Saturday, December 3, 2011

Campamento Valor

This past month I had a youth camp in my site by the name of Campamento V.A.L.O.R (acronym meaning values in Spanish). Basically to give a brief background, as Peace Corps volunteers, we typically have 2 youth camps a year as a department, one for all girls and one for all guys. The idea of the camp is to spend a weekend away from home and have a series of workshops and activities to promote various things such as leadership, values, goal-setting, and so forth. The camps are for high school aged kids, typically sophomores, juniors, and seniors. After hearing about the camps we had done in the past as a department, my community partner and I had the idea to hold a local one. In addition to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I found a lot of local support so I decided to hold a provincial wide camp with 40 adolescents participating from four different districts.

The camp took place in my town Jequetepeque, at a house, or more of a complex, on the outskirts of the ‘downtown’ area. The senora let us use her grounds for completely free and was very supportive of the camp in general including finding financing for all the food and supplies that we needed to run the event. She has a variety of businesses including a hydroponic lettuce farm and raises a type show horses called ‘caballos de paso’, which are a longstanding tradition in Peru.

The camp started on a Friday night and lasted till Sunday afternoon. We had projected to get in and start at 4:30 p.m. but unsurprisingly, the transportation fell through and we started a little late. During Friday night we had some activities to help break the kids into smaller groups, with the goal to get kids together from different towns and encourage them to get to know some new people. We then had a session on leadership before eating dinner which, along with all other meals, was prepared by my lovely host mother Susana. After dinner we watched the movie, Wall-E, using the municipalities’ projector.

On Saturday we woke up bright and early and I led a session on starting a small business before taking a tour of the local yogurt factory. Throughout the day we had various activities to keep the kids entertained such as a recycled products session, where my fellow Peace Corps volunteers taught the kids how to make some cool items such as bracelets, wallets, and picture frames, all out of recycled newspapers and magazines. In the afternoon, we invited a doctor from the next town over, Pacasmayo, to come give a talk about sexual health, which is obviously something very important for kids of this age group but something that unfortunately is not taught as widely as it should be in the schools or at home here in Peru. After dinner we had a bonfire complete with s’mores, which I’m pretty sure the volunteers enjoyed just as much, if not more than the kids who had never seen such a snack before.

Sunday we had some more educational sessions and also a career panel with some professionals from my town and Pacasmayo, including the mayor. It was interesting to hear their advice and the different paths some of them took to reach their ultimate positions, which I hope will have an effect on the kids as they start thinking about their options after high school. We then had our closing ceremony where the all participants received their all important certificate of completion, followed by a lot of pictures.

All in all, it was a rewarding and at times exhausting experience. I think it was a success, thanks to all the support from my community partners and fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Surviving the one year point and Onward

As of writing this post I’ve officially been at my site over one year. I have been busy as of late continuing with the classes I had going on and starting a couple other ones. Since it has been a while since the last post I can give a brief review of some of the more notable things over the past few months.

June: I helped run the Pacasmayo International Marathon over the 4th of July weekend. Also, I had some visitors from the states which were great. My mother and uncle came for over a week where we got to see my site and also the famous Machu Picchu. Also my sis and her good friend came up the north coast and got to see my site and host family.

July: I got to visit a city in the sierra of Southern Peru called Arequipa, otherwise known as the ‘white city’. Towards the end I finished up my business plan classes in my town and in the next town over.

August: Went to a business plan competition in Lima with two jovenes from my town which was a fun and exhausting experience.

September: Teaching a project management course in the town over along with English classes to a group of high school students in Pacasmayo.

