Tag Archives: Peace Corps

March Madness

13 Apr

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Let me explain. I don’t know what went on in March but its been the weirdest month for me as a volunteer. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?  And you can see what I mean.

Rewind to the end of February and there I am, volunteer extraordinaire! I was feeling pretty good after finishing our summer school geography class with an amazing “END OF SUMMER” pool party for our kids. By far, one of the most rewarding activities of my service. Even better, my dad and Lucy were almost due to arrive in Peru for their big trip.

Then the bad news. Lucy was not feeling well while they were in Colombia and they would n0t be able to make the trip to come visit. After months of planning their trip to Peru, I was really sad to think I would not be able to see them.  My first thought was “If they cant make it here, then I guess I’m taking a trip to Colombia!!’ Not seeing them while we were both in the same continent was absolutely not an option. Immediately I contacted Peace Corps Peru and asked for special permission to fly to Bogota, even though it was short notice according to the current vacation request policy (must ask at least two weeks in advance.) Fortunately, they granted me permission and I was off to my homeland!

Although I loved teaching summer school, it was exhausting and I reeeeally started to miss family. This trip to Colombia was without a doubt the break I desperately needed.   Once I arrived, Lucy was feeling a little better and her, my dad and I ended up having an incredible time. We went sightseeing and did fun tourist-y things throughout the week.  I can’t decide what I loved most: the delicious food, Bogota’s stunning landscapes or just spending quality time with my papa bear. Ok, all three were the best! Colombia is really wonderful and should you get the chance, you should definitely visit the greatest country in the whole continent! I’m not biased at all. But really, this time around I saw Colombia with a new set of eyes. It’s like not wearing your glasses all day and then you put them on and all of a sudden the world is beautiful and vibrant!  This is a country that really has its priorities in order and its shit together (I’m looking at YOU, Peru!).

me and dad in the plaza de bolivar (bogota)

me and dad in the plaza de bolivar (bogota)

with lucy, enjoying the view

with lucy, enjoying the view

arroz con coco y sopa de mariscos. to diiiiiiiiiiie for.

arroz con coco y sopa de mariscos. to diiiiiiiiiiie for.

that's right!

that’s right!

una bandeja paisa bien rrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiccaaaaaaaaaaa

una bandeja paisa bien rrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiccaaaaaaaaaaa

bogota's oldest neighborhood with the Andes in the background

bogota’s oldest neighborhood with the Andes in the background

After coming back from Colombia I had about two weeks before my next Peace Corps vacation.  It might sound like volunteers are always out and about traveling and yes some of it may be true but also some of it has to do with our work schedule and in this particular instance I just so happened to be able to schedule two vacations in a month. Poor me!

No, but really, poor me.  Those two weeks in between vacation were very weird and random.  I love working in Olmos but I just couldn’t catch any kind of inspiration in any direction, as far as work projects are concerned. I couldn’t answer the question ‘what should I do next?’  That particular sentiment is especially frustrating for me because this experience is most fulfilling when I’m working with jovenes. I spent the two weeks mulling over this and not getting much done. Finally a few days in mid-March I realized I want to put together a vocational orientation program for local youth. Yay! Inspirtation and direction back on track! But then, it was time to leave site again and head 4 hours south to the groovy beaches of Huanchaco.

Huanchaco was another great getaway.  I was able to hang out with my amazing PCV friends and spend time relaxing and hanging out. No complaints or weirdness when my Peru 19 girls get together.

After Huanchaco, I had about 5 days back in site and then I was heading to a completely different part of the country, the beautiful mountainous city of Huaraz, for a Peace Corps project management training.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of nerdy training events but I went into this already  tired.  After a few days, the intense schedule and constant overfeeding  (portion control, what is that?), my body was starting to break down.  I spent the last few days of training sneezing, shivering and trying to bundle up in the cold weather. Finally, training was over and I’d be on my way to mind-numbing heat–my favorite!  Just when things were looking up and I thought this weird  month/mood was over and I was finally heading home to Olmos for good with no travel plans in the near future…

I GOT ROBBED!!!

