Saturday, November 13, 2010

Change of Face

My work here in Peru has changed a bit since my last post. The organization that I am working for is looking for a Peruvian partner organization to work with on future projects. It's a pretty important connection to make, having a local non-profit that can help with communication, and local resources is very valuable. The directors of my organization decided to send me to two different potential partner organizations. I am currently in Huancayo in the mountains (approximately 11,000 ft.). I am working with Expand Peru, they are a fantastic organization and if anyone is thinking of volunteering in South America I would strongly suggest checking them out. I have been learning the ins and outs of how they operate.

We took a day in this bug to travel even higher into the mountains to check out some of the more rural impoverished areas.

This is one of the ways the people earn income. These hand made pots are made strictly from hand. They don't even use a pottery wheel of any kind

It's a whole different climate here the air is thin and dry, the land is dry, the culture is different as well. I can understand people better here.

This is the director and now a good friend of mine Bernabe.

It's been great to engage in Spanish with people outside of the small village that I have been living with for the last 5 months. It's also been great connected with another organization it's giving me a number of ideas about future projects I'd like to be involved in.

Next week I am headed back North to check-in with the projects in my village before going to the next organization.

Thanks for keeping tabs much love,

Disclaimer: As much as I'd love to take credit; on many our our expedition there has been a Peruvian photographer along and most of these pictures are hers.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Waste Managment

Hello Friends and Family,

It’s starting to heat up here and the days are getting a bit longer. I imagine it is exactly the opposite for most of you reading this post.

Things are coming along great we are continuing with the improved kitchens project that I described in last months post.

This is a new room that was recently added on to the kindergarten. It will be used like a cafeteria. I can’t think of a better place to install one of the improved stoves.

We also started another project that has to do with raising knowledge about waste management below is a video the we made with the youth intended to promote awareness.

So far the youth have helped to produce 4 different videos about health related topics. We had an evening last week in which we borrowed a projector and presented all of the videos to the community. It was great we set up the projector in the plaza and had tons of popcorn. We had over 100 people come… not bad for a town of 300. It was a cool opportunity for the youth to show what they have been working on; I think that they were proud of the videos.

This is another birthday that I got invited to.

My garden is coming along nicely, unfortunately many of the seeds never sprouting (I think they were too old). However there is cilantro, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.

On the way to the city we had plan to leave first thing in the morning as usual. The night before leaving we drove to another village for a party. Our driver got too drunk to drive back so we all took the couple hour walk in the middle of the night (through the jungle with no light) back to our village. The next morning we got up to drive to the city, but of course the driver was hung over and the truck was in the other village. So we waited around all morning then in the afternoon the driver retrieved the truck and we were on our way. About an hour into the drive we came across a line of cars stopped in the single lane dirt road. There was an accident and a small truck basically got stuck underneath a big truck (It’s not quite as bad as in sounds, there were no major injuries). But we did have to wait for a few more hours for the police to come and clear the wreckage. So after a long day we finally got in to the city at about 8:00pm compared to the usual 1:00pm.

This is my partner Monica.

Thanks so much for your interest and support.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Hello Friends and Family,

Apparently August is the coldest month of the year here. So I have made it through the worst of it and there is nothing but summer weather to come. In reality I don’t think that it has dropped below 60 degree Fahrenheit even on the coldest night.

We are on our way to installing improved kitchens in individual homes in the village as I described in my last post. We have begun building our first improved kitchen as a pilot project. It is being used to train local contractors and as a model in which other people in the community can come a view it to observe to benefits that will hopefully encourage them to want one in their homes.

We are also nearly finished with a making two different videos one about nutrition and one about basic first aid.

The other night at about 11:00pm I awoke to a bit of a rumble. Not quite sure what was going on I turned on my light and noticed the clothes that I had hanging on a hook were swaying back and forth. Then the entire tin roof started rattling loudly then small chunks of dirt from my adobe room started falling from the walls. Never having experienced this before it took me a few seconds to realize it was an earthquake. After a few more seconds of the movement growing even stronger I figured it would be a good idea to go outside. In the street there were a number of people outside there homes (normally at that hour the streets are completely quiet). Throughout the night there were a number of other small quakes. I learned that earthquakes are common here but that one was unusually strong, to my knowledge there was no major damage in the village.

I have planted a small garden in the back yard of the house I am staying with. It needs to be fenced on all sides due to the variety of chickens, pigs, donkeys, ducks, turkeys, and rats that freely roam the villages. Many of the seeds are starting to sprout already. Fresh vegetables are pretty hard to come by around here, so I am excited about the possibility of having some home growns.

