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Nourish International

Orientation Week (Tena!)

May 28, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador | By

Ally tuta (or buenas noches in Spanish)!  Its been a week since we landed in Ecuador, and after a five hour drive through the mountains and the jungle we arrived in Tena.  We were greeted by a cozy cabin-like intern house at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of the city.  Our first night was spent exploring the unique streets of Tena along side other interns and employees of the Fundacion Runa.  Our dinner conversation revolved around Guayusa and the company’s efforts to form its image as a sustainable cash crop for small Kechwa farmers.  Runa has taken a creative approach to international development by forming a company that has both for profit and non-profit sectors in both Ecuador and the United States.  The four parts work as one, to promote Guayusa as an organic fair-trade product over-seas.  They focus on marketing Guayusa as not just a drink but a story, a story of centuries old indigenous tradition and culture.  Guayusa has been historically central to the Kechwa culture, bringing together families at 4 o-clock every morning to share stories, interpret dreams, and discuss the coming day.  By promoting this image Runa hopes to create a product that will always stay in the hands of Ecuadorian farmers and provide a sustainable income for them.  Starting this coming week we will have the opportunity to take part in Guayusa ceremonies with our host families.

In order to prepare for the coming 7 week excursion into the Amazon, where we will be completely immersed into the indigenous Kechwa culture, and cut off from society as we know it, we have spent the past week taking intensive Spanish and Kechwa language classes.  We also discussed culture shock and the cultural norms we will be experiencing over the next seven weeks.  On Monday we will re-pack our bags and enter Santo Domingio and Puni Kotona, two indigenous communities deep in the Amazonian jungle.  With excitement and uncertainty looming ahead we are looking forward to this journey where we will strive to make a difference as well as learn about an ancient, beautiful culture and about ourselves.  Pakharinkama (adios)!

grab your bags

May 16, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Duke, Ecuador | By

Hello everyone!

Our bags our packed and our anticipation is ever increasing because, in two days, we will be flying to the beautiful country of Ecuador.  We will be spending eight weeks in Archidona, partnering with the non-profit Fundación Runa to help build gardens and guayusa (a tea-like plant) nurseries as well as teach classes in first aid and hygiene, nutrition, computer literacy, and English.  Fundación Runa is a new organization, but they have made leaps and bounds in helping secure increased and more stable incomes for farmers in the Napo valley. Through their partnership with Runa, a for-profit company that is trying to create a greater market for guayusa, they have been able to fashion a fresh and so far effective model for social entrepreneurship.

Although we have a plan for this summer, we understand the importance of being flexible and fulfilling the actual needs of the community rather than trying to force an ill-fitting agenda.  We are not there to help but to empower.  We hope to give those with whom we work some tools to improve their own communities and create the foundation for a self-sustaining environment.  Fundación Runa began their project by recognizing the strengths of the Kichwa people with whom they were working, and they used their own knowledge to create an organization that would help share and preserve indigenous knowledge while alleviating poverty in the area.  We hope our summer exchange will allow for both parties to learn and grasp new understandings.

Thank you for following this special journey; we cannot wait to share our adventures with you.

Final blog post…for now

July 22, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

It’s now been over two weeks since we wrapped our projects in Urubamba, and I was met with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I was sad to be leaving, to have to say good-bye to my new godson and the many, many other wonderful people I met here, like JG our project coordinator with Nexos; Sra Lourdes, the director at the Chichubamba School; my fellow Nourish volunteers as well as the other Nexos volunteers…so many warm, gentle spirits – how lucky I was to know them all, even for just a short period of time. I was sad also to have to stop our work there, for we weren’t quite done and there still yet remains so many other things to do – so much potential for helping your fellow man (or your fellow 4 year-old boy hehe). On the other hand, I was excited to be heading back to Lima for some great seafood (though a bad stomach bug had gotten my way a bit haha) and then move onward to Tarapoto, Chazuta, and Chipaota (towns in northern Peru where our group stayed last year). Gosh how I’ve missed the people here! It’s really been fantastic to be back and to reconnect with the people, many of which are becoming more and more like a second family. Anyhow, let me offer a quick update on what we accomplished during our time in Urubamba.

