Saturday, February 11, 2012

Help me build a basketball court in Perú

I’m still living in the northern sierra of Perú in the Andes Mountains. My life has changed for the better since the day I arrived here. I have become a more effective global citizen. My Peace Corps Service is winding down and the exciting part is that one of my last projects will make the dreams of hundreds in this community come true. I often get told it is inspiring what I do - so - I was hoping you would like to take a small part in it too and inspire the lives of many!

I can’t imagine life without sports and can attest to the enrichment it provided for me not only in sportsmanship but also in the overall foundation of my persona. However, the kids in this community play in rocky fields and are genuinely happy about it. I sprained my ankle recently playing with them and that’s when I realized the pressing need for a sports court. This community is still improving their quality of life – the basic needs are not all there yet. They have limited running water and electricity and use latrines.

I have partnered with a U.S. based NGO called “Courts for Kids.” They assist in building courts in developing countries, focusing in very rural communities where children have nowhere safe to play. The community and I are aware of the high budget costs in these hard economic times but are willing to put all our efforts forward to find funding, raise money and make their dream a reality by building a court for them to play on.

The cost for the court is $8,894. Courts for Kids will fund $5,000, the local municipality will fund $2,000, and the community is working hard to fund the remaining balance of $1,894. We sincerely hope you share our views in the great value that such an investment would bring to the community of La Conga. Any donation will help. With $7 we can buy one sack of cement and it is what we need most of. We will be so grateful for any donation we get. It is tax-deductable and you can make a contribution online by clicking on this link: There will be a place for you to specify where you want the donation to go and you can just write my name in the space. If you would rather write a check you can make it out to Courts for Kids with my name in the memo line and mail it to:
Courts for Kids
PO Box 873786
Vancouver, WA 98687

Just a FYI- via credit card there is a 3% transaction fee charged by the credit card company that is subtracted from the donation. But anyone giving by check the whole amount goes towards the court.

I promise it will be a well worth investment when you see the pictures.

My best wishes to you for 2012 and may all your endeavors be a success!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The biggest challenge.

The biggest challenge I've had while in the Peace Corps was finding people to work with me. At the beginning of my service, I struggled so much to get people interested in my work. No one would show up to my meetings, my local municipality made me wait hours to have a meeting about my ideas and projects, and if people did show up, it'd be 1-2 hours late. I would call local community members to remind them about my meetings and they would not pick up or call me back.

It was as if no one wanted anything to do with me. It made me sad and angry at the same time. I decided to do something big when presenting my community diagnostic. I would also open up about my life to my community. I printed out 100 formal invitations and invited every single authority member in my town. After reserving a room in my municipality, handing out 100 invitations (I even invited the local press), going back the following week to kindly remind them in person, calling them for a second reminder, and persuading them with free breakfast, my presentation day came.

I was so happy to see that 60 people showed up! I explained who I was, who Peace Corps was, showed pictures of my family and where I live back in the States. I also talked about my goals, my role, what work I had done so far, where I want to focus my efforts and how important it was for them to spread the word about me and to take advantage of me while I was here. I even shared a few jokes that they enjoyed.

From then on my Peace Corps service changed. People finally got it. They finally understood that I was genuinely there to help with no interest in return. I received several formal letters that week from local authorities that wanted to work with me, asking for my help. THEY were asking ME to work with them! It proved to me two things: I can’t give up that easily and hard work will always pay off. From this experience I also took with me a better understanding of another culture. Persistency works well here in my town.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A day in the life.

So, last week, I had to give a presentation about costs and prices to a group of farmers near my town. I walked to the main road and waved down a milk truck to hitch a free ride. There were about 10 Peruvians on the back of the truck but I managed to squeeze in. While I’m standing in the back it starts raining and I have to start ducking because of the tree branches. I also take advantage to cover my handouts I had prepared. An hour later, I arrived to my meeting right on time. They took me to a really old adobe house and walked me to where I’d be giving my presentation. There were exactly four really old beds in the room. What can you do? At least there was electricity! I connected my projector, told everyone to take a seat…on the beds…and that’s the day in the life!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living through it.

I remember hearing from several people in my town that there was going to be a strike on Thursday, November 24, because of a gold mine project here in the area. I didn’t really give it much thought or think it would be a big deal. Boy, was I wrong. I was in for an interesting and unforgettable experience.

