ladrillos; the students would pass me an Eco-ladrillo and I would evaluate whether it was up to snuff (think Willy Wonka). The good ones were put into costales (basically potato sacks) and the bad ones (too soft, not enough trash, etc.) were returned to students who got to work shoving more plastic bags and plastic wrappers inside.

By the end of the session, we had approximately 240 Eco-Ladrillos which were good to go. In order to complete our bench, we estimated that we needed about 300, so we were just a few short. Over the next 1.5 weeks, we had the students at full chamba (full work) to create more Eco-Ladrillos out of all of the remaining trash we had collected.

Finally, after starting the project in August, the construction day came on October 27, 2016. My counterpart teachers picked a class of seniors to assist with the construction, and then we were off. Like most activities, things didn’t go perfectly; we started late, the “sand” we had to mix with the cement was too large, and the students fooled around quite a bit. However, with the students’ construction expertise, lots of patience, and lots of trash, we were able to create an AWESOME bench.

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The students of 5to E mixing the cement.
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Laying the base-layer of cement for the bench
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Putting down the first layer of Eco-Ladrillos
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Onto the second layer of Eco-Bricks, also adding a fresh layer of cement.
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A few layers in to the future trash-bench.
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Adding the final touches- gotta make sure they get the credit for their work
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The final product!

And there you have it, a bench made out of trash! In the end, the bench includes around 300 Eco-Ladrillos (I still need to count them) across five rows, amounting to about 60 kilos (132 pounds) of trash re-purposed. The bench has since been improved slightly; the front face has been smoothed over with cement and two trees were planted inside. As soon as I can snap a photo of the finished product, I will be posting it up in here.

And so, after 3 months of work, our first dive into the world of Eco-Ladrillos was a success! The teachers and students all had a fantastic time, and the plan is to continue the work when school starts again next March. The dream is that for the following year, EVERY class in the high school (~950 students) will learn how to make Eco-Ladrillos and will have to contribute at least 2 so we can continue to create more of our beautiful, trash-filled benches. And who knows, maybe we’ll even create something else out of Eco-Ladrillos, such as chess tables. Honestly, the possibilities are endless since I’ve seen walls, bathrooms, and even school rooms made out of these materials.

Now, even though Eco-Ladrillos are touted as a rural solution to trash management, the technology should be limited to Perú, and other countries who struggle with trash management. I’ve come to realize that in the U.S., we produce SO MUCH waste, especially plastic waste, and so I would love to see this technology employed back home in the States. Yes we have great trash collection in the U.S., but if we try to follow the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), we should constantly seek solutions for how to reuse our waste before we taking the easy route of just throwing it in the trashcan.

Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s installment of Trash Talking, and that some of you readers (especially other Peace Corps Volunteers), will take initiative and see the feasibility of using Eco-Bricks in your communities.

Until next time,

MGB

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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.

“Government issued friends and family”

While the retreat was busy, it was also very fun and a great introduction into Peru and the Peace Corps experience.  We had diversity exercises, safety and security meetings, and reviewed many of the expectations of Peace Corps volunteers, all the while diving into Peruvian food which, if you haven’t heard, is incredibly tasty.

 On Saturday, we had our first of many breakout sessions with our Peace Corps sectors. I belong to MAC (Manejo Ambiental Comunitario ~ Community Based Environmental Management) and our program coordinator is Diego Shootbridge, an enthusiastic, straight-shooting Peruvian with years of experience in environmental work. He broke down the focus of our sector into 3 areas via an easy to remember mantra:  Education, Trees, Garbage (look out for a blog post with this title in the future).  He talked about his expectations for MAC volunteers and his high hopes for us, MAC 25, the last MAC group to be sent to Peru (save the best for last, I hope!).

In addition to work, there was also a lot of play, and many moments that showed me what a special group of people I will be working with throughout training, and hopefully the next two years.  Some highlights of the weekend include several games of Cards Against Humanity (Peace Corps Trainees make surprisingly good CAH players), a mock-graduation ceremony for those who had to miss graduation because of service, birthday cards for the two birthdays of the weekend, a fantastic game of soccer on a concrete court (I had 3 goals, and most importantly an great time), a late night campfire complete with guitar, plastic trashcan drums, trumpet, and sing-alongs, and our training host family (familia anfitriona) assignments.

It was a great weekend and a fantastic way to kick off the Peace Corps experience.  I have definitely made some great connections and friendships among my fellow volunteers already, and I’m looking forward to developing them as time continues.

MGB