Of course as many of you know, when we first started working in Chichubamba, our first task to tackle was to repair an outer adobe wall for the school. Many back-pains later, we had a completed wall. This outer perimeter wall will serve to help protect the more important/valuable school infrastructure from land-/mudslides (to which it is especially prone during the wet season since it is at the base of mountain) and as well as from intruders. And clearly, protecting the educational infrastructure in this impoverished neighborhood is a necessary component for providing its residents a possible way out of poverty.

View out one of the school windows in Chichubamba showing the close proximity to the foothills of the neighboring mountains

Another task of ours was the painting of the murals on the outer perimeter wall and to paint the lunch room facilities. One of the murals depicted children from various cultures and ethnicities, all holding hands in solidarity. The other mural painted depicted the rainbow colors of the Inca flag, with a message written over it Spanish, English, and Quechua, which stated that we are all equal on this earth. These two paintings were selected as a means to help further combat the racism that is quite strong in the region. I realize that in some sense, the paintings seem to be just cosmetics, but more important than that, I feel that they are way to help improve the educational experience of the children, thereby actually helping to increase the chances that such children will continue to come to school because they are taking just a little more pride in their school campus. Just as in the States we would never consider leaving a school without a layer of paint over the gray cinderblocks that make up the walls of many of our schools, likewise the schools here In Peru certainly deserve no less, so I’m certainly glad we were able to do the paintings. Furthermore as I mentioned above, the murals on the outer wall actually take a step further to help combat the racism that prevails in the region. Taking small steps like this are part of that which helps to educate societies and make changes in broken belief systems, such as those that say one race is superior to another.

View of the completed wall and the two murals we painted

Nicole & Arjita working with some of the kids to make hand-painted flowers for the lunch room

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, we worked on building gardens! The creation of vegetable gardens at both of these schools will help to improve the nutrition levels of the students, especially those at Villa Marcelo since their students do not even receive lunches yet. Proper nourishment is a critical element that impacts the learning ability/capacity of growing children and subsequently malnourishment can actually have quite detrimental impacts on learning abilities and subsequently IQ. Hence, these gardens have the potential to serve as a great buffer or preventative measure to ensure that such does not take place. More than this, the children will be gaining skills and knowledge on how to actually raise a garden in their own home and will gain a better understanding of exactly what kinds of plants they should be eating on a regular basis.

The "before" shot of the Villa Marcelo greenhouse/garden

Final stage that the Nourish volunteers completed with the Chichubamba garden

Next stage being worked on for the Chichubamba garden: addition of a cement retaining wall and soon to-be a greenhouse-like roof, which is why we did not plant yet

And what can I say for us volunteers? I feel like this project had a big impact on us all, especially in terms of the level of awareness it raised in each of us. Although I cannot speak for any of them in particular, I believe that they would agree that we all have a much greater appreciation for the importance of the educational system here in Peru (as well as in general), realizing that for many kids of the two schools we helped, the school is a refuge away from a hostile environment. For many such children in this region who come from broken and/or abusive homes, the school becomes a safe haven where they can find food, caring school staff, and companions to play with. Before our trip, I don’t think any of us quite understood how important such institutions are nor understood the many roles that they serve.

Well, I must go for now, but please do stay tuned! I shall try to put up one more blog post soon with an update (and pictures hopefully) about last year’s project in Chipaota – things are really coming along quite well and it’s quite exciting! Peace :)

Final Blog Post

July 16, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

Now that I’m back in the states, I’ve had some time to reflect on Peru and what it felt like to live in a foreign country for 6 weeks. The experience was both surpising/exciting and also soothing at the same time.

I got completely used to living somewhere without the comforts of home, and not missing them much (except showers), and Spanish became a part of my daily life.  And I adjusted to the rythms of a new place.  Mototaxis, walking through rocky paths, stepping aside to let cows pass, and being chilled by the cold night air–that’s what traveling in Urubamba meant to me.  