After months of anxiously waiting, on Thanksgiving Day, I was expecting a shipment of 2000 books from the States for a library I’m helping start. I was bummed to hear they wouldn’t be making it on time. I was told to wait until that Saturday. So, Thursday comes along and all roads going into the capital city of where I live were blocked. No one could go in or out. Thanksgiving was very uneventful. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and still no books. During this time, local business owners were starting to become affected. A person that relied on their daily income by selling their milk was out of luck, any person that relied on selling fresh fruit or fish from the coast was also out of luck, food prices went up 200%. There was a scarcity of food, every road was blocked and business owners were suffering badly. Nestle or Gloria milk trucks were not allowed to enter the area. There were protestors camping out on every single entrance to the city and if you tried to go through, it was a risk of getting hurt. Wednesday, November 30, they decided to have an even stronger protest. Here in my town, every single store was closed and school was cancelled. You couldn’t find anywhere to buy water, groceries, make copies, etc. It felt like a ghost town while everyone went to protest. The two main roads in my town were blocked with huge burning tree trunks and tires. There was no way to go in or out. The whole region was paralyzed and as the government called it, “being held hostage.” Locals have every right to protest but on the contrary the mine has given thousand of jobs to Peruvians and is a huge source of investment for Perú. By this time, as a volunteer I was not allowed to go anywhere for safety reasons. This went on until Sunday evening, when at midnight the President declared Cajamarca in State of Emergency. Thousands of troops and police have arrived since and protestors would be arrested if this continued. Helicopters have been roaming the area. The roads finally opened up, protestors are starting to die down and the gold mine project has been temporarily suspended.

It makes such a difference when you live through it rather than reading about it. My heart goes out for locals who are opposed to this gold mine project because lakes that will be exploded is the source of water everyone relies on here (even me). Then again, the mine explains how they will build new lakes, although it will not be the same. There are many arguments to both stories. What I did learn form all this is that one needs to be informed to dialogue and come to an agreement. I made sure to keep my opinions to myself considering I’m an American and the gold mine is from the United States.

Here are a few articles about the situation:

On a brighter note, we are going to pick up the 2,000 books tomorrow to the capital city! Also, I’ll be visiting the States this Christmas and New Years to spend it with my family in Arizona!!! There is so much to look forward to. I have 8 months left of my Peace Corps Service and many new and exciting projects I will soon share with you all!

Happy Holidays and thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In the past year.

Finally! I decided it’s time I update all of you on what has been going on in my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is hard to decide where to begin but I’ll start off saying this: It has been a roller coaster of emotions and unforgettable experiences.

I will share with you three things: My work, my travels and my birthday this year. Also, I’ll include in the end some interesting Peruvian habits I have picked up.

If I want to have a meeting at 5 p.m., I need to let everyone know the meeting starts at 3 p.m. I am no exaggerating when I say everyone shows up to meetings hours late. That is how it works and I am finally getting the hang of it. If I want to go make copies before a class I have to teach, I know I need to leave 45 before, even though the copy store is 4 houses from mine. The paper always gets jammed if I want to make more than 3 copies at a time. In order for everyone to show up to my meeting, I need to go stalk their homes and confirm they are coming. This is after I call them consistently until they answer and I tell them it’s me again to remind them about the “meeting.” Finally, when I am at the meeting, I call them again to let them know I am there. THESE are the challenges to getting any work done in my town and yet I have accomplished a good amount in the past year! It has been hard, frustrating and there have been times where I just want to give up. Hanging in makes you that much stronger to facing any challenge, struggles, frustrations, etc.

1. Savings and Credit Program (micro-lending): After hosting meetings, promoting it to dozens of community members, and being stood up for months, I finally started the first community bank in my town. The bank is called “Banco S.P.,” and has 12 shares, each valuing at S./5 (about $2.50 each). The idea is that each owner of a share has to invest S./5 weekly in the bank, and as the money builds up, they have easy access to credit with a small interest rate of 2%. They have to repay the money in a month to give the opportunity to others that want to borrow, weather it is to invest in their small business or for a family emergency. In the end, the shares are divided with the interest rate they earned for lending their money. It’s an amazing way to teach them how to save and borrow money wisely.
2. Promoting Literature: The first library building ever in my town is almost done being built! I managed to form a committee and we have accomplished so much these past months. We received a book grant of 2000 books from an NGO in the U.S., this was all thanks to two amazing sponsors. They are at sea right now on their way to Peru! It was not easy but will be totally worth it. Right now our issue is transporting the books from Lima to my town. The costs are an obstacle and we are fundraising to cover them.
3. Artisans: I have been working with a group of Artisans for the past year. I teach them basic concepts on business and how to become a more competitive association. We’ve managed to look for local markets and started weekly meetings where they all learn new ideas on weaving. I will post some pictures of their work on another blog. If you are interested in purchasing, let me know! You wont get the tourist price ☺Their work is beautiful!
4. Youth Entrepreneurship: This has been my most successful project, yet. I taught a business course at the local institute. It lasted three months and 40 students learned how to write their own business plans. In groups, they presented their ideas to a panel of judges. In the end, the winning group had the opportunity to travel to Lima to compete at the U.S. Embassy and my group won 3rd place!! They received more than half of the funding for them to start their business. The local municipality is helping with the rest of the money. Soon two students from the Institute will implement a new business in San Pablo! The business idea and plan they wrote was raising Cuys (guinea pigs) and selling them to local restaurants for profit. Fried “Cuy” is one of the most famous dishes in Peru.

