August 26, 2012

attentive loved ones have inquired about the continuation of my blogging...

if you want an argentina/france blog, tell me so and I will make it happen

August 20, 2012

16 Agosto 2012- the despedida (going-away party)

The last night of the Parenting Workshop was the same night as my going away party.

My closest women friends planned the day to come cry with me in waves. They each came to the house, one at a time, to give me a small gift, a hug, and a cry. Then, talk about the past two years and how we will keep in touch.
It was a beautiful and rough day. Finishing up my packing, seeing my room without "me" in it. Looking at the large (but so small at the same time) suitcase I would be carrying with me. And, crying with these women I love so dearly.

I spent a large portion of the day staring up the mountain willing elvis to arrive in time from the alpaca ranch to say goodbye.

I swung by the library to check on how Encuentros de Padres was going a few times, and the president of VALE was running things wonderfully. She asked me to come back and give the prizes to the parents with punctual attendance at the end of the workshop.

Once the homemade pumpkin pie and pizza for the going away party were coming out of the oven Gustavo, Mikel and I popped into the library.
Ssusan, the new VALE president, had organized the parents;
"And now," she says "before we give the parents their awards, some of you would like to say a few words to Srta Luz about how she has affected your children's lives."
I could have died (is it overly dramatic to say that? ... not so much)

Many parents spoke. More than I could bare. I twitched and smiled and laughed and cried. I attacked each parent's little ones with kisses and bear-hugs.

A couple of the teachers shuffled their little ones to me with cards and drawings they had done at school that day.
The fifth grade class presented a song they wrote.
A few of the 6th graders presented a puppet show they also wrote.
Every single parent formally presented themself to me, shook my hand/hugged me in a kind of make-lu-feel-as-uncomfrotable as possible parade.
Their thoughtfulness and attentiveness was astonishing.

The older boys grabbed some benches from the library and we paraded back to my house to eat. Some of the elders as well as some of my teenagers showed up at the house. Many women were bearing gifts comparable to those that are given at weddings; baskets of maiz, freshly pressed cheese, a hand woven headpiece, embroidery.
Such an honor.

I was stressing a little about cooking and serving food and drinks, and suddenly I had more hands and help than I could have asked for. With Mikel doing the cooking and Elizabeth serving the drinks I was able to serve the food and talk to everyone. But here was something missing.
Washington and Roxana begin a series of games with the little ones.
I was incredibly impressed wth Washington in particular because I know no other adolescent male who would give two shits about playing with kids, let alone sing along with them. He wasn't the least bit self conscious to be a kid and compassionate male leading childrens activities.
The kids who lost each round had to come give me a kiss, hug, or 'palabras'.
The parents and teachers were having as much fun as the kids were watching them fight over the seats in musical chairs...

my darling robert too shy to give me a kiss

a bear hug will do... rildo knows he is next

sweet norma 

brandi is having way too much fun

Games were followed by my 'palabras'.
I formally gave words and gifts to some of the people closest to me, personally, in my service.
Mercedes, Don Juan y Juana, Elvis... and lastly: Roxna.
This was my 'toast' to Roxana:

Roxana, we have metamorphized together more than I could have ever imagined in these two years. I feel honored to have been a part of your life and development, and I cannot thank you enough for being such a profound part of mine. My shy, quiet, observing Roxana has become a brave, dependable, active, leader. When you speak, we all listen. You are the most responsible and clever young woman I have ever met. I love you and always will.

We both collapsed into each others arms in tears for more time than allowed the rest of the guests to feel comfortable. 
Even when everyone else was gone, Roxanaa nd I were still hand in hand until I boarded the 3am bus for Arequipa. 

August 19, 2012

14 Agosto 2012

Usually when I don't write in my blog it means that things are inexplicably boring or depressing and I cant bring that upon my loving family.
However, this past week has been inexplicable in a completely new way.
I am proud and happy and sad beyond words.

The VALE commitee of women hit the ground running.
This group of young female leaders is not going to let their kids go uneducated, and has taken an active roll in ensuring the after school program and library's success.
First, the protest with the kids in the street outside the Municipality.
Second, they formalized their organization with a "libro de actas", named their president, secretary, and treasurer, and defined their goals and vision as a group.
Third, they got the library painted by the Municipality, and got the Muni to agree to pay the salary of a teacher to their new president.
Fourth, they organized and taught "encuentros de padres" a two week workshop for parents.

I am so beyond proud of these women and filled with hope for this little community I can't possibly attempt to elucidate in any way.

Hirma and I attended a Peace Corps training together about a year ago, and planned the themes for Encuentros de Padres- the Parenting workshop:
How to help your children raise their self-esteem
How to help your kids with their homework
Healthy intra-familial communication
Family Planning
Daily eco-friendly practices
and Household money management

but, as my number of days in site evaporated, we realized it was more than we could do on our own and invited the committee of women to participate. The women devoured the idea, and completely took over.