Back in April of this year I was in Mexico surfing with my friend Jon Begin. I stepped on a sea urchin that lodged 14 spines into my toes and foot. I spent the better part of an afternoon digging them out. There was one spine that I could feel but it was too deep to see and I wasn’t able to remove it. I tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions over the following couple of months to dig out the remaining spine. Eventually I just tried to forget about it and a thick callous formed around the spine. A couple weeks ago I felt like the callous was growing so I decided to dig into the callous again. I found a blister pocket beneath the callous. I was able to stick a needle literally ¼ deep into the pocket in my toe before hitting flesh. I think the pussy pocket formed around the sea urchin spine deep in my toe. Anyway after hosting a sea urchin spine from Mexico in my toe for nearly 5 months I successfully extricated it and my toe is healing up nicely.

I got invited to a 15th birthday party which is a big deal in which parents present their daughters to society, often times ready for marriage. Everyone here is pretty concerned that I am 26 years old and single. Some have taken it upon themselves to find me a Peruvian wife. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for men my age to show interest in teenage girls, which sometimes makes things awkward working with the youth here in the village. In a more extreme case I had a man encourage me quite bluntly to spend time one on one with his 12-year-old daughter. I usually counteract this kind of unwanted attention by saying I am only interested in much older women, then I flirt with the widows in the village.

Yesica is one of the girls in our youth team. She often acts like she hates my guts. I thought it might help if we had the same hairstyle. I’m not sure if it helped?

The other day a truck came into town and there was an announcement for a political meeting in the community house. Later that night after the meeting was over I went down to the town plaza and met and a group of men that invited me over to drink with them. One man took particular interest in me and wanted to make sure and talk with me. His name was Fidel, he was fairly drunk and a bit cocky. It was until the this next morning that I realized Fidel is the same guy that has his name painted on many buildings and boards in this area. He is the current mayor of this district.

Thanks very much for checking out the post,

Brent James

Friday, July 30, 2010

One Month Down

Hello Friends and Family,

I have just returned from my first month in the village of San Francisco, in Northern Peru. The above picture is the house I am staying at, my room is the door directly behind me in the picture. The village consists of just fewer than 400 people. This village is far more developed then I expected. I was told that I was going to a very remote village that was only accessible 9 months a year and that it was very primitive. In fact this village is constantly developing. They have an excellent potable water system, a septic system, as well as electricity. During the rainy season transportation is more difficult due to dirt roads, however it is always possible to walk to the village. Last weekend I even met a couple of guys from the cable company. They are installing cable television in about a dozen homes in the village. All that to say this isn’t the remote impoverished village I thought that I was going to.

Despite things being different than I expected things are going quite well the longer I am here the more I realize that this is a good place for me to be right now. I am learning a lot about project planning and implementation. Also the Spanish is getting better and better everyday.

Right now all the people in the village have open fires in their kitchens for cooking. There is usually some kind of opening in the roof that allows the smoke to exit, however as you can imagine without a chimney the entire kitchen is often filled with smoke, and the walls are covered in soot. In many cases the kitchens are inside their homes and so the smoke is not only limited to the kitchen but also drifts into other parts of the home as well. The kitchen is possibly the most used room in the house, women are in the kitchens for long periods everyday, and often times the kitchen is where the family gathers for meals as well. After a conversation with the village health technician I learned that respiratory illnesses are the most common health problems in the village.

Another aspect of cooking with wood is that wood needs to be collected. Individual farmers own most of the land in direct proximity to the village. Therefore in residents must hike a minimum for 30 minutes to collect firewood from the forests that are not used for agriculture. This is a regular chore that must happen a few times a week in order to keep the kitchen stocked.

An obvious way to address health issues here in San Francisco is to facilitate the building of improved kitchens. There is a popular model known as Cocinas Mejoradas (or Improved Kitchens), Cocinas Mejoradas are wood burning stoves made from local materials. The stoves burn wood more efficiently reducing the amount of wood needed to produce the same amount of heat, and they also have a chimney that directs the smoke outside of the home, keeping the air inside clean.

By facilitating the installation of Cocinas Mejoradas, we are helping to reduce that amount of harmful smoke inside homes in turn reducing respiratory illness, and we are helping to reducing the amount of time, energy, and resources needed to collect firewood for cooking.

Cocinas Mejoradas are a popular technology in Peru that has been implemented in a number of villages similar to this one with highly successful results. People here are aware of the technology and are excited at the opportunity to improve their living conditions.

I am pretty happy about the project that we have decided to work on. We will begin implementing the installation of these stoves as soon as we return to the village.

For this first month I have been eating with the family that I am staying with. The other day all the members of the family that I am staying with headed to their farm for the day. Carmen (my adopted madrĂ©) said that there was soup in the kitchen that I could help myself to for lunch. I am used to having a bit more control over the food that I eat and the soup basically consisted of noodles and a few potatoes. So I thought I would take the opportunity to prepare my own lunch. My plan was to fry up some potatoes and an egg. I went into the backyard where the chickens are and started searching around for where they might lay their eggs I found a little nook that was set up for a nest and sure enough there was an egg. Once the pan was heated up on the fire in the kitchen I cracked the egg directly into the pan. To my surprise there was a half developed chick sizzling in the bloody yolk. I had a number of things go through my head at that point. First do I need to tell the family that they aren’t going to have a new chick anytime soon because I tried to eat it? What do I do with this mess in the pan? Should I eat it anyway? After all I was still hungry. I wound up burying the mess in the back yard just hoping nobody would notice the missing egg. Nobody ever mentioned anything.