The times that we spent in Cuzco and Lima were pure bliss–I would highly recommend those cities to anyone who travels.  It’s really important to go somewhere where you’re stunned by everything you see and get to have adventures everday & night.  The best breaks from our working weeks!

The most important thing should be the work that we did at the schools, because this defined the nature of our trip. When you volunteer on a vacation, like we did for 30 hours a week, you can say that you had a true purpose for being there. Even though we didn’t see either of our projects totally finished, everyday that we worked felt better to me for having done the work.

The story of Luisito and choosing your own battles

July 14, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

Luis & his 2 brothers (Elvis & Edwin)

Five weeks have now gone by since I first met Luis. It was a cool, Tuesday morning and we had just been dropped off at the Chichubamba School when Sarah pointed out this precious young boy. There he sat on the ground, in dirty garb and sun-scorched cheeks, wearing the face of a downhearted child who had been overlooked one too many times by the small world that he knew. I did perhaps what many of us tend to do – looked for a moment with some sympathy and then, not knowing what else to do, carried on. Shortly thereafter he timidly approached the entrance of the school, daring a gaze through the courtyard in our direction. Sarah and Purvi went to him, making an attempt to connect with him somehow but not succeeding.

First encounter with Luis

I then proceeded to go sit by him and asked him a few questions, to which he responded with a constant, cold stare at the ground. Finally I struck gold! “Te gustan galletas (do you like cookies)?” I asked. He gave me a gentle nod. I quickly trotted off to retrieve a pack of cookies and opened them for him, as I had just learned that he had a deformed right hand. According to all accounts by the school director and other school personnel, his mother did not care for him because of this deformity (I will spare you all of the harsher words that they actually used).

Over the next couple days, Luisito continued to return to the school, following a similar routine of offering silence in exchange for cookies, which was good enough for me for the time being. Without speaking a word and without even knowing his name, this little boy stole my heart away. Maybe it was the look on his face or maybe it was just human instincts kicking in but something was tugging at me, telling me that I couldn’t just do nothing, telling me that something had to change. But what could I do?!? I was just a foreigner that would be gone in a couple of weeks, clueless as to what laws/ordinances existed for child protection here, and simply felt very conflicted on whether or not I should get involved. All I had were rumors from the school personnel and the sight of a forlorn, unkempt little boy.

At the beginning of our 2nd week of work at the school, we encountered a large group of medical students and professionals who were volunteering their time to offer basic medical examinations and to give out vitamins & anti-parasite pills to the students. When Luis happened to show up at the entrance of the school that day, one of our volunteers suggested taking him over to see if he could get checked out. It took little more effort than walking up to them with him in my arms for them to quickly agree to give him an examination. I’m not sure exactly what began to come over me, perhaps the look of pity on the faces of the health care workers or maybe it was the feeling of being powerless, but I could hardly fight back the tears welling up in my eyes. I so desperately wanted to make things right in his world, to give him the many gifts that I had often taken for granted in my own life: having a two hands in perfect condition, having loving parents that would feed & clothe me and send me to school, having great health most of my life and having health care whenever I needed it. I was mildly comforted by the report from the health care volunteers, giving him a clean bill of health and offering him some vitamins & anti-parasite pills that he of course wouldn’t take. Perhaps I was slightly skeptical of their evaluation upon considering that he is particularly small for his age and that he has somewhat of a bulging belly (not from being overweight), both indications of malnourishment from what I have been told. But what was hardest for me in that moment, after the examination was done, was to have to put him down and simply walk away. I knew that a good health care report meant very little if he did not have a loving family to go home to, one that would actually tend to his needs and help him to grow and be healthy.

Needless to say, the matter weighed heavily on my heart, and I spent the next few days pondering what to do. I finally decided to start doing some investigating into how we could possibly help this little boy. I shall spare you all of the boring background details of the arduous work that went into such digging, for the end result is what really matters most. Around two weeks after having met Luis, we were able to enroll him into school and gain the support of his mother (think moral support, not financial support haha).

