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Nourish International

Pre-Departure Thoughts: Leaving Soon for Sangkhlaburi!

April 21, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Thailand, UNC | By

Welcome to the summer 2011 project blog for one of the student teams from UNC-Chapel Hill’s chapter of Nourish International! We’ll be partnering with Pattanarak, a local organization that works with rural communities on Thailand’s borders. Pattanarak has a variety of programs run out of its field office in Sangkhlaburi on the border with Burma, where our project is located, which include health intervention projects, savings circles, and sustainable agriculture development.

During our time with Pattanarak, we will be assisting with the construction of backyard gardens for families in these communities in an effort to impact the root causes of poor nutrition, as well as building a feed co-op that the community wants for supporting livestock and agricultural initiatives. Throughout our stay we will also be absorbing as much as we can about Pattanarak’s efforts in community engagement; and learning about the local political, cultural, and social dynamics in the region.

The students in our team of eight have started getting to know each other over the course of this past semester, and we’re looking forward to reconvening in Bangkok on 19th June to start our six-week project! Feel free to follow this blog, which will serve as a chronicle of our experiences and impressions for the duration of the project.

Thanks for reading!


post-health fair work

August 25, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

Since the health fair was over, we could all focus on building latrines now. After surveying all of the families in Ciudad de Dios and figuring out which ones would most benefit from the installation of the latrine, we set to work. The families themselves did much of the digging (thanks goodness) as we were quite unfamiliar with the rough terrain. Digging through layers of solid rock proved much more difficult than we thought. We all became experts with a rock bar and discovered a new appreciation for mechanized devices used elsewhere in the world. Nonetheless, we worked at this hard labor, soliciting the help of members of the Ohio State group as well. We spent the days digging these holes – about two meters deep by .75 meters by .75 meters until it got time to lay the bricks.

Robby, Mateo, and Leopoldo all came to help out too, which was amazing since they were such skilled brick layers. Working in peoples’ yards beside their cows, chickens, goats, dogs, etc., we spent all day helping to build these latrines. But it all paid off and we completed eleven by the end of the week.

With the construction of these latrines, everyone in the community now has access to some form of latrine, and their sanitation will improve dramatically. There will be no need for anyone to defecate or pee around the community, and most importantly, it will not infect the water lines.

The end of our stay was rapidly approaching as we found ourselves at a goodbye party in Ciudad de Dios. The community kindly made us lunch and thanked us for our hard work. It was quite a rewarding experience for the entire group to see how grateful the community truly was for our work with them. While it is important for the community to agree on these projects and make them their own, they nonetheless recognize the crucial impact we have.

While farewells are always bittersweet, we waved goodbye to the community knowing that there was much more work to be done between them and MOCHE/Nourish in the future. Great capacity building over the past years has led to amazing relationships between our volunteer groups and the communities, creating a marvelous partnership to carry on for years to come, and the reassurance of continually improving public health for all these communities.

A Much Belated Update

August 12, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

Hello! Due to Internet issues, we weren’t able to blog much the last couple weeks we were in Peru. I wrote down updates in my notebook, and now that we’re all back home I’m finally able to post them here.

The first thing I have to tell you all about is our health fair, which took place on Sunday, July 25. We held it in the colegio, or elementary school, in Bello Horizonte. It was a good setup– the school is centered around a big courtyard in the middle, with a stage and everything. We set up our “health stations” there and used the stage to do the raffle drawings. The doctors worked inside the classrooms. Most of them used classroom desks and chairs as beds, except for a few who’d brought their own mattresses and cots. We ended up having seven doctors working at the fair– a general doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, a dentist, a psychologist, an obstetrician and a pediatrician.