October: Planning to have a youth camp in my site in early November. Amazon River Raft Race

So basically now I’m finishing up my project management course and planning for the youth camp in my site. I just got back from the Great Amazon River Raft Race which was a three day race down the river on a raft we made ourselves. The event was a blast and I’m still recovering from all the rowing we did. The first day was about 6 hours, the second 10 hours, and the third about 7 hours. Spent almost an entire day on a raft during the course of three days! Probably spent as much if not more time rowing than I did sleeping, which was pretty rough. Afterwards, my girlfriend and I got to explore the jungle a little more. We went to an animal reserve that had monkeys, sloths, birds, and snakes. It was pretty cool because the animals were free to come and go as they pleased and I got to hold an anaconda! We also went into the jungle by boat on one of the smaller rivers. From there went on a little hike to see some cool medicinal plants. To top it all off we then got to go piranha fishing! Was a fun trip, now getting back into the swing of things, finishing up my class, planning the youth camp for November, and then will have to think of some stuff do for the kids during summer vacation here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Profe Jim

Hard to believe it’s been two months since my last entry. The time has certainly flown by, some times more than others. During the past two months or so I have been teaching a few different classes in my community. One is in the local high school, teaching youth entrepreneurship to the seniors once a week. Another is in the next town over called Pacasmayo, where I’ve been teaching a Marketing course to a group of adults with the help of organization called the Casa de Cultura. Also a few weeks ago I started another youth entrepreneurship class in Pacasmayo with a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students from a few high schools in the area (at 5th grade they are seniors). Finally this past week I started another one in my town targeted towards youth focusing on how to write business plan.

In short, I have been pretty busy and have learned quite a bit from my short stint of being a ‘profe’. It’s a great experience for me in many ways from improving my Spanish out of the sheer need to develop a more advanced vocabulary to hopefully building some useful classroom skills down the road. So far I would say I’ve had a mixed result with my classes and it has been a good learning experience for me just as much of my students. For example, the seniors I teach in my town can be great some classes and just a nightmare to deal with the next. It was something I had wanted to do for a while though and got the opportunity to teach during one of their class periods experiencia de trabajo (job experience). This upcoming week with be my ninth and final class, culminating in a Marketing competition where the groups I created will have to present their hypothetical marketing campaign for a business they thought would be feasible to start in my community. With each class my appreciation for my former teachers grows immensely and can now realize all the things they have had to put up with.

The class I started in Pacasmayo with youth more recently has been going smoothly, especially since I have the support of the local municipality and a local professor to help keep it organized. In this case the number of students has been growing steadily from class to class which is a good sign. To promote the class I went to major high schools in the town and presented the program, also had a couple of radio interviews and we got a press release in the local paper to advertise the event. The current mayor of the town was the former mayor of my community and has been very supportive.

Lastly, in Pacasmayo I’ve been teaching at night class two times a week. The organization, Casa de Cultura puts on a wide variety of classes and workshops from traditional dances, drawing, to marketing with yours truly. The group has slowly dwindled as the class has gone on, which is to be expected, but I believe those who remain are enjoying the course and are hopefully getting something useful out of it.

I recently just got back from a trip to Cusco and of course the famous Machu Picchu, which was a blast. The Details and pictures will come with the next blog post.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trekking through Ancash

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of being able to visit the Cordillera Blanca, a prominent mountain range of Peru. The Andes Mountains run through all of western South America and constitute a huge segment of Peru’s geography. The highest segment would have to be in the department of Ancash, situated around its capital, Huaraz with its highest peak Huascaran reaching a height more than 6,000 meters. I went with a group a six people to explore some of the trekking that Ancash has to offer. After doing a little research and hearing good things from other volunteers and from sources online as well, we decided on the Santa Cruz Trek of 4 days 3 nights. So we all readied our equipment, or in my case borrowed from friends, and set off to Huaraz to start the journey. One of the members of our group got there a day early and did some research and found an agency (one of seemingly hundreds) to rent some equipment we needed. We decided on a small propane burner, pots/pan/utensils, cooking tent in case of rain, a guide and got some burros to haul it for us. On the day before the trek we went to finalize our order and pick up our stuff. We sat down and proceeded to chat a little while with the owner. He asked what trek we were doing, what we were interested and whatnot, and after hardly 5 minutes we changed our minds completely. Instead of the more traveled and well known Santa Cruz trek, we decided on a recently opened and less tested one. The owner assured us that the scenery was much better, and that we would save a ton on the transportation cost because to get to the other trek it would have taken almost 4 hours while this one was 1 hour. So in the end we decided on the trek Akilpo – Ishinca, named for the canyons we trekked up and down, surrounding the peak, Urus.

