Archive | September, 2013

What I Do In Peru, Part Two

15 Sep

As a group, Peru 19 just a hit a major milestone.  Held in Lima during the first week of August, our Mid-service conference is literally our halfway point.  It means one entire year in site has come and gone, and now it’s time to prepare for my last 12 months in Olmos. I was looking forward to Mid-Service conference for several reasons: we have one-on-one appointments with our doctors (“Dr. Suni, I think I’m going crazy”), a whole week of gallivanting around Lima, spending time with my besties and eating delicious food we only dream about while we’re at site. One thing I was NOT looking forward to was our five-minute Year One Work presentations for staff in the office cause ughhh, I wanted to pretend I was on vacation.

But alas, every member of the youth development program had to prepare a presentation to show the staff what we’ve been up to this whole year.  The curious thing about putting this presentation together was realizing that I’ve actually had a ton of fun working this year!  Gretchen Rubin describes this sentiment perfectly in her book, The Happiness Project. “The days are long but the years are short.”  Sure, I’ve gripped about having to go a meeting from time to time or felt like I’m not doing enough, but in putting together a display of my work since August of last year, I’ve realized it’s flown by because of all the different projects I’ve had the privilege to be a part of. I think when all is said and done, regardless of the hardships; I will always look back at my accomplishments and be proud of my first year in Olmos.   Without further ado:

Year One in Olmos, Lambayeque

Youth Development, Peru 19

Primary Projects

Community Diagnostic

  • An in-depth analysis of the local community, with a special focus on youth
  • Anonymous 20-question surveys completed by sophomores, juniors and seniors at each of the six local high schools.
  • Survey questions focused on the major themes of adolescence: interest in school, alcohol, drugs, sexual behaviors, violence, family life and plans for the future.

There were a total of 460 respondents to the surveys, which I didn’t realize at the time, is actually an incredibly rich source of information on the youth in community.  This research has since served several purposes in my work. First, teachers and parents were all eager to see what was revealed when students were anonymously asked direct questions about taboo topics like sex, alcohol and drugs.  I was able to present my findings at several PTA and teacher meetings.  This elevated my status early on from “frivolous American volunteer” to “serious youth development professional”. It also set the stage for what kind of youth-oriented projects I could focus on during my service. And lastly, the surveys gave me an opportunity to introduce myself and my future plans to the schools, students and parents who I hoped to work with eventually.

The last question of the survey asked students “if you could change three things about Olmos, what would they be?” This infographic represents the themes most frequently mentioned. Drugs, sub-par education, violence and alcohol abuse.

The last question of the survey asked students “if you could change three things about Olmos, what would they be?” This infographic represents the themes most frequently mentioned. Drugs, sub-par education, violence and alcohol abuse.

Pasos Adelante

This is a popular project for many volunteers in Peru, especially those in the youth development program.  Pasos Adelante is a structured youth group program that trains teens to be Peer Health Promoters.  That means we use the official Pasos Adelante manual to teach teens about sensitive health topics like teen pregnancy, STIs, HIV/AIDS, family planning, drug and alcohol abuse and safe sex practices. After going through the 12 sessions in the guidebook, a staff member from the Health Post and I certify they are ready to give workshops to their peers on these topics. Pasos Adelante employs the ‘multiplier effect’ where we train x amount of Peer Health Promoters and they in turn give x amount of workshops to x amount of students in their schools, and that way, the information multiplies itself several times over.

The Health Post in Olmos has really taken to this program and has made it a staple of their mandatory Teen Outreach initiatives.  Since I’ve been in Olmos, we have certified one group of Peer Health Promoters and are close to finishing with our second group.

I have to admit at first I was hesitant to start working with Pasos Adelante. Sex education, taught to giggly teens, in Spanish? I was pretty terrified at first, but I powered through because as I’ve mentioned before, teen pregnancy and lack of information is rampant in Olmos.  Here was my chance to do something about it.  Now I can honestly say it’s been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on.  I vividly remember sitting in the back of the classroom as one of our first Promoters gave her classmates a session on safe sex. I felt like a proud mother at a dance recital, except this was about sex and maybe some of the girls in the class would end up pregnant anyway. BUT MAYBE AFTER THIS PRESENTATION THEY WOULDN’T! And that’s why I love working with Pasos Adelante.

Because Pasos Adelante addresses sexual health topics, we decided to plan a big event around World Aids Day on December 1st. Here, Angeles holds the sign she made for our parade through the streets of Olmos.

Because Pasos Adelante addresses sexual health topics, we decided to plan a big event around World Aids Day on December 1st. Here, Angeles holds the sign she made for our parade through the streets of Olmos.