Each woman picked a theme she wanted to give and prepared a powerpoint paired with an interactive activity. My responsibility was to help them develop their presentation to keep it sweet, to the point, and interactive. I only gave one talk: nutrition. The women were absolutely fabulous. They did such an amazing job I was even hands off, completely, for a couple of the days.
They opened the library on their own. They picked up the borrowed projector and lap top and hooked it up properly. They executed the talks without me by their side.
It is amazing what women are capable of when someone tells them they can do it.

The best moment for me to observe:
Roxana is in the committee of women.
She chose the theme family planning, I think because she found the sexuality lecture at camp ALMA particularly fascinating.
She brought her powerpoint to me the night before presenting and it was beautiful. I helped her make things a little more clear, and she was ready to present.
Her day arrived, she plugged in her little USAID donated USB and before my and 40 other eyes, froze when her first slide popped up.
"Oh God, she is frozen. Oh God, what do I do?
 Do I help her?
Do I give the presentation for her?
Should I give her more time to get herself together?
 Is she going to come around and speak words?!"
 I was freaking out in my head. For what felt like a lifetime to me I watched her fixed, deer-in-a-headlight eyes.
Just as I was about to step in and give her a few prep-lines... ...she stared. The perfect words began to roll off of her tongue and they didn't stop until her 45 minute talk was up.
She was perfect. A woman. A leader. A 15-year-old professional speaking among uneducated, illiterate, loving parents on how to plan for a healthy family.
The girl I met two years ago would have needed me by her side, and I was there and ready to catch her if she fell. But, she didn't need me, instead, I needed to let the wall catch me from falling into tears and demonstrate to her my faith in her capability.

parents with punctual attendance received books to take home and read to their kids.
 These books were donated by "leche Gloria" the National Peruvian milk manufacturing company that sends a truck to purchase milk from the locals 
Interesting how it took me leaving, and the community knowing no one will be there to catch it if they drop the library ball, for the women to begin to practice playing catch and jump in the game.

August 6, 2012

6 Agosto 2012

the buck has been passed

local host country nationals have taken over responsibility for my programs
peace corps volunteers have taken over my leadership positions
accounts have been closed
what-nots have been mailed

the only things left to do are 3 more lectures, pack, and say goodbye

my physical heart and lungs actually stopped for a few seconds today
it hurt

I talk so much shit, but Peru will forever have a very special place in my heart.
I fly to Argentina in 14 days.

August 3, 2012

the elvis update

many of you are familiar with the elvis situation.
please pardon the repetition necessary for the following "catch-up"

elvis is the son of my family's alpaqueros.
Ichu (alpaca food) only grows in the altiplano, so in order to raise alpacas, one must live at about 4,000meters+ altitude. That means no roads, stores, plumbing, or electricity. It also means harsh living conditions like the burning strength of the sun paired with freezing cold nights and no firewood.

So, typically, one family lives at that altitude and raises the animals of multiple Madrigale├▒an families (we are at around 3,200meters altitude). They hike down to my community about once a month with meat and receive their payment for the months work. Typically, these families are the poorest in the Colca Canyon.
Elvis is the son of the very traditional and quechua-speaking Pablo and Claudia Puma, who were hired to raise my family's alpacas. He used to hike down to the rural village of Tapay to get an education, but because that village is so inaccessible the teachers rarely show up to teach and he was behind about 6 years in his education. He is 15 years old, and when his father decided Elvis should study in Madrigal he was operating at a 3rd grade level. He was malnourished, and did not speak Spanish well at all, let alone read it or do basic mathematics. My host family lovingly offered to house him, but quickly realized the challenge they had gotten themselves into by signing up to be the primary care-givers for a 15 years old ball of hormones functioning like an 8-year-old. They told Elvis he had to leave the house for a series 'innocent' of lies and thefts, but I convinced them to let him stay in the house and I would be his primary caregiver. I would ensure that he fulfilled his responsibilities, feed him, purchase his school supplies and clothes, and work with him on his homework. They agreed to let him keep his room, but he had to do one chore a day to get breakfast from them, he would get lunch at school, and I needed to attend to him in the evenings.
This worked well for a year. He advanced to 4th grade, began speaking and reading spanish closer to an acceptable level, improved in basic mathematics, and above all becuse to show a light inside him, a curiosity for the world.
At the same time working with him and his family was a constant battle. I was constantly fighting with and for him. He continued to disappear to the streets when he wanted to, and lie about his responsibilities. I continually had to go on work or personal trips to the city and leave him abandoned for a couple days at a time. We exhausted each other. But our need for one another grew exponentially over the years. He has become a nephew, I his aunt.