That’s right. MY STUFF WAS STOLEN! Forget about ruining your day. More like your whole week or month! I was taking a Movil Tours overnight bus from Huaraz to Trujillo (nearest city with routes to and from Huaraz) and I handed over my luggage to the luggage counter, as I have done ten billion times before, every single time I travel. Fast forward to 5:30 am and the baggage dummies are telling me, and 7 other passengers, that our things are not anywhere to be found.  Somehow, between Huaraz and Trujillo, 13 pieces of luggage belonging to 8 passengers disappeared into thin air and no one knew about them. Not the dummy drivers or the brainless baggage fools.  Obviously I was extremely calm and gracious. NOT.  I went all ‘Linda-Blair-In-The-Exorcist’ on them. HOW CAN A WELL KNOWN NATIONAL COMPANY just wash their hands clean of our losses? Seriously. 13 pieces of luggage. That doesn’t make any sense.  So after several phone calls to the manager, one small protest where we may or may not have blocked the entrance gate so that no more Movil Tours bus could enter the station until someone listened to our demands, and two trips to two different police stations, we have filed complaints hoping to get compensations from the company  itself.  As with everything, I’m sure the whole process will be long and tedious but I dont care, I’m going to stick with it until I get back some value of what I’ve lost (favorite Gator Tshirt!) MovilTours will RUE the day they were vicious enough (or careless enough) to steal (or lose) my things.

better days with my pack before it was STOLEN!!!

better days with my pack before it was STOLEN!!!

Right now I’m trying to move past this March slump so I can focus on being productive and not frustrated or bored.  I can’t decide if I want to focus my efforts on my Peace Corps work or bringing down the evil enemy empire known as Movil Tours. I’m sure my PC work will be much more rewarding.

(Or will it?!)

evil face

P.S. – Never take Movil Tours anywhere! There’s something off-putting about them, every time I’ve traveled with them. Especially that one time THEY STOLE MY LUGGAGE!!!!!!!!!!

movil tours red

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This is actually important…

17 Feb

Hey guys, remember when I used todrive you nuts encourage you to donate to the American Cancer Society or the Children’s Miracle Network?

It’s that time again!

This May, all of the volunteers from my region will be uniting to work on a very special project– bringing together 60 teenage girls for a 3-day leadership camp, with the theme of “Peace of Mind, Body, and Environment.”

These annual camps (one for girls, one for boys) are unparalleled opportunities for young female leaders to come together and meet like-minded peers as well as a group of adults who are invested in their physical, mental and spiritual growth. In a country where 50% of the population is under 25, these camps are, in essence, contributing to the future of the nation.

 
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Activities and topics include a career fair, aptitude test, recycled arts workshops, trash management trainings, sexual education sessions and leadership habit development. In addition to helpful life skill sessions, our camps give teens a safe and inviting space to share who they are and where they see themselves in the future. The camps foster an environment for sharing highly personal topics, things they can’t really express as normal youth in Peruvian society.

Here’s where you come in.  A significant portion of the camp’s budget (40%) is coming from local community contributions and donated support.  But the rest, $2,200, volunteers are fundraising through the following link.  All donations made through this link are secure through the Peace Corps website and tax-deductible.

 
DONATE HERE!
 

Please help us meet our fundraising needs!  The Peace Corps Volunteers of Lambayeque, Peru and our adolescent campers thank you!!  Any questions feel free to email me or you can read more about the project in the donation link.

 

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-Betty

 

 

Summer on Smash!

9 Feb

‘Ya’ll know who got the summer on smash. We do!’

This is not only one of my favorite running songs off of Nas’ Life is Good CD but  it also describes the summer so far.  After a rocky start to 2013 that included broken laptops and having no money, among other misfortunes– things have taken a turn for the better.  My sitemates (Tina, environment, Peru 18 and Annie, environment, Peru 18) and I have basically been rockinnn’ all our summer projects.

Our biggest project has been teaching Vacaciones Utiles, a geography/environment summer school program, we’ve called Around the World in 8 Weeks. Starting the first days of January, we have been focusing on one particular country and environment theme per week.

So far, we’ve ‘traveled’ to and learned about:

Week 1: USA

Week 2: France/Recycling & Trash Management

Week 3: South Africa/Oceans & Plains

Week 4: Egypt & Saudi Arabia/Deserts

Week 5: Brazil/Jungles & Freshwater Ecosystems

Up next we have India, China and Australia.

