Hey there everyone, we’re back! (We actually never left, but we’ve definitely been slacking on posting updates for y’all…sorry about that!!) Since our last post, so much has happened, and we’re looking forward to bringing everyone up to speed. We think it makes sense that, for the context of this post, we’ll break it up into different sections based on different aspects of our experience here. So, without further ado, here we go!
“What is it that you guys do again?”
Perfect first question! To recap, we have each been given three communities to work in, for a total of six. We both work with the same counterpart, who works as a sort of Municipal-level Technical Adviser, providing assistance and support to the water committees of nearby rural communities. Each of our six communities has its own water committee, called a JASS (pronounced HA-ss). Here in Peru, every community, no matter how large or small, should (theoretically) have its own water system. Once the infrastructure is built, it is the job of the JASS to oversee every aspect of administration, operation, and maintenance of this water system. What winds up happening, however, is that the members of the JASS don’t receive enough training on proper operation and management techniques, and as a result, the system breaks, the water isn’t properly cleaned or disinfected (or there isn’t enough water supply to begin with), and people get sick. Our job as Peace Corps Volunteers is to work alongside the Municipal Technical Adviser (or ATM as it’s known here) to provide all kinds of what are called capacity-building training sessions. These trainings include how to properly chlorinate the water system, how often to clean it, how to calculate a monthly rate for users to pay (this is always a fun one!), how to educate fellow community members on proper hygiene techniques, and much more. This is essentially our scope of work during our time here, each focusing in the three communities we’ve been assigned to.
“Sounds like a lot of work! How much progress have you guys made?”
This is almost always one of the first questions we get, and since you last heard from us, we’d say that while progress has been slow (certainly compared to what we’re used to in the States), we have started to really feel well integrated into our communities and starting some projects going. For example, throughout the last few months of 2019, we visited all six of our communities to give presentations about general topics like water conservation, common routes of contamination and ways to prevent them, the importance of having a water committee (many rural communities in Peru don’t even have one yet), and important household hygiene practices. We visited several dozen homes to conduct surveys regarding sanitary education, updated inspections of system infrastructures, and completed evaluations of current administration, operation, and maintenance (AOM) practices. Compiling these results, we completed a preliminary community diagnostic, which is essentially a baseline from which we can work to improve. After all, how can we improve ourselves if we don’t have a full picture of what our current situation is?
We presented these findings at our first in-service training event held in September of 2019. This event was really fun for us all because all 28 of us in our cohort were together in the same space for the first time since swearing-in. The only unfortunate thing was that the location for this training was perhaps the hottest, most humid town in all of Peru! It was a long week, but after our training events concluded, a bunch of us spend the weekend exploring some beautiful places around the region of Amazonas. See later in the post for details on that!
From September through the end of the near year, and into January, our focus remained on gathering more data and formalizing our community diagnostic for our next training event at the beginning of February 2020. During this time, a few of our communities held elections to decide the next members of the water committee, which was very exciting because this would be the group of people we would be working with for the rest of our time here (the water committee members serve for a term of two years – plenty of time!). We also had the chance to provide some training sessions about chlorination, as well as helping one community establish its monthly user pay rate. Our goal over the next year and a half will be to continue training the water committee members to ensure enough knowledge and application of proper water system management techniques.
“Have you guys been involved in any sort of secondary projects?”
If we aren’t working with the municipal officials to complete trainings, we are spending time with members of the local hospital, participating in health campaigns around the small city we live in, mostly involving topics such as safe water storage (to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases), vaccinating pets, and proper hand washing techniques. We do have some ideas for secondary projects going forward, including plans to reduce the amount of residual waste that is sometimes found having been thrown out on the side of the road, as well as educating local restaurant owners about proper hygiene techniques and best practices. Nearly 1 in 5 people in our area had to be treated for a water- or hygiene-related disease in 2019. This represents an immense opportunity to reduce this number by engaging at various levels of the community to spread awareness and enact positive behavior changes that will improve the overall health of the community.