Damas Adelante

I’ve previously mentioned my women’s empowerment project here and I’m proud to say, now it has a name!  Because some of the curriculum is based off the Pasos Adelante program, and it’s specifically for girls, I decided on the name Damas Adelante.  Since I last wrote about this project, it’s expanded tremendously.  After starting with two classrooms, I had a serious influx of interest from other teachers who wanted to learn more about my activities.  As of today, I am working with a total of 150 high schools girls in 6 different classrooms.  Because I started this from scratch, it’s been an interesting process trying to figure out what the goals for this project are, or how I can measure progress. I am still focusing on topics like critical thinking, sexual health, gender equality, college counseling, health and financial education. The goal is to promote independence, healthy lifestyles and leadership among the girls. I am currently working on trying to quantify results and measure changes in behavior (more surveys!) but if nothing else I have had an incredible time working on this. Through our activities (group discussions, journal entries) I’ve gotten to see the potential in each and every one of them.  This project has brought me some of my greatest challenges in site, but also some of my greatest fulfillments.

We start every class period with a 5-minute writing assignment, usually a thought-provoking quote or question. I like quotes that give hope and inspiration for the future. One class period I asked them to reflect on Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous “The Future Belongs to Those Who Believe in the Grandeur of their Dreams” quote.  A few weeks later, I entered the classroom to find that they had chosen to decorate the usually-barren back wall with this very same phrase.  :’)

We start every class period with a 5-minute writing assignment, usually a quote or question. I like quotes that give hope and inspiration for the future. One class period I asked them to reflect on Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous “The Future Belongs to Those Who Believe in the Beauty of their Dreams” quote. A few weeks later, I entered the classroom to find that they had chosen to decorate the back wall with this very same phrase. :’)

Vocational Orientation Campaign

Vocational Orientation Campaign is just a mouthful to say College Prep activities.  One of the most interesting facts I found through my community diagnostic research was that almost all the students were interested in higher education of some sort.  Yet, when I look around, almost all the students are not pursuing further education. What’s the missing piece here?

I’ve learned there are actually many, many missing pieces. It takes a Herculean effort to promote higher education especially when there is no tradition of it. You have to involve the parents, you have to convince the students that MORE school is a good thing, you have to remind the teachers to promote it, not to mention explaining the financial commitment it’s going to take.

Luckily, the volunteer I replaced, Speare, had already started working towards this goal by hosting a college fair in June of 2012.  This was the first ever in Olmos and it had a really positive turnout. I’d also attended another volunteer’s college fair in the town of Monsefú and learned a lot from that volunteer’s experience.  I knew I’d love to have a similar event this year and add on to it by having college-related activities leading up to it. This included several sessions administering the official Ministry of Work Vocational Exam to more than 75 high school students.  After students received their results, I would sit with them and have a basic college counseling session discussing career and school options. I was also sure to mention the upcoming college fair, where they would have the opportunity to talk directly to the institutions they were interested in.  In hindsight, I wish I’d been able to administer this test to more students, since they would be more engaged at the college fair if they already had a career in mind. Food for thought for next year.

Alumnas spending their Saturday afternoons taking the Ministry of Work’s Vocational Exam.

Alumnas spending their Saturday afternoons taking the Ministry of Work’s Vocational Exam.

After two months of planning and coordinating with representatives from colleges, universities, technical and trade schools, the military, the high schools in Olmos, the Ministry of Work and the Municipality, Olmos hosted its Second Annual College Fair on June 25, 2013!!!  The event, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., surpassed all of my expectations.  Overall, we had 18 higher learning institutions travel up to two hours to set up informational booths and greet over 400 junior and senior high school students from the community. We were also able to host a guest speaker on behalf of the national government scholarship program Beca 18, which many of our students will need to apply for in order to afford going to school.  Most of all, I was proud of the fact that the whole thing had been funded locally.  Usually the municipality is tight with the purse strings, but having them fund the whole endeavor proved to me that they too see the importance of an event like this.  I also used the fact that June 25 is my birthday to my utmost advantage. “It’s my birthday, so you’ll be there right? If you support this event, it’ll be the best birthday I’ve ever had.” Peruvians are very eager to please, and I was prepared to use every weapon in my arsenal, in the name of education!

The point is, for my first college fair it was a huge success and I know next year’s will only get better.

Opening ceremonies: Segunda Feria Vocacional de Olmos

Opening ceremonies: Segunda Feria Vocacional de Olmos

Besides these three projects, my sitemate and I continue to lead our women’s only exercise class and soon I’ll start preparing for next year’s summer school activities (January-March).

So there you have it, folks. This is what I do in Peru, Part Two.

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