The kids have no obligation to come to our summer school classes so we have to find a creative way to make learning fun, interactive and somehow more enticing than staying home and watching TV or surfing Facebook all day. The goal of VU is to communicate the beauty and vastness of the world and making it come alive for our students as they sit in dilapidated desks in a muggy auditorium. For example, aside from the lesson about the US, we also made hot dogs and taught the kids to play American football (they got it, sort of.  There’s no Tom Brady being recruited out of Olmos any time soon, you know what I mean?) For France, we made them crepes with Nutella and for Saudi Arabia, we talked about the different styles of dress and showed them how women wear the hijab. We also include movies in the curriculum, like showing Rio during Brazil week. When Annie taught them about deserts around the world, we had each student draw their own sand art landscape.  We then display their artwork around the classroom walls and give out prizes for the most creative, the most improved, etc.

hot dog line!

tina teaching eduardo the steps to wrapping the hijab.

tina teaching eduardo the steps to wrapping the hijab.

trash pick up!

Sand Art VU

spreading glue on their desert landscapes to later  add real sand.

the review game! a mix of jeopardy and tag. a fun way to go over what we’ve learned during the week.

After starting out with only 8 kids, then skyrocketing to 70 students at one point, right now we have a steady group of 30-35 kids (ages 8-14) that are genuinely interested and dedicated to the class.  We teach Monday through Thursday from 9am-12pm, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but trust me, it is.  We spend double that time putting together activities, gathering materials, downloading relevant videos and pictures from the internet and soliciting support from community businesses and institutions.  We can’t possibly provide markers, paper, paintbrushes, watercolors, etc., just from our own PC living allowance.  Several of the businesses we have contacted have been helpful enough so that we can continue our activities. We have 3 weeks of summer left and are planning to have a big ‘End-of-the-Summer’ party at the community pool at the end of February. All I want is for our students to look back on 2013 and think ‘that was the best summer everrrrrrr!‘ — Is that too much to ask?

Vacaciones Utiles 2013 Foto

Vacaciones Utiles 2013

Our other big project (and when I say ‘our’ I really mean Annie’s,  I just like to tag along and help her out because it’s so much fun and probably my favorite activity of the week) is a free women’s-only exercise class.  Annie and I both love running and working out and Lord knows the women in Olmos need something just for themselves that doesn’t include cooking, cleaning, childcare or working the family tienda. So about 3 weeks ago, we decided to give this class exercise class a try. Annie managed to reserve a community events hall every Tuesday and Thursday for 1.5 hours.  We were also able to advertise the class on the Municipality’s information channel and voila! About 30-40 women have been coming to every class. Some are a little skeptical and hesitant when they first arrive and some jump right in, as if they’ve been waiting for a free exercise class for a very long time. Being that Annie loves teaching this class AND we have an incredible turnout, I feel like this is one volunteer project that will be around for a long time.

get them sit-ups right, girrrrrrrrl

The other thing we are working on is building a mini-landfill at Tina’s house (she’s about half an hour outside of Olmos, in the campo.) A mini-landfill is a relatively easy and inexpensive option for families who are used to burning their trash (and inhaling toxic fumes).  We’re not done building yet, as there are few hours of the day when you won’t absolutely fry if you’re outside under the sun.  We hope to complete it by the end of the month. I am thinking this is only the first of several mini-landfills we will build around town.

landfill werkkk

whistle while you workkk

Other exciting things about the summer:

  • My host family brought a puppy home!

meet Princessa Preciosa Bonita.

  • I received two amazing care packages from two of the most wonderful and caring friends:
  1. Carlitaaaa sent me a huge box full of beautiful memories from our 13-year friendship and also jewelry from her recent trip to South Africa.  I am so proud of both of us, because we’ve managed to stay close since middle school, finishing high school and college together and then moving into the adventurous adult phase of our lives.  When I lived in Paris, she was in China. When I was in Miami, she was taking the NYC advertising world by storm but always managed to provide support and encouragement.  I am lucky to have a friend like her and I can’t wait to have her visit Peru.

my favorite were all the pictures she printed 🙂

  1. Dolly is by far the intellectual brainy friend I’ve always turned to when I want to talk about current events and political theory or watch a foreign film. There is no one in the world I love to ‘nerd out’ with more than Dolls, so it’s no wonder that her care package included a book on female leadership, a bookmark with a Winston Churchill quote and a stylish day planner.   I can’t wait to bore everyone else with our conversations when she visits Peru as well.

    there were more candies in the package but they were devoured almost immeadiately. woops!