Luis in the jardin (aka kindergarten)

These were probably the two biggest milestones for him, especially the drastic change of his daily routine from roaming the streets to attending school with the other children his age. And I think that the mother experienced somewhat of a wake-up call, realizing that she couldn’t (and shouldn’t) ignore/neglect her little son anymore. Whether or not Luis is able to successfully integrate into the school system, I feel, will be highly dependent on how much continued support he receives from his mother. I say this because there is no lack of support in the school administration itself, nor in Luis’ own ambition to go to school, nor in the funding that was left for him to cover tuition and uniform costs in the upcoming years. Perhaps what was most important for us to accomplish here in the time we had was to get a “snowball” rolling, a snowball of outside support, so that as time goes by, there will others to there to help keep him on track. The person who has been probably the most helpful in changing the course for Luis is the director at the Chichubamba School, Señora Loures. She was the one to approach the mother on a number of occasions, fighting on Luis’ behalf for him to be cared for and sent to school. And it shall be primarily on her that we will be relying on for the ongoing support that will be needed for the successful caring and education of Luis.

The transformations that I’ve seen this boy undergo in the short span of a couple weeks really have blown me away. He went from looking like a poster-child for some NGO for orphaned children to looking like what any normal, 4 year-old boy should look like – cheerful…playful…curious…happy! The first time I actually saw him smile was when the director and I approached one day to tell him that he would be starting school the next day and to give him his school uniform. His face lit up like a candle – it truly was a beautiful sight! The next day, she and I brought him a new backpack filled with clothes and other goodies that the other volunteers helped me to purchase and once again, he seemed to bubble over with delight with his new gifts. I couldn´t help but wonder if he had ever been given such gifts and such attention…I suspect probably not. Shortly thereafter, on June 20th, I discovered that it was his birthday. Luckily that day I already happened to be bringing a new pair of boots for him to school, so that became his first birthday gift.

Giving Luis new boots on his birthday

After giving him his boots, I sent one of the members of the kitchen staff into town to buy him a birthday cake, and she returned with the cake, two large bottles of soda, and his mother.

Luis´ birthday celebration

Needless to say, he was quite pleased with the little birthday celebration that we were able to give him. A couple days later I found him and his mother in Urubamba’s plaza for a celebration of the 186th anniversary of Urubamba. We left the festivities for a bit so we could go to the market and get him a gift for his birthday, which turned out to be a colorful plastic dump truck that came with a few plastic gardening tools in its bucket. The next day at school, he came over to the area where I was working to play with his truck, loading the bucket with small doses of dirt and then driving it a few feet away to dump it out.

Luis and a few of his schoolmates playing with his new truck & garden tools

I must say, that was the best $10 I ever spent!

One evening I was telling the owner of my hostel, who is somewhat of a saint, about Luis and his deformed hand. He said that he had a vague recollection of there being a clinic in a nearby town that basically functions like Doctors without Borders. He offered to go on a hunt for it sometime during the upcoming weekend, so we did, and ya know what, we found it (only after stopping and asking about 6 or 7 different people haha)! This clinic/hospital primarily works with the poor to provide free surgeries and other necessary services. When the service requires specialists that the clinic does not possess, they send a profile of the case to either doctors that they’ve worked with before in the US or simply begin looking for other doctors, who then basically come with a team of other professionals to work on a number of cases. Anyhow, long story short, the guy who runs the clinic happens to be from Oregon and said that he was about to be returning to the States in a couple days and that I should email him some close-up photo shots of the boy’s hand. From there, he said he would start looking to see what he could find while he was in the States. Admittedly, this is somewhat of a “long shot”, but nonetheless, one worth taking. Things have been put in motion now, so we shall see in time what will come of it.