We also had the help of five wonderful community health workers from Santa Rosa, the community next door to Ciudad de Dios (two towns away from Bello.) A while back, when we were carrying out health services surveys at local hospitals and health posts (“health post” is what clinics are called around here), Rachel and Dom went to the health post in Santa Rosa. While it’s called a “posta de salud,” (health post), this one really isn’t a clinic– there are no doctors and no medical services are offered. It’s basically a little store that has a first aid kit and sells aspirin and other over-the-counter medicines. The post is  run by a short, heavily made up, very friendly and enthusiastic woman named Irma, who’s also the leader of the organization of community health workers in the valley. When we told her about our health fair, she said she’d be happy to help. Four more of her community health workers agreed to come, and they spent the day measuring height, weight, pulse and blood pressure of each patient who came to the fair. We could not have done it without their help.

I was incredibly impressed with the willingness of all the doctors and health workers to come and work on a Sunday for free. Sundays are the only days that most of the doctors have off, but every single one of them was  happy to spend the day working in a tiny village with people who rarely ever get a chance to see a doctor. The dentist even asked us if she could come two hours early to begin working, because “more people would be out earlier in the morning.” I got the feeling that this kind of free work might be something that doctors around here do fairly often, because several of them mentioned having worked at similar events before.

The fair officially started at 9:30 am (although, like most everything in Peru, it actually started a bit later than that.) By 9:00, people were already lining up outside the gates of the school waiting for the fair to begin. We opened the doors around 10 am, and a whole crowd of people, mostly mothers with children, flooded in. We hadn’t expected such a huge surge at the beginning, so we had to rather quickly organize a new way to process all the patients. First, each patient waited in line to talk with members of our team, who wrote down general information and medical needs to determine which doctor he or she should see. Next, each person went to the health workers’ tent, where the five women recorded height, weight, blood pressure, pulse and other vitals (I think there were more but I can’t remember exactly.) After this was done, everyone proceeded to wait in line to see the various doctors. 

The main draw at the fair was, obviously, the doctors. Patients were lined up outside their “offices” all day, from 10 am to 4 pm. The pediatrician saw 21 patients before lunch alone. And even though they didn’t have all their usual equipment, the doctors seemed to have no reservations performing all the medical services they usually offer. The dentist said she pulled out “more teeth than I can count,” and the obstetrician did several pap smears. We bought a selection of drugs for the pharmacist based on what he said he prescribed most frequently, and by about 2 pm, he’d distributed them all. 

We’re not sure exactly how many people attended the fair, but I do know that by 12:30 we’d given away all 300 free toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste that our group collected at home. In order to get a free gift, each person had to visit each one of the health stations that we set up. We had stations covering oral hygiene, maternal health, stress, infectious disease, sanitation, nutrition, diabetes and respiratory problems. Members of our group, the OSU group, and a few other people (like Robby and Mateo!) manned the tables, handing out brochures and answering questions. We also did a few demonstrations: a repeat showing of how germs spread with glitter and a demonstration of how human waste contaminates clean water, using a bottle of water and a bottle of Inca Kola. 

I don’t know really how effective these stations were– the fact that several members of our group (including me) aren’t totally fluent in Spanish made it a little difficult– but I think at the least people were exposed to some new information, which can never be a bad thing. We’ve already started thinking about how to do it differently next year. One idea was to have people give speeches about various health topics while patients are waiting in line to see the doctors and then have question-and-answer sessions. I’m excited to see what else people come up with.

At various points during the day, we also gave away six raffle baskets to mothers at the fair. The baskets were full of miscellaneous health-related gifts. Each one included toilet paper, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush, a comb, sanitary pads, hand sanitizer, aspirin, and several other things that I can’t remember. The raffles were definitely a success, and each mother who won was very excited about her “regalitos de salud.”

As far as demographics, almost everyone who attended the fair was from Bello Horizonte, even though we publicized it door-to-door and with flyers in all five communities in the Middle Valley. I guess it’s hard for people to travel around the valley, especially if they’re sick, and because you have to pay for the combi. The majority of people who attended were mothers with children, but there were a good number of men as well.