My family reconfirmed with me a couple months ago that after I go he has to leave. His drunken parents are not welcome in their household and they don't want to have anything to do with his immature self.
Because I work with the NGO Quechua Benefit so much they agreed to hold a place for him in their 'boarding school/orphanage' even though he is outside of their age window. I met with their director and she agreed to create a position for him as "special helper" to the albergue. He would be older than the rest of the kids there and this would come with certain responsibilities. It is a great situation for him, and when Elvis' father came down from the ranch one month ago I arranged a meeting with him and the Director of the albergue. Pablo approved of Elvis moving to the boarding school/orphanage and the paper work was put in motion.
The following week Pablo went back up to the ranch and Claudia came down for the festivals. She informed me that Elvis was absolutly not going to the boarding school/orphanage. When I asked her where he was going to live she shrugged and looked away. When I asked her why she wouldn't want to take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity for him she said, "Who will help me on the ranch when I need it." I told her Elvis can come back to the ranch when she needs him and she shook her head and looked away again. "It's too far away", she says. It is indeed 1 1/2 hours farther away. Instead of hiking down 10 hours to her son, he would have to hike up 11 1/2.  In reality small in comparrison to the benefits he would be receiving.

So, I dropped what I was doing, and went up to the ranch with her and Elvis to get mother, father, and son in a room together. Mikel gave me security by agreeing to go with. The hike...

The first day was 10 hours up, and I struggled. It was like climbing stairs two steps at a time for 10 hours with little oxygen. We breaked 3 times to eat some toasted corn or bananas.
We arrived just before sunset, our hut a 6 foot square, of which we were incredibly thankful because the stone walls blocked out the freezing night winds of the altiplano. Even in our below freezing sleeping bags we woke about every hour to stoke the fire with bush roots and moss.
In the morning I met with Elvis and his parents and proceeded to watch the two adults bicker and conclude their conversation with ‘He wants Elvis to go, she wants Elvis to stay.” As if that was an acceptable conclusion.
With nothing accomplished, I wanted to hike down to Tapay to know it. Mikel and I left around 9am and were in the warm microclimate of Tapay by dinnertime. The tiny village tucked into a tight gorge of the canyon was in festival, and the band’s music echoed up to us the entire journey down. But, the tourist hostal was comfortable and we were showered and asleep before nightfall.
In the morning the Madrigal band woke us up with spicy beef stew, and many smiling faces. Both the band members and myself were surprised and proud to see one another in the rural Tapay.
The tourists were long gone, hiking up and out of the canyon by the time Mikel and I set off, but some sort of strange exhaustion and longing for food and a strong drink boosted us up the canyon at a locals’ pace arriving in Cabanaconde in half the time we anticipated.

While I might not have gotten ahold of any solutions for my darling Elvis, what I did do was come to know him better and gain some more of his mother's trust by staying in his home and visiting the village where he was born.   
Perhaps she will come around...

August 2, 2012

The vale update

Exactly one month ago the VALE committee of 3 madrigal teachers expanded to 8 women.
A group that used to be only 3 educated and involved professionals expanded to include 3 local mothers and 2 local teenagers (including mi Roxana).
The alumni committee invited influential women from all over the community (no boys allowed) to decide what they want the future of their library to look like and hold elections to place responsibility in the hands of capable locals after I go. The woman who was elected president has only lived in Madrigal one year now. She has a degree in education and moved to Madrigal recently married to a Madrigale├▒o. Ssusan is bright, motivated, and has already gotten the ball rolling in getting the Municipality to potentially fulfill the promises already made.
In this meeting we not only delegated responsibilities to the new members, but all the formal paperwork for the grant was passed over from me to them, and they filled out the paperwork necessary to be a formal organization recognized under Peruvian law.
Because our petition with more than 200 local signatures was ignored by the municipality, Ssusan presented the idea to have the kids march in the “fiestas patrias” parade with signs to explain to the community that the kids still want their library, and if the adults don’t stand up, the library and after school program will be shut down.
By the end of the week the women had formal certificates and badges recognizing their membership in the committee and they were walking proud.
The following week, the children and committee members marched in the street. The night before the youth had prepared 10 posters calling for the community to act. My personal favorite was Meche’s idea; Because the mayor spent $5,000 on the bull fight for the festival (a REDICULOUS proportion of the community’s yearly budget spent in ONE day), we made one classy poster that stated “We want 5,000 books for our library”.  The children and women were very proud to walk and we got questions afterward from locals about what is going to happen to the library. Success!!

The following week Ssusan and Meche meet to re-write the official application requesting the Mayor pay for a librarian. Ssusan presented the following day and reported to us that the mayor is willing to pay S/. 450 a month (half of what we requested), and has applied to the Department to get money to build a library that will be stocked with computers and shelving. This doesn’t mean to me that any of this will actually happen with in my lifetime, but it is only a good thing.

In the meantime, there is money left over from the original grant that the women plan to allocate towards a circuit of individuals that will attend to the library on a rotating basis as well as re-stock some art supplies that have dried up such as paint and markers.

I can’t say that I couldn’t ask for more, because I definitely wanted to see more from the community, and it is still extremely possible that the library will sit locked up for a few months before loose strings get tied up, and the possibility of the committee falling apart after I go is also a reality(mentally, I need to prepare myself for this potential reality). However, these incredible women are showing valiant initiative on a purely volunteer basis, and my hope for future of these children I have come to love remains a-light.