What is there left to say? Well, I guess that I am now for the first time in my life a proud padrino (aka godfather)! Ever since Luis´ birthday celebration at the school, we had talked about doing a baptism for him so that I could become the godfather, but his mother would continue to procrastinate or simply fail to take the necessary measures to make the arrangements for the baptism. As we entered the final week of our stay in Urubamba, it seemed that it would simply not happen because the church usually requires a minimum of a one-week notice to do it, and clearly, the arrangements still hadn’t been made. But finally at last, the mother came through! She notified me the day before our last day in Urubamba that the following day we would do the baptism. The next day I met her in the plaza in town after having worked half the day already in the garden in Villa Marcelo. I foolishly arrived in my dirty work clothes, which merited a “what the heck are you wearing?!?!” kind of look from the mother haha. We had 15 minutes to get to a church that was in a town 3 km away, so what did we do? To the market we went of course to buy me some clean, dressy clothes (since my hostel was too far away for me to go to and change)! After buying a new outfit for myself and for the Luis, who already looked as cute as button in apparently the finest clothes that his mother could find for him, we quickly hopped into a moto and headed for the church, arriving just a mere 10 minutes late. After the ceremony, we went to print pictures of the ceremony so that I could leave them with him and his family, did a little bit of shopping, and had a nice lunch. Luis ended up eating the majority of my plate of grilled trout, which worked out well for the both of us since he loves fish and I had bad stomach ache. Afterwards, we headed back to his house so that I could say good-bye to him and his mother & siblings all at once. I explained to him that I would be going away for a little while but that I would come back soon and told him that I would look for him at the school when I returned. I asked him if he would be there and replied with a squeaky “sí” and a cute, innocent smile. With that, I gave him a hug and kiss and walked away.

As I sit here writing this, basking in the memories I have with Luis, I also reminded of some pessimistic comments I heard from certain people, telling me things like “you can’t save them all you know” or “you know there are many thousand more Luis’s out there.” Luckily I am also reminded of an old wise saying that a good friend has told me a number of times (usually at times when I’m overwhelmed with trying to do too much haha), that everyone must choose their own battles. I suppose that this saying could mean a million different things to a million different persons in this world, but for me, I suppose it means a couple of things. First and foremost, it speaks to me about action. The only room given to complacency and passivity here, both of which I have been guilty of from time to time, is for things that simply aren’t of much importance to us. “Choose”, the saying commands! Make a deliberate decision and go forward with it, making strategic efforts along the way to accomplish what you have set out to do. The saying also speaks to me about fighting for what you care about, for that which is worth fighting for – to you. On the other side of that coin, it also says that all of our battles don’t have to be the same. I shall fight for what I believe, and you shall fight for what you believe in, and it’s totally ok if they happen to be two different things. The point is to make that deliberate decision to tackle whatever obstacles stand between yourself and your goal, to give it all you’ve got like you’re going into battle. Finally, this saying reminds me that there are an infinite number of battles out there to be fought and that we simply can’t win them all, so we should choose wisely. So what is to be said for all those matters that we choose to look away from? I figure they fall into one of two categories. Either we are simply being passive/complacent/indifferent/etc. because we simply don’t care (or just assume that somebody else will tend to it) OR we are simply being practical, realizing that there is only so much one can do. Either way, one must tread with trepidation, for both these paths are known as taking “the easy way out.”

Forgive me for rambling on and on, as I often tend to do when I write. I do so here to encourage you all to not be afraid to take action when you see something wrong in this world. I want to encourage you to pay attention to what is important to you, and when you encounter your own “Luis” in the world, whoever or whatever that may be, don’t be afraid to give it all you’ve got even if your efforts will only be a drop in the bucket or because there will be just another “Luis” right around the corner. Jump in with both feet and tackle whatever obstacles stand in between you and making this world a better place! I shall end with one of my most favorite quotes by Frederick Buechner who said: “The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” Go out there and touch the world!

Luis wearing my hat

Cuzco and other stuff

July 2, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

Much has happened since my last post. Last weekend, Cuzco was the greatest escape from our simpler town.  We stayed at the well established, hippest of hostels, Loki, with its huge bar.  We got hot showers for two nights!