The obstetrician told us that she saw a 50-year-old woman who had been pregnant sixteen times. Sixteen times! The woman now has ten living children. The obstetrician also did an ultrasound for a 17-year-old who was almost a month pregnant and didn’t know it until the day of the fair. Those were probably the two most exciting things that I heard, but I think that the even more exciting thing is that hundreds of families were able to see doctors and get medicines that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. People continued to come see the doctors all day, until after the fair was supposed to be over. I think it’s pretty clear that the clinic that MOCHE plans to build in Bello Horizonte is needed and will be appreciated.

Coming soon– pictures from the health fair! I promise.

Health Fair tomorrow!!!

July 24, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

Feria de Salud

Day in the Life

July 20, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

I didn’t read the news today (anyone?) but I thought it’d be fun to give a breakdown of what we all did do so that y’all can get a bit of an idea of what a typical day in the valley is like.

Breakfast is always served at 7:00, and we (ok, I) usually make it down to the dining room around 7:30 or so. We eat bread with jam, bananas, oranges, Peruvian-style coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice (seriously we have fresh squeezed juice every day it’s amazing.) Rachel, Cora and I went in together on three jars of peanut butter last week so we have been enjoying peanut butter and banana breakfast sandwiches a la Elvis. We make ham-cheese-and-avocado sandwiches for lunch, and by 8:00 we all load into the bus that takes us out to the communities.

This morning we all split up. Rachel, Kaitlin and Martina stayed home to make posters and work on other things for the health fair. We dropped off Steven, Will and Dom in Bello Horizonte, along with Robby, who lives with us in Huanchaco and came today to help. They spent the day building a wall to mark the boundary of an archaeological site near the village.

Cora, Kino, Esther and I continued to Ciudad de Dios, at which point Cora and Esther went off to the radio station in Santa Rosa to ask them to broadcast radio announcements for the health fair. Kino and I’s job was to go door-to-door in Ciudad to tell everyone about the fair on Sunday.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Kino on the blog before, but he’s a friend of Esther’s from Spain who has been working with us since we got here. He came to Peru with no plans except to travel until September 27, when he has a plane ticket back to Murcia, where he’s from. He studied photography there, and aside from working on all our projects he’s been taking photos for MOCHE, the NGO that we’re here with.

Anyway, Kino and I walked around knocking on every door and telling anyone who was at home or in the street about the health fair on Sunday. The mayor, Casimiro, had promised to spread the word, but I’m glad we went around town as well because not a single person we talked to had heard about it. Most people said they’d come, though, and the kids were especially excited to hear about a whole day of games.

While we were making our rounds, we spotted some of the Ohio State group in someone’s backyard, helping dig holes for latrines. We’ve finally gotten started on our latrine project– we picked nine families and on Friday asked them to start digging 2- to 3-meter holes in their backyards. When the holes are finished, we’ll line them with bricks, add a pipe for ventilation and a cover slab, and that’s a VIP latrine.

Kino and I finished spreading the word a bit earlier than we’d expected, so Kino went off to take pictures of something and I got to spend a few minutes playing with Manuel and Jesus. Jesus showed me how he can write an H and draw lots of other miscellaneous line-and-dot shapes. He was very proud. Manuel, the three-year-old, is super shy and hardly ever talks to anyone, but today when we were staring at each other through a rolled-up poster tube he suddenly shouted, “HOLA!” and started giggling uncontrollably. It was completely adorable.

Around 11:00, we met back up with Cora and the three of us went to Bello Horizonte, where we’ve been spending an hour and a half each day teaching in the primary school. We teach a different grade each day, and today we had a class of 19 third-graders. We began by talking about the importance of nutrition and asking the class to make a list of the foods they’d eat on a normal day. At first they were shy and hesitant to start writing, but after a little prompting everyone got started. When we had them share what they usually ate, most of the lists looked about the same– rice, milk, bread, bananas, guava, cuy (guinea pig.)

