Hey everyone! It’s been a very busy two weeks, so we have lots to share with you! Sorry about not providing more weekly updates, training has been super intense and has had us very busy, but we promise to try our hardest to provide at least weekly updates!
Before we continue, we wanted to provide some more context to the specific roles and jobs we will have once we swear-in at the end of June. We mentioned in our previous post that our official titles will be Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Volunteers. Commonly referred to as WASH, these positions involve working with rural communities to help build their capacity to manage their water and sanitation services.
Perú is facing a number of WASH-related issues nationwide, the most staggering of which is that nearly 50% (!) of the rural population does not have access to adequate water and/or sanitation services. To mitigate this, the Peruvian government essentially created a law that says that any community with a population of less than 2,000 is responsible for overseeing the operation and maintenance of its own water system. (It’s MUCH more complicated than this, but we wanted to give you guys a bit more context, if you’re interested!). Each of these communities has a self-elected water committee called a JASS (Juntas Administradoras de Servicios de Saneamiento) that ideally meets regularly to set tariffs, make necessary system repairs, chlorinate the water, and more. They also work with the local health post to provide basic sanitary education seminars. In reality, however, this has proven to be very difficult. This is partly because all the water committee members are volunteers! They all serve on the committee part-time, and often do not have much (if any) experience with rural water supply. There is a specific point-person in every municipality who is responsible for the technical training and supervision of the water committees in the towns that fall within the municipality’s jurisdiction, known as the Área Técnica Municipal (ATM), but this person also often lacks the necessary training to fulfill their job adequately, is put in charge of too many JASS, or is tasked to do other jobs for the municipality and simply has too little time to provide the necessary support to the the JASS they are supposed to monitor.
Peace Corps WASH volunteers in Perú work with these water committees and their technical supervisors to provide what is known as capacity training. Rather than building new infrastructure, our model is based solely on education, management, and skills building. Our main objective will be to help these committee members develop a structured Water Safety Plan (WSP) that includes a bunch of technical information as well as project management development. Right now we’re entering the part of our training that will give us the tools to carry out this objective, and we’ve already had the chance to put it into practice! More on that in just a bit.
In other fun news, it was a big day for Andrew last week. Our training class had an election for the Junta Directiva, or class representatives that are in charge of planning and coordinating special events as well as serving as official liaisons between trainees and staff. Andrew was nominated (thanks, Bryan!), and was elected as Vice President by the Perú 33 group! Since being elected, the Junta have already planned a bunch of fun activities for our upcoming days off, and have even started putting ideas together for our swearing-in ceremony next month. The weeks are already flying by!
We had an awesome opportunity to visit Lima last weekend on a trip to the archaeological museum, where we got to learn all about the pre-Incan history of Perú. This is one of our favorite things to do whenever we visit a new country, and since it was a Peace Corps-sponsored field trip, that made it even better! There were tons of ancient artifacts from hundreds or even thousands of years before the Inca, which were amazing to see because we don’t typically learn about these fascinating cultures in school back home. What a treat! See some pics of the museum below:
Speaking of treats, it wouldn’t be a trip to a major foreign city without a stop at the best vegan restaurant in town! As soon as our tour was over we grabbed our fellow vegan friends and headed straight for Raw Café in Miraflores, one of the fanciest and most-visited districts in downtown Lima. Did we each have a three-course meal? Yes. Did this meal include cheesecake? You know the answer to that question. And did this all only cost like 15 bucks per person? Heck yes. We treated ourselves and God Bless America was it excellent. 12/10 will return next month during our next field trip! Check out the yummy food pics and some other pretty Lima city pics!
These past two weeks have been filled with plenty of immersion experiences, and by that of course I mean 50+ Americans venturing out into the street and engaging strangers in conversation. There’s no better way to practice your Spanish! It’s been a trial-by-fire situation many times, but honestly we’re all enjoying it and it’s helping us gain confidence in our language abilities. As we learn more technical vocab, the exercises have become more difficult (even for Bryan!), but it’s nothing we can’t handle.
For example, we’ve gotten the chance to venture out to very small communities relatively close to here (within a few hours) and practice all the skills, both hard and soft, we’ve learned so far. We are connected with local water committees, and after that, it’s up to us to arrange meetings with them, and from there, we follow guided activities to engage with them, learn about them and their communities, take a tour of their water system, and hear from them how they would like us to support them over the next two months. This is all designed to give us trainees a real-world experience and practice what life will be like at site. Needless to say, every group has had their own unique experiences! Andrew’s group’s was more negative to start (the committee didn’t express much desire to work with them, but then again, they did visit on a Sunday…), but this week’s visit was entirely different and quite successful. The community is called Tornamesa, an annex of the municipality of San Bartolomé. Tornamesa is composed of about 250 people, and the trip from where we’re based for training is about two hours each way. Below are a few pics of the visits to Tornamesa made by Andrew and his team so far!
Bryan’s group has traveled upwards of three to four hours one way, including a very steep hike, to a village of only 25 people known as Lucumaní, an annex of the municipality of Santiago de Tuna. It’s located high-up in the mountains, at 2800 meters above sea level or about 9500 feet. That’s quite a ways higher-up compared to Andrew’s community, which is located at a mere 1500 meters or about 5000 feet. You can definitely feel the thinner air up here once you start hiking up the mountains! The community up here have made quite a special connection with Bryan, because they believe he was an engineer sent by mamagoya (their symbol and name of their water source, which holds very significant history and meaning) to help improve their water system. As soon as you tell someone you’re an engineer, you’re asked to fix anything and everything! Peruvians as a whole really have a lot of respect for engineers, and as Americans, it’s been a bit intimidating having someone refer to you as “el ingeniero” all the time, but we just hope we live up to everyone’s expectations! The community is so tiny, they live off of their farmlands, known here as chacras, and right now it’s the harvest season. As a result, it’s been a bit difficult for Bryan and his team to have time to get the important surveys and other activities done with the JASS and community members, but what matters most to connect with the locals and thankfully for Bryan and his group, the people of Lucumaní have been very welcoming! Check out some pics of Lucumaní, as well as a number of pictures showing the beautiful wildflowers that grow high up in the mountains! It’s been an incredible cross-cultural adventure so far, and it’s only been three weeks!
Life with our host family has just gotten better and better. We’ve had so many deep conversations about veganism, and several members of the family have already given it a try and are deciding to stick with it. Mamá y abuela have both gone vegan since we arrived, and it’s incredible that they’ve stuck with it for just about a month and have seen very incredible improvements to their health and overall well-being. We never thought we’d have such a positive effect on our host families so quickly, and we’re incredibly grateful for that. We’re also all being generously fed by our families, so please don’t worry! No matter what your dietary preference, you will find yourself full and healthy every day here in Perú 😊 It’s been such a blessing to come here to continue being vegan and understand what it means to be vegan in Perú. Everything is so fresh and most of it is (very) local, so it’s by far the best we’ve eaten in quite some time (although we do miss vegan cheese really badly!!). Here’s a pic of the delicious soup we ate the other night that our host mom made:
Well, that’s it for this time! Thanks for sticking through this super long post, as we said there was lots to cover regarding the last two weeks. As we wrap up this fourth week of service, we’re getting prepped for our Field Based Training (FBT) happening next week during Week 5 of training. We’ll update you more this weekend once we wrap up Week 4! Until then,
Páz y amistad,
Andrew y Bryan 🙂