Each day was remarkable meanderings through the tight, ancient city.  Purvi, Arjita and I got scorched sitting out in the sun for Inti Raymi, the Winter Solstice celebration. We also shopped and visited the Museo Inca.  On the last afternoon, I climbed to the higher part of the city to get away from the touristy stuff, through neighbourhoods cut into the mountainside.  It was so rewarding to see the entire city from some random dirt path!

Yesterday I taught multiplication to the 4th grade class at the Chicubamba school.  I found out how much Spanish I can and can’t use fluently.  Multiplicar is one word I definitely can’t say right yet.

Other random thoughts:

  • The stars really do knock me over here.  They’re the best I’ve seen anywhere.  People ask me if I’m alright when I dawdle behind at night to look up.
  • The labor is more exhausting at the new school we’re working.  How did so many rocks come to be in that plot of earth?  We have to remove them ALL for the kids to have a garden.
  • I´m so accustomed to plodding down the roads and paths here now.  We walk past man-made streams, with farm animals drinking and ladies washing tools and dishes in them.
  • I eat about 3 desserts most days, trying to gain back some of the weight I lost when I had a bad stomach problem for a week.  There’s such a wide variety of packaged cookies here, and they’re all about 30 cents a package!

We Are All Under the Same Conditions

July 1, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

So much has happened since my last blog I can barely remember it all. Let’s begin with the here and now; I am currently back at our old school in Chichubamba sitting in on Sarah’s math class. She is working with the 4th graders on their multiplication skills. She is doing a wonderful job; the students surprised her a bit because they are much better at multiplication than she thought. That’s wonderful! It proves that even kids from less than perfect backgrounds have just as much potential as others. All they need is a chance and someone to believe in them. As we walked through the gates this morning I took a deep breath and sighed “Ahh, feels like home.” It just hasn’t been the same at our new school and I really miss the children here, who I refer to as “our babies”. At our new school we are working on their garden as well, but the green house is on the other side of a field far away from the students and we get virtually no interaction with kids. I think that is the reason we find our new work much more difficult and slow.

This morning Arjita and Purvi left to return to Los Estados Unidos (United States). It’s amazing how quickly relationships form when you live and work with someone. In these 4 weeks we have all learned more than we ever thought we would about both each other and ourselves. Fortunately I only have about 5 days without them because at times it was our conversations that kept me sane. =]

Moving onto our work week, it has been nothing short of challenging. Back aches, sore arms, throbbing legs…all symptoms of a hard worker. A condition that we have all fallen prone to this week. When thoughts of giving up or quitting seep through the cracks of our minds it helps to remember that we are all here under the same conditions. We have learned to take each day in stride, first hoping for the 10 o’clock hour, then lunch at noon, and finally 3:20pm when we pack up and leave. The green house is about twice if not three times the size of our former school and has a million more rocks that must be removed. The highlight of the day is when we find a massive rock which takes 30min or longer to dig out and 4 of us to pick up.

As I sit reflecting on the trip and looking forward to my last days ahead, I keep repeating to myself “this has been a wonderful trip, and I am so blessed.” I frequently get the question, “are you ready to go home?” from friends and family. The answer isn’t easy but yes. If I was scheduled to be here for another 2 weeks, then I wouldn’t be ready until then. It’s all mental, in my head I know that I go home Wednesday so my thoughts and feelings are geared towards that date. Subconsciously I keep thinking about food I miss, restaurants I want to eat at, friends I need to visit, movies I want to see, etc. My parents always told me no matter how old I get I’ll always be their baby. Putting the “tough guy” act aside, I do miss them as well and can’t wait to see them.

The journey’s almost over and I’ll continue to enjoy these final days in the land of Peru. Until next time…


Urubamba – Land of Rocks (literally!)

June 29, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

Believe it or not, we’re nearly done with our project here in Peru. This past Thursday was our last official day at the school we began working at, La Primaria de Chichubamba. During our time there, we finished constructing a wall of adobe bricks, covered it with barro (i.e. mud) mixed with sand & straw, then covered that with plaster made by hand (mostly done by Sarah haha), and then painted most of it.