After making the lists, we talked a bit about the importance of eating a balanced diet, using a “food circle” that we’d divided into three parts: fruits and vegetables, cereals, and food of animal origin. Then we trooped outside to play a game we’d made up– a nutrition relay in which each kid gets a picture of food and has to run down and place it in the correct part of the circle. If you get it wrong, you have to run all the way back and try again. It seemed like the kids really enjoyed the game– there was lots of screaming and laughing, and we ended up playing twice because they kept begging “de nuevo! de nuevo!”

Next, we talked with them about germs and the importance of handwashing. Cora and I demonstrated how germs spread by putting glitter on our hands to symbolize germs, and shaking hands with each other and then with some students. It didn’t take long for the whole class to have “germs” all over their hands and faces and in their hair, and later they all ran en masse to the bathroom to wash off.

After the germs, we pulled out a map and started talking about geography and the environment. I was surprised by how little the kids knew about world geography– they couldn’t find Europe or the United States on a map, and they thought Spain was in China. But when we began discussing why it’s important to take care of our environment, they were completely on board with lots of good suggestions as to how they could do so. Even as third graders, they seemed to have a great understanding of the connectedness of nature and how a change in weather can directly affect the food sources of human beings.

By this time, the school day was almost over, so we played a couple games of Steal the Bacon and called it a day. After school a contingent of kids followed us to the plaza de armas to eat lunch, and after lunch they helped us out in going around Bello Horizonte and spreading the word about the health fair like we’d done in Ciudad de Dios. When the van pulled up at 3:00, I was dusty and exhausted, as usual.

On the way home, our van driver got pulled over by the police twice, and each time he just stuck his arm out the window, handed the policeman two bottles of Sprite, and drove off. I think there was  some explanation to this, like that he knew the policemen, but it was still funny. At home we read a bit, I fell asleep for an hour, we ate dinner– cooked vegetables and pasta with cheese– and watched a movie, and here we are.

Each day is different, and that’s part of what I love about being here– plans are always changing, last-minute problems almost always pop up, and things rarely get boring. Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. Or build latrines in a village. Or something.


July 19, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

Big day! I have finally figured out how to post pictures to our blog. Here are a few snapshots of our trip thus far.

A view of the Moche Valley from the village of Cerro Blanco

The village of Bello Horizonte (“beautiful horizon”)

A classroom in the primary school in Bello Horizonte where Cora, Kino and I volunteer.

All of us at Chan Chan, capital of the Chimu empire from about 900-1470 AD

Collecting garbage with the kids in Cerro Blanco

most enthusiastic helpers ever

Smoke from burning sugarcane blowing over the main plaza in Ciudad de Dios. During the harvest season, huge fires like this one are set almost every day to burn the crop. We’ve seen the health effects of this practice in that almost every clinic we’ve visited has mentioned respiratory disease as one of the most frequent problems it sees.

This is Manuel and Jesus. I love them. They’re brothers, ages 3 and 4, and they live in Ciudad de Dios.  As you can see, they aren’t old enough to go to school yet so they spend their days running around the village and usually hanging out with us. Jesus can write an H and he is very proud of it.

Fruit at the Mercado Central in Trujillo

Rachel, me and Cora at the Huaca de la Luna

More kids in Ciudad– Maricielo, Celeste and Jesus (again.)

The other day I met a kid named Jefferson Alexis.

And now, some updates! I am currently sitting in the living room of our house, where most everyone else is watching a movie with a loud ominous soundtrack. Rachel and Esther are sitting by me working on creating a flyer for our health fair, which is this Sunday. The health fair has been one of our biggest projects so far, and I’m really excited that it’s all coming together now. We have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks traveling to different hospitals and clinics in the area to ask for help and volunteers, and most of the health workers we’ve talked with have been incredibly helpful.

The health fair is scheduled for 9:30 am to 4:00 pm on Sunday at the primary school in Bello Horizonte. We have several doctors coming to provide free services as follows:

-A dentist and a psychiatrist (from the clinic in Huanchaco)
-A nurse, a pharmacist and an obstetrician (from a clinic in Menocucho, another village in the valley)
-A general doctor (from a hospital in Laredo)

All