Thank you guys so much! I can never fully express my gratitude for every care package I receive.  The time it takes you to put them together and mail them does not go unnoticed and I am forever in awe of your kindness and thoughtfulness.

  • I’ve decided to start training for the Lima Half-Marathon in May.  I want to continue challenging myself by running at least one half-marathon a year.  Lima is a beautiful city and I bet it’s even more special when you’re dragging your tired body across its captivating avenues and plazas. The biggest challenge so far is finding a time to run when the temperature is under a billion degrees.  No easy feat, but now I have to do it since I blogged about it. This is my way of motivating myself, so friends, please get on me about my training!

overlooking the pacific ocean in lima

  • Most importantly, my dad and Lucy are coming to visit! AHHH! I am beyond ecstatic.  I cannot wait to share my Peru life with my dad and show them why I’ve grown to love this dusty, sleepy, insanely hot little town.  It doesn’t hurt that they’re also bringing me tons of goodies from America!

This is definitely shaping up to be one of my best summers.

The Hardest Part

7 Dec

I want to preface this blog post by saying that I waited two years and three months to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Throughout the long, arduous process, I became increasingly passionate about being part of this organization I thought I knew everything about. In hindsight, I realize I knew nothing about the kind of life experience I was embarking on. But sitting here today in Olmos, I can honestly say I am grateful for that unrelenting blind determination–I am living my dream and the truth is, it’s better than anything I could have imagined.

However.

Peace Corps is definitely not for the faint of heart. I’d be painting an unbalanced picture of my experience if I only shared the wonderful, heartwarming moments and ignore the flip side of the coin.  The truth is there are major social, cultural and economic issues in Peru. If there weren’t, Peace Corps wouldn’t be here. It is my hope, and I’m sure that of my fellow volunteers, that one day Peru will not need a development agency like PC promoting change. Instead, right now we have 250 volunteers in sites (sometimes 2 and 3  per site) to try and improve the way things are done.

Service is hard, and not in the ways you would automatically assume. It’s surprising how quickly you can adjust to no running water, bucket baths, cramped public transportation, no air conditioning, electricity black outs…the list goes on and on. At some point, it just becomes a daily part of your life and you don’t think twice about it. Other things are not so easy to overlook and I find it hard to believe I’ll ever ‘get used to it’. Things like watching a teen mother trying to juggle her two infant children in her arms, with maybe a third running behind, trying to catch up. It’s walking into a school and seeing an environment completely unfit for learning. It’s watching a 4 year old refuse to eat her lunch day after day, but her mom gladly handing her a sugary soda with an assortment of chocolates and cookies instead. It’s seeing young girls get cat-called by any and all men, regardless of age. It’s seeing the trash that liters every street or smelling heaps of garbage being burned.

And this leads me to my next point (warning–its about to get really heavy). There are times when I look around Olmos and I see insurmountable difficulties. The place is a mess. The market is disorganized, dirty and clustered around the town plaza, heavily congesting the area. Why wouldn’t people demand a better location for their food and produce? There is no systematic method to manage waste, hence the trash burning. The health center is run-down and ill-equipped– a scary place to have a medical procedure. And there seems to be a sense of complacency for the way things are. It’s hard finding Peruvian counterparts who are passionate about improving their community. It’s like I’m here for YOU. How about a little support and enthusiasm for these projects? On the tough days, its easy to wander into a frame of mind that asks what the point of development work is anyway. It feels like no external methods ever really work. Peru receives monetary aid, grassroots/technical assistance and infrastructure support.  And yet the problems remain. Is this kind of work even worth it? Should we even bother? Then I realize that YES, it is worth it. No it’s not perfect. If anyone knew what singular thing moves development forward, the world would be a different place. But in my expert opinion (hah!) I think it’s a mix of everything, including an organic desire on the part of the community that is receiving these benefits. It’s important to acknowledge this early on, as a volunteer, because NEWSFLASH: there is no way to fix all the problems of a community in two years. It just ain’t happening. But maybe you can spark some kind of consciousness or awareness. Or maybe you can achieve the holy grail of Peace Corps service: motivating a community to change the way they approach a certain issue (pick one, because they won’t change them all) long-term.