While this doesn’t count as a secondary project per-say, we were treated to a visit from our fellow Villanovans in October 2019 when a group from the Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) program arrived in our regional capital of Trujillo for a week-long immersion trip. We joined them for two days as they worked college students at a local university giving a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workshop at a nearby middle school. After the workshop, we went with the students to a nearby sand dune park for an afternoon of sand boarding, and over dinner we were able to share a ton about our experiences from the past six months. It was awesome having a little piece of home here with us in Peru!
“Have you been able to travel at all?”
As was mentioned earlier, after our early in-service training in September 2019, we traveled to the Amazonas regional capital called Chachapoyas. It’s a beautiful city up in the mountains. This area of the country is considered to be the “high-jungle”, which, unlike the “low-jungle” that we consider to be traditional rain forest, is at a much higher elevation which much lower temperatures. While we were there, we took a day trip to go and hike through the cloud forest to visit the world’s 5th-tallest waterfall, Yumbilla Falls. We also took another day trip and ventured up over 3000 m (about 10,000 feet) to explore the ruins of Kuelap, an ancient city that’s known as the “Machu Picchu of the North.” This was an absolutely stunning trip! Check out some of the photos we took below.
And now for some pics of Kuelap!
After this trip, we saved up our vacation days to travel home for the holidays. Our families celebrate Christmas, so we wanted to arrive at home in order to spend as much time with them as possible. We stayed home through New Year’s, and between both holidays we were able to catch up with one of our best friends, Victoria, in Philly. We had spent almost 9 months in Peru at that point, so it was a much-need trip home! It was so special being able to not only spend the holidays with our family and friends, but also share our experiences with them. There are already plans for our parents to visit us in Peru in October 2020, so the countdown is already on!
After our most recent in-service training event in Lima at the beginning of February, a group of us boarded a plane and flew 2 hours north (Peru is big!) to the jungle city of Iquitos for a four-day vacation. Fun fact: Iquitos (pronounced ee-KEY-toes) is the world’s largest city that is not connected to the outside world by road. If it weren’t for the flight, our only other option would have been a 32-hour bus from Lima, followed by a 4-day, 3-night boat ride. To say it’s remote would be an understatement! From Iquitos we booked an overnight tour deep into the Amazon jungle that included boat rides (in fact, about 90% of travel for the tour was by boat), seeing all kinds of wild plants animals like monkeys, toucans, frogs, toads, sloths, crocodiles, tarantulas (!), and more, as well as a stay in a (very) rustic lodge just off the river. Our tour guide even brought us to visit the small native community where he grew up, which was a very special treat. It was quite the trip and was an incredible opportunity to visit a part of Peru that is so uniquely distinct.
“What do you guys do in your free time?”
What an excellent question! There is always a ton of work to do as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but there is never a shortage of free time. In addition to watching TV shows and movies we brought along with us, we try to stay active by going to the local gym 5-6 days a week. In fact, since moving to site in July, Andrew has gained almost 15 pounds (he has always been on the slimmer side – so this was awesome progress), and Bryan has lost nearly 15 pounds (he has always been on the heavier side – so this was awesome progress too!!). In an environment where we have very little control over most things, we are grateful to be able to have our exercise and diet routines as a mark of consistency and progress. We have also been enjoying our opportunity to spend time with our volunteer friends and of course our host family. The first weekend of December we actually got together with a few of our friends and celebrated a nice Friendsgiving. We had a blast cooking our vegetarian/vegan dinner and enjoying a relaxing break away from site. In November we also celebrated our host mom’s birthday, which was a blast! We enjoyed dancing with her and all of her friends through the night! Additionally, we are taking time to learn some of our favorite languages, including French, Brazilian Portuguese, and Mandarin Chinese. As the saying goes, “your service is what you make of it,” but your free time is what you make of it, too!
Alright, well with that, we’re all caught up! Thanks for bearing with us, everyone. Your support means the world to us, and we certainly haven’t taken it for granted. We look forward to sharing more updates with you as our service continues!
Saludos desde Peru,
Andrew and Bryan 😊