The wall is supposed to illustrate children from various cultures & ethinicities, holding hands and showing acceptance of each other despite their differences

We also painted the kid’s lunch area,

using kids' hands to paint flowers

which was constructed by a prior group of volunteers. And perhaps most importantly, we all worked very diligently on preparing a plot of land to be a garden. I reckon this was our most challenging task, which entailed: breaking up hardened soil with a pick, shoveling it into a sieve to remove a plethora of rocks, piling the sifted soil to one side of the garden, re-picking the base layer of the garden, hauling bags of compost (which would be used for adding some nutrients to the barren soil we were working with) weighing over 50 kilos (over 110 lbs!!!) in a rickety wheelbarrow down narrow dirt paths that weaved in between people’s chakras (i.e. farms) and over irrigation channels/ditches, and finally “building” the garden by layering sifted soil & compost and wetting them down intermittently. Whew, that was a long sentence! Anyhow, it was very rewarding to see the nearly-finished product of the garden. Some of us will be going back this Friday to help finish the garden and teach some mathematics (done by Sarah, the math whiz). And after all of the other aforementioned hard work, it was really great to see the freshly completed walls that my fellow volunteers worked so diligently on!

We are now working at a school called Villa Marcelo where we are working on a garden/”greenhouse”. The garden is about three times the size of the garden that we worked on in Chichubamba and has MANY MANY MANY more rocks!!! We have worked and toiled many hard hours picking at the hard ground, trying to break its will to stay put and to release all the stones within its grasp. Today Nicole and I worked on digging out a particular stone that took 3 men and 1 lady to carry – whew I never knew such a thing could weigh so much haha. Anyhow, given the large size of the garden and the short amount of time that we’ll have to work on it (6 days in total, 3 remaining), we decided to focus our efforts in completing just half of the garden space. Hence, we’ll attempt to dig & sift half of the garden and then apply a fresh load of richer soil to that dirt to help enrich it (because it’s dry as a bone and lacks many nutrients!). Aside from that, we plan to work on the structure of the greenhouse. We need to replace some of the vertical support beams, replace the plastic roof covering, and add additional roof beams. Needless to say, we have our work cut out for us! We are trying to enlist some of the fathers of the children of the school, but as I mentioned in my prior blog, many of these children come from unstable/broken families, so trying to get such support from parents is like trying to herd cats.

Well, that’s it for now. Stay tuned for a blog about my beloved Luis (my “adopted” child haha), as well as a final blog later with all of our accomplishments. Ciao :)


June 29, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

I´m writing from the NeVo House computer, we have roughly 9 minutes till the cars pick us up for work, but sometimes they run on Peruvian time (their own time). Arjita and I fly out from Cusco Friday morning and will be in Houston by midnight, as long as our plane is not delayed again like it was on the way here.

So I have a total of less than 16 hours of working on the site, which is the hardest physical work I ever remember doing in my life, at least for such a long time. You have a choice of picking, shovelling or sifting the dirt for the garden (using this giant, broken sifter that gifted most of us some cuts  and a wheelbarrow).  I have found out that most chores hurt your back, and pretty much all are equally tiring. The garden is at least 2 times bigger than the one at the other school, and covered by some tarp, which provides some sun protection, but not much. Also, the dirt has a lot more rocks and we have already seen many spiders and one scorpion. But it is a really nice thought that sometime when the garden/greenhouse is finished, little Peruvian kids will grow their own vegetables and learn about the goodness of a balanced diet.

I had a really good experience overall. I learned that I probably would not like a job in construction, but at the same time I can handle a lot more than I thought. I was a really picky eater before I came here, but I learned to eat mostly everything, I know I can handle really cold showers and bugs are not the hugest deal. I also really like how I pretty much forgot about technology. I was never an avid tv watcher at all, but I did text, and over here besides updating my blog and checking my gmail, the thought of the computer or a cell phone does not really cross my mind.