After leaving the agency we had time to enjoy a nice meal, settle into a hostel and get some rest before starting our trip. We also had to buy all of our food for the next four days and plan out what we were going to eat and who was going to cook each meal. The next morning we got up, went to the agency, packed our van and set off. We met up with our guide and his two sons at the start of the trek about an hour away from Huaraz, and loaded up our donkeys and headed off. The first day was a short hike of about 3 hours uphill to some glacier lakes where we set up our tents. We had time to do a little fishing, and start a bonfire (both of which proved unsuccessful). We then went to bed early to wake up at the crack of dawn for the next day’s excursion. The second day we backtracked a little and then started up another stretch along the Akilpo Canyon. This day was about 6 and half hours of hiking to where we set up camp in a great spot right next to a river, situated in an old mountain hacienda. This time we were able to successfully start a fire with the help of our guide’s son and enjoyed the warmth extensively. I’m not sure exactly how cold it got each night but it was well below freezing and my sleeping bag turned into more of a cocoon. On the third day we continued our ascent up the canyon to reach the pass between two of the peaks and to where we would start our journey back. After about 3 hours of climbing we reached the mountain pass and were greeted by about 2 and half feet of snow. The top layer had frozen enough to provide some stability but more just a false sense of security. After about 50 feet I began to start sinking in up to my waist and had to trudge through the rest of it. After reaching the top we ‘skied’ down the other side until we got back to the rocky terrain. From there we had a long descent down the mountain to reach our last and final camping destination. We arrived to find our donkeys unloaded and cooking tent already set up. Our guide’s sons had already started cooking us a nice late lunch.

The fourth and final day we made our descent to end up in the town where our guide lived and where a car was awaiting us to take us back to Huaraz. At this point we had to wait for our donkeys to catch up with all of our stuff and to pay our guide and the donkey driver. We had previously come to an agreement with the owner of the agency on a price yet were given a different, higher one, when we finished. After stating our case we were then told that the price for the guides they quoted us was for the trek we were originally planning, and that this trek typically charged more for its guides. However, even after the sudden price hike it was still reasonable and the trip was more than worth it overall. I got to see a vast variety of topography and fauna and would recommend it anyone.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Carnaval, Cajamarca Style

After the 50th weekend, on the following weekend I then went on a little vacation of my own accord to celebrate Carnaval. A couple weeks have passed now since my time in Cajamarca, but the memories are still fresh in my mind. In Peru, and many countries throughout the world, they celebrate what is known as Carnaval which is celebrated the first weekend before lent starts. In the states we celebrate it as Mardi Gras and certainly have our own way of celebrating it, but I must say I have never experienced anything quite like Carnaval in Cajamarca. Cajamarca is a department in the north of Peru, with its capital city tucked in the middle of the mountainous region. It’s a modest sized city of 500,000 or so and every year it is probably the destination to go to in Peru for this celebration. According to my fellow volunteers who are in Cajamarca, the celebrations really began in the weeks leading up to the final day and culminated the weekend of the 5th and 6th of March. Leading up to the event there were undoubtedly lots of parties and drinking circles as people readied their costumes and floats.