So after realizing in my heart of hearts that what I’m doing is worthy, how do I go about developing Olmos everyday? Well aside from working with local institutions to plan youth-oriented activities and groups…I think it’s also important to set an example with my own behavior.

First of all, during training we are advised to be culturally-sensitive and above all, try to foster positive relationships in our communities.  This is important advice, as we will be living and working in said communities for the next two years. Naturally, we want to fit in and be liked. Done well, this will also spell success for our program initiatives (attendance or funding for events/groups/activities).  Nonetheless, I decided very early on that this kind of approach also had to be reconciled with who I am as a person.  I cannot pretend to support and accept everything I witness for fear of being shunned or standing out.  The reason I am here is to make a community more conscious of the things they need to improve and then help them work on it. I can’t accomplish that by being a passive observer.  I have learned to speak up and point out ‘HEY, that’s not ok.’ My friend Tina likes to joke that I’m ‘always yelling at Peruvians’ but, someone’s got to do it, no? The top phrases heard from yours truly include:

  • ‘Sir, that is not a bathroom. Please don’t pee there’
  • ‘Ma’m, did you know burning trash is toxic for the lungs?’
  • ‘Sir, please do not smoke with your two-month-old baby in the house’
  • ‘Little girl, don’t kick that puppy.’
  • ‘Sir, cat-calling is disrespectful and it makes me uncomfortable’
  • ‘Ma’m, pick up your trash and throw it in the garbage can that is right there, literally two steps away’

Being able to point these things out makes me feel accomplished. These tiny drops of awareness are a part of my contribution.

Peace Corps is hard (had I mentioned that yet?) You’d be pressed to find any volunteer who hasn’t at some point questioned what it all means.  For me, it’s the small victories I’ve had thus far. Maybe I won’t eradicate machismo, but telling a man that it is not OK to cat-call women and having him apologize, is a victory! Maybe he’ll think twice the next time he does it. Maybe a young girl saw me call him out and feels empowered to stand up for herself the next time she’s harassed. Maybe a boy in my world culture summer school class decides he wants to study in Spain when he graduates. What if a girl I mentor decides to follow her dream of being an engineer instead of staying at her mother’s stand selling fruits?

If I can accomplish any one of these small things, I will be more than content knowing that for those few individuals, my service meant something. That’s worth the hardship.

 

Here’s the mail, it never fails…(x3!)

10 Nov

Recently, I’ve felt like the Belle of the Ball every time I go into the post office to check for mail. I’ve received 3 aaaahhhhhhhmazing care packages from my favorite peeps back home.

Receiving any kind of mail, be it a postcard, letter or package filled with goodies, has a profound effect on us as volunteers. It’s like: 1. people back home remember you’re alive!! and 2. people back home still love you!!! So thank you guys, for sending your love (and the baby wipes).

From Diana, Cristi and Jenny:

I knew Diana was sending me a small package with the new Nas CD and maybe some baby wipes, so imagine my surprise when I picked this baby up!

my girls know what i really need – nail polish!

From my Mamsy:

This package saved my life! I asked my mom to send me some of my clothes from back home because Olmos is way too hot for the wardrobe I had during training.  Now I have shorts, tank tops and light tees galore!! Plus, when everything in your life is brand new, wearing your old clothes makes you feel like yourself again.

mom made sure to send me my Muscle Rub, which comes in very handy after 8 mile runs on the old Pan-American highway.

From Jojo:

Another hearty surprise from my amazing friend Joanna. Jojo asked me what my favorite candy was, so I thought maybe I’d get a Butterfinger and some baby wipes. (Baby wipes are pretty much a staple in any care package, they are so useful!!) As always, she went above and beyond to send me an incredible package that included a gossip mag and a lovely note.

got the butterfingers (and much more!)

I love you guys for taking the time to put these together, they mean so much more than you can imagine!!

This is what it looks like when we receive mail…

 

What I do in Peru (Video)

15 Oct

(The audio is a little weird 😦 but hopefully you can hear what I’m saying!)

 

 

In case you didn’t watch the whole video (too long, boring, blah blah blah) — here is the link to the YouTube channel where I’ve been uploading my videos: Betty’s YouTube Channel