I have had the opportunity to visit so many beautiful places in Peru but there is one place that I will never forget: Lake Titicaca. We all learn about it in middle school but what they didn’t teach us is that people live on the enormous lake. They build their own little islands out of hay and roots of a certain plant. They literally live on tiny floating islands. I posted pictures below so you can see.

It was amazing and unforgettable. My town threw me a surprise birthday celebration. My whole English Class was there, friends from the municipality, the artisans, my family, friends, etc. About 70 people were waiting for me at the restaurant. They had a beautiful band playing Mexican music, it was decorated so nice, the cake was delicious and to top it off they served Mexican Tacos for dinner!! The next morning for breakfast my family made me pancakes, eggs and oatmeal! It was the best birthday I could have ever asked for.

I say “YA” after every sentence (means OK in English)
I drink Inca Kola like water
I call someone on the phone consistently until they pick up
I whine when I ask for things
I take a nap after I eat lunch
I consider my birthday a holiday (which is why I have dedicated time to writing this)

If you are interested in helping or partnering with any of my projects, email me. Thanks for reading!

Lake Titicaca

Teaching business

Milking cows on a Sunday morning

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I have hit my two-month mark at site. What a better way to celebrate than with my birthday? Actually, I was not thinking it would be a big deal. I had my day planned out with my work; little did I know. Word spreads quickly here in town. After a nice breakfast with my family, I had to run errands and make a quick trip to the municipality to finalize some meetings. They had a huge bottle of Inca Cola and crackers waiting for me. They gave a toast and I ended up staying there for an hour talking with everyone. Before I knew it, it was time for lunch. I came home to my favorite meal, Pollo a la Brasa, Everyone from the professors to the priest were here. The priest ended up bringing a bottle of wine from church and we had another toast. My host mom got so excited about the wine that when I finished my first glass she had already finished her second. They made me my favorite dessert ever—Arroz con Leche. I opened gifts and thanked everyone. I had to go give a presentation at the high school at 3 p.m. right after. So, I showed up and they decided we weren’t going to have it because it was my birthday. I come home and my sister had a picnic set up for me in the “garden” of the house. There was a blanket with flowers in the middle, peaches, mandarins, cheese & crackers, arroz con leche, and popcorn. We ate everything, laughed, and talked. She taught me how to sew, too. We got up when the ants started showing up. In the evening, my host mom made me my favorite dinner--Pollo a la Brasa. After that there was chocolate cake w/Arroz con Leche.

By this time, I don’t think I could breathe from what I had eaten. As soon as I was done with dinner, the artisan group I started working with surprised me at the door, sang me happy birthday and gave me a beautiful hand made purse. They then invited me to dinner to a restaurant where they sell my favorite food. I show up and there it was…Pollo a la Brasa. I was mentally and physically prepared to do this: one more meal to go. I forgot to mention, in the Peruvian culture, even if you politely say you are full or can’t make it somewhere for whatever reason, they take it to offense. So, I couldn’t say no to their sweet invitation. I successfully finished my plate and drank my glass of soda. Plus, it is not a meal I get everyday so I had to take advantage.

The top of the day, I was so blown away by all the amazing emails, facebook messages, calls, and letters I got from ALL OF YOU. It was unbelievable and I was so GRATEFUL for the love and support. It’s really encouraging.