On Friday the water balloons and squirt guns started to come out, and simply walking down the street started to become a mad dash at times to escape the mischievous kids (or volunteers on rooftops). From this relatively peaceful day came the infamous Saturday morning. Now, I had been preparing for this day the whole time and had already heard plenty about the event, but couldn’t quite imagine how exactly it would turn out. Knowing that it was probable that our clothes would get ruined, a bunch of volunteers including myself decided to get some cheap mining jumpsuits to weather the storm. In the morning we all gathered at a hostel that many volunteers were staying at and readied our ammunition; buckets of water balloons, bags/buckets of paint, and super soakers filled to the max. We started our journey together and took out to the streets and started following the procession of drums and eventually came upon the main crowd of people. From there it was just an all out war of anything people could get their hands on. People were throwing water balloons, buckets of water, buckets of paint, ‘dirty’ water, motor oil... you name it. I can remember at some points strangers would just come up and wipe paint all over my face and in my eyes as if it were just the natural thing to do. I must say I got into it as well and had a lot of fun throwing paint and squirting people with my super soaker as they dared to attack. Shortly after we started, our group began to splinter and we all ended up in different directions. As the festivities were dying down, the group I was in came to a police barricade blocking off the center of town. As were waiting outside it an older Peruvian woman came outside her house with a huge steaming platter of some delicious Chicharron de Chancho (essentially fried pork) and graciously gave it out along with some other food and beverages. The people were so friendly and treated us as if we were old friends rather than complete strangers covered in paint. I had heard about the Cajamarca hospitality and can now confirm it to be true.

On Sunday there was a parade that went all throughout the town that was really just a warm up for the bigger one to come on Monday. However, it was still pretty impressive and it was interesting to see the various costumes on display, some very traditional, others hard to describe. It certainly had a different feel than what I experience day to day just seeing some of the people in the stands in the traditional dress of the sierra, of large dresses and their coveted straw hats. It was also certainly a different climate, on the coast I have been getting used to days of 85+ and sunny and was sprung into a climate of about 50 degrees and rainy. On Monday there was then the larger parade where all the provinces of Cajamarca were represented. Each respective community armed their floats, complete with their beauty queen who would compete to become ‘Miss Cajamarca’. Also, the water balloons were still out, albeit not at their previous levels from Saturday and Sunday. From there the me and my fellow volunteers began to wind down as our trips came to an end and we prepared to board our busses back to site to go back to reality after all the celebrations. In the end, I think it lived up the hype I had heard leading up to it and think it may have warranted another trip next year.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

50th Anniversary Celebration in Lima

A few weeks ago Peace Corps had its` 50th anniversary celebration (started in 1961 by John F. Kennedy), and to celebrate we had a gathering in the capital, Lima. In addition each department had its own celebration in the each capital city, mine being Trujillo. However for Lima, there wasn’t funding for all 230 some volunteers so we had lotteries in our prospective departments to decide who would go, and I was part of the lucky crew who got to take the trip. About a third of the volunteers were selected more or less and it was nice to reunite with some of the people I hadn’t seen in a while in the spirit of this celebration. To commemorate the event we first went to the embassy to hear the 3rd in charge of Peace Corps, Stacy Rhodes speak as well as the coordinator for all of Latin America, Carlos Torres. It was great to hear them speak and I must say they were really a quite personable and likeable tandem. From the embassy we then took busses to the U.S. Ambassador to Peru’s house. The house was pretty incredible, immaculately decorated and maintained, with ample room for guests (and even a pool). Needless to say I was pretty impressed. We arrived to find the space full of delicious appetizers, not to mention free drinks waiting. From there we had time to socialize with the guests that included embassy employees, Peruvian leaders from various social and political institutions, former president Toledo, and the current first lady. All the volunteers showed up nicely groomed and well dressed, something only rarely seen during our service here. During the event the ambassador spoke, thanking the volunteers for their work and our Peruvian guests for their attendance and support in what we do. After that Stacy Rhodes then had his own speech as well. From there more socializing, and even a ‘flashmob’ dance broke out in the middle of the back patio (also on youtube). The event came to a close after about 2 and half hours and after bidding our guests farewell, we volunteers kept the party going enjoying the Lima nightlife, while doing it responsibly of course.

Thursday, February 10, 2011