I also really like how the Peruvian people are humble. I did not come across nearly as many beggars as I do in India, but at the same time I thought the drive to excel that sort of drives Indians was not present in Urubamba. People seem a little lazy to alter their own situations (for example shop keepers sometimes act like you are disrupting their conversation, and when we went to print photos the man was clearly angry by us disrupting his computer game for business), which is an attitude that I was not brought up with America for sure. However, people all over the world have their own struggles, so perhaps one of the biggest things this trip taught me was to work hard, but still be content enough to be satisfied with what god has given me.

I am really excited to see my family and friends and come home. Thanks for reading.


June 25, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Duke, Peru, UT Austin | By

We decided to spend what is Arjita and my last weekend in Cusco for the festival of Inti Raymi. I think it is the celebration of the Incan god of the sun, and basically there are two parts in the city and the last at Saxaywaman. It started at around 9 am, and then the crowds of people, for sure tens of thousands, basically rush walk or even run to the next part. We saw the part at the Plaza de Armas the best, since even though we woke up around 7 by the time we got to Chorikanchi (totally misspelled because I do not have time to look it up) to see the first part there were too many people and all I could see was heads. Even though most of it was in Quechua, there was a lot of dancing (kind of like garba!) and processions with people in colorful costumes.

I love Cusco, it is so gorgeous I just say it again and again. The entire city is supposedly like less than a mile across, and built on sort of hills with cobbled paths everywhere and steps. I feel like I already know my way around pretty well, and at night it kind of looks like San Francisco with all of the lights. Most of the buildings look like Spanish colonial structures and the town is pretty modern, they are at that stage where they have a McDonalds but not a Pizza Hut, but tons of other good food.  We were only in Lima for less than 2 days, but I feel like there are way more vegetarian options here. We ate at this really yummy place called Govinda Lila´s yesterday, where the lady does a set menu of vegetarian food for 5 soles and then dessert. Supposedly her banana chocolate cake is a little famous for how good it is, and the restaurant has some Indian influence even though she said she has never been to Indian. it is small and a little hard to find, it was near where our map said it would be but not at the right location, and there are only like 15 seats but cute and definitely one of the best places I have eaten at.

Last night the others went out but Arjita and I decided to just walk around, so we went to some more of the fancy stores geared at tourists selling alpaca, and then we saw some of the street stuff. There were people selling wares, which this policeman told us was actually illegal as he was making this lady pack up, and artists that reminded me of NYC. Some paint graffiti-type scenes and then raffle them off, Arjita and I thought we won  but apparently the first two numbers called are void. There was also a man dressed and painted as a robot, who danced and acted, asking for (kisses) besos, when you drop coins in his bucket.

We also went to a real Indian restaurant run by perhaps the only Indian couple I have seen in peru called Maikhana, Indian cafe and restaurant. It was good, they only had a home-style buffet last night because they said they were unable to get food shipped for 4 days because of the festival and perhaps riots in Puno. We have been luckily unaffected by any political rioting in Cusco or Urubamba.

Today we are going to an art museum and then eating one last scrumptious meal (they have everything here from falafels to gelato) before we take a collectivo van back to Urubamba. Arjita and I will work 4 days at the next school, building a garden before we fly back home on Friday-

When we finished at the first school in Chichubamba (in Urubamba), the kids threw us a little show where they sang and afterwards we all danced. We were also able to have lunch with the teachers, the cooks made Arjita and I ¨spinach tortillas¨which were exactly like Indian pakoras (fried dough with different veggies)! Here apparently a tortilla is something fried, usually with veggies, not the corn or flour tortillas we are used to at home. We also asked the teachers about the state of education in Urubamba and Peru, and it was nice to see how dedicated the principal was to her cause. That school takes in all students, without the application process most other schools have, and faces the struggle of the poor family backgrounds that many of the children have. Education is not a priority for a lot of families, mostly because of poverty, and unfortunately also because of the lack of good family support that often stems from poverty. Most other schools in Peru have application processes and social biases against things such as learning disabilities, which is why many children do not start elementary school or do not continue to secondary.