On a different note, things are going really well here! I have seen about 10 parades since I arrived, experienced about 5 holidays and got to see how crazy elections were in my town. I am starting to teach English to a group of high school students, a group of 3rd grade girls and at the Kindergarten level. I was dreading this but it is a really great way to integrate into the community. I’m also working with a group of artisans and hosting meetings every Wednesday. I’m starting off by teaching them basic business classes in order to strengthen their association. Also, I’m preparing them for a great market opportunity the beginning of November--an artisan fair at the U.S. Embassy. The project I have spent most time on is focusing on strengthening the Chamber of Commerce that was formalized a few months ago. To summarize, I started off by doing a business survey to every single business in San Pablo; formal or informal. This was with the help of 8 volunteers from the Institute. We asked basic business question and what they would be interested in learning to strengthen their business. Putting together the results was long and tedious but well worth it. We are going to move forward with a strategic plan to see how the Chamber of Commerce can help develop, strengthen and expand businesses here. There is so much potential in this town. I have so many ideas but I need take things slow and continue to take my time in getting to know my community and integrating.

It completely makes sense to me why the Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment and not a 3-4 month one or even a year. Sustainability is key and in order to accomplish this, it takes time. It is definitely not something that is going to happen from one month to the next. I want to continue learning about the culture here and vise versa. They love learning about mine. I want to help with sustainable projects. Weather it is from teaching English at an early age to figuring out how to start a library, to helping small businesses grow, to teaching entrepreneurship classes to young adults. This is what I love about my job, the endless possibilities with the challenge of you being the only person that can take initiative.

I believe that is it for now. Until next time! :) xoxo

Monday, September 20, 2010

San Pablo

Quite a few things have happened since I last posted a blog. My change in site, saying good-bye to my host family in Lima, our bus ride to the Embassy before swearing in, and an unforgettable last night in Lima with all my friends.

Due to certain circumstances, my site was changed. Feel free to email or call me if you would like more details.

I am now in the department of Cajamarca, in a town called San Pablo. This town is in a valley in the northern sierra of the Andes Mountains and is about 10,000 in population. I am an hour and a half from the capital city of Cajamarca. It is so beautiful. The weather is perfect; there is a cold breeze in the mornings and evenings. During the day the sun is intense but it is not humid. My room is no longer dirt floor but wooden. I am on the second floor of my new (adobe) home and through my window you can oversee the town and big green mountains. You can also see white smoke up in the air from all the cooking. I painted my room with my host brother and sister, got a new mattress and finally feeling settled in. The market is one of my favorite things about this town. On Thursdays and Sundays people from the fields come in and bring their fresh fruit and vegetables. They offer everything you could possibly need; kind of like the swap meet back in the states. I could not have been more blessed with this host family. They are so wonderful. There’s my host mom, dad, sister and her three kids (who I also consider my siblings). They have been the key element to my integration. I adore them all, already.

My first job as a volunteer is to fully integrate into the community. Let everyone know who I am and what my purpose is. I also need to learn all about San Pablo; rainy seasons, holidays, flu season, SWAT analysis, education system, crop season, tourism, economy, etc. So, imagine this: starting from absolute scratch. I know absolutely no one here, the food is so different and heavy on my stomach, I have stomach problems, bed bugs are eating me alive, I miss my friends and family terribly and to top it off, I will be living here for the next two years. The honeymoon stage is over. Where do I begin? What do I do everyday? Will it be weird walking up to people and saying, “Umm, hello, I am the new volunteer.” So many things went through my mind the first few days. Thank goodness for training that prepared us for all of this. Peace Corps is absolutely correct when they say, “It is the toughest job you will ever love.” If I can do this, I can do anything.

So, fast-forward to today. I disinfected my room completely; no more bugs, my host mom is accommodating to my eating habits, my stomach is doing way better, friends and family have sent me letters and call me all the time, my host family now feels like a real one; I even argue with my siblings. I have two counter-parts that introduced me to community leaders, school principals, etc. I personally walked around town trying to meet people. It was a challenge, however, I would not trade this experience for anything in the world. I have confirmed that there is nothing a human being cannot adapt to. I have the necessities to survive, the rest I have no choice but to get used to. So, next time you complain about having to do laundry, be grateful you don’t have to do it by hand. Next time you are too lazy to shower, be grateful you have hot water. Next time you complain about the heat or cold weather, be grateful that a/c and heater are an option. Next time you complain…just think it can always be worse; it makes life that much simpler.

I started working on two primary projects and am going to be really busy these next few weeks. I am going to post on a separate blog what my work will be consisting of. Also, pictures will be posted soon! Thank you for reading this; it means everything to me.