Its hard to believe that I am already halfway through my training. This past week was quite different that all the others. We had Field Based Training, meaning that my group of 19 went on a field trip 5 hours south of Lima.
Driving down the Pan American Highway revealed some amazing views of the Pacific. Between the sand dunes and steep rocky cliffs, I saw the waves crashing onto the sand. The sunset was also really breathtaking.
The first site we visited was in Cañete. We visited two married volunteers who had been living in a small pueblo outside the city for about a year. It was really nice to actually see some of the projects we will be doing in the future, instead of just having lectures about it.
The first day, Dan showed us how the gravity fed water system worked. We walked from the canal, past the pre-sedimentary tank and along the distribution line. The system serves a village of 85 families, who work in the chacras (farm land) surrounding their small community. We walked past potatoes, apples, artichoke, alfalfa, and many exotic fruits (Lucama, mariculla, pepino to name a few). Cañete is a desert climate, but the canal coming from the mountain provides water for the chacra and the village.
The quality of the water varies throughout the year. In the spring, when there is rain in the mountains, there is a lot more sediment in the water. This often causes issues with the simple water system, because it requires more maintenance of the settlement tank. There are only two people who “work” with the system, and they do it without being paid.
Often, people in the villages have to relearn how the system works, because information is not passed down, and there are no diagrams of where different components are located, and most people done know how it functions. This is why the Peace Corps stresses capacity building, training and education. If you find money and build something to help a village, it won’t mean much if there is not someone who knows how to maintain it.
After the water passes through the system to a tank above the village, it moves through a basic sand filter to remove larger particles. In a proper water treatment plant, chlorine is added to kill bacteria and viruses, but this village is not as fortunate. Everyone needs to boil their water before drinking it, otherwise they will get sick (often in the form of diarrhea or vomiting).
One of my main tasks in Peace Corps will be to facilitate Behavior Change. Its one thing to have town meetings about the importance of washing hands, boiling water, and using the bathroom in proper places, but it is a whole other thing to change the habits of people who have been doing something one way their entire life.
Day two, we learned about solid waste management. Yes, that’s right, I work with bathrooms and trash. Many volunteers work with the municipality to implement recycling programs. As it is now, no one recycles, even though plastic bottles, paper and tin cans are worth money. There are only 3 landfills in Perú, meaning that most towns just collect the trash and dump it a pile in the desert. Many times, there is no trash collection, and people just burn their trash. Everyday I smell the fumes of plastic and paper.
Although there is an informal recycling industry, it is dangerous for the people who do it. Basically people dig through these huge piles of burning trash looking for plastic bottles, without any protection on their hands or mouth. Many get lung cancer or other illnesses from the rotting trash they dig through.
Many Peace Corps Volunteers create pilot recycling projects, sometimes working with other NGOs. In Nazca, one volunteer created a program with 500 houses, with collection twice a week. It was great to see how much one person could do for a community.
The last two days were in Ica, a very hot and dry city in the south of Perú. We toured a school and saw how a volunteer started a recycling program there. The students use the money from the program to improve their “green spaces” in the school, buying flowers and trees.
The whole trip was quite amazing. The food was great: Sopaseca, chicharones, tamales and the Pisco. The last day we went on a dune ride: unbelievable. In addition to the rollercoaster like drops we drove down, we sandboarded and used sleds to ride down the fine sand. I have a lot of videos, but not sure how soon I will be able to upload them.
That’s all for now! My birthday is next Friday and the Monday after that, we find out where we will be placed for the next two years! I will let you know soon.
Oh PS: we got our phones! My number is 51-979-585-414.