My adopted family, I feel like a beast here, I am significantly larger than everyone.

These are the two kids that I live with. Brian and Angie

Also I introduced the slack line, and it has been a hit. I have been setting up the line a couple of times a week and the kids love it, also the adults often gather to watch. Some of the teenagers have caught on really quickly.

This is my partner Monica and I speaking at one of the community meetings

Working with the youth on one of our first meetings

This is the end of the street I live on

The view from directly outside my room. It's really beautiful here, we are right at the base of the the mountains, the air is fresh and clean.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a nearby village with several of the men from my village and their cocks. Cock fighting is a popular gambling activity here. Below is a short video of what I saw.

Thanks so much for checking out the post and I appreciate the comments as well.

Brent James

Cock Fighting

Monday, June 21, 2010

What's next?

Based on past studies and previous international trainings and experiences I applied for and was offered an internship position with a non-profit humanitarian organization. Since being in Portland finishing my studies I have also been preparing and training for the position, which will take me to Peru with the organization MEJORC. I am being sent with another intern to a small village in rural Peru for the next six months. We will be working with a team of middle/high school age kids. The idea is to support the youth team in projects that they want to implement, projects that are designed to benefit their community.

I feel like this trip will be very different from other previous trips. Over the past two years at PSU I have focused on international development, I have taken courses that relate to Latin America, global water issues, peace and conflict studies, international policy and many other applicable social sciences. My hope is that I will be able to apply my formal classroom learning to humanitarian aid work in the field.

Over the next 6 months I will have limited access to the internet however I will be posting the progress of the projects that I will be involved on this blog as well as more detailed posts on the MEJORC blog. Please share thoughts and ideas about this and any future posts over the next few months.

Much Love

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A quick look back

After leaving my good friend Jon Begin in Mexico (as described in my last post)at the end of April I headed to the Island of Oahu, Hawaii where I spent the better part of the month of May surfing and exploring beaches and jungles while deepening my relationship with my newly wed sister Alyssa, and her husband Jed. Then I returned to Portland where I finished up all of my degree requirements at PSU. That’s right after 8 years of travel, work, play, volunteering, and study I am now a University Graduate. Someone told me “don’t worry about it there are plenty of people who go to 8 or more years of university” the only difference is those people are usually called doctors and lawyers.

Alyssa and I share a rich and beautiful sibling connection. When we spend time together there are always dynamic, funny, and adventurous experiences as well as challenging and insightful conversations.

I was very grateful to have some quality time with the newest member of my family. Jed is heading to Iraq for the next year while Alyssa will continue to dive into her community in Hawaii

Snorkeling on the North Shore

Just after this photo was taken a huge pod of dolphins came into the bay, not more then a few hundred feet off shore from where we were swimming

While in Portland I spent some quality time in Hood River Connecting with my soul mates Colin Franger and Kristin Hamilton. The two are living life to it's fullest, they just returned from 8 months of sailing, kiting, and surfing in Mexico. Colin and I started a tasty batch of home brew.

I also headed up to Olympia to celebrate my good friend Steve Fisher's Graduation. Jon Begin also made it up back up to the northwest from his time in Mexico

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Keep'n it Scrappy

Beegs and I are keeping it super scrappy and having a great time at it. We just spent the last three days on the coast. We hitchhiked to the coast then hiked overland to a sweet surfer destination, found someone who let us borrow boards for free, had about $6 worth of beans rice and vegetables, ate fresh fish given to us by fisherman, drank fresh water from a nearby spring, harvested coconuts for eating and drinking and we camped under a tarp that I brought. For three days we ate well, surfed a couple times a day, hung out on the beach all for about $6 total. Then we hiked back into town and went to a little market to buys some beers to drink on the beach before hitchhiking back to Beegs’s family’s house. We were about to pay for the beers and this guy walked in and said “hey guys let me buy those beers for you”. No kidding this guy said we reminded him of his sons and wanted to hook us up. That’s the joy of hanging out with Begin.

The waves were breaking right off of the point in the distance, apparently one of the best places to surf int he area.

Jungle trek to get to the surf spot Jon wound up with about 75 ticks all over his legs (and higher if you no what I mean). I wore pants and still had about 20.

Shelter tarp jimmy rigged with the surf boards

Fruit picking is pretty standard lately. Mango season is approaching quickly.

Jon is getting a fire ready for a fish dinner

Thanks for keeping up,

Much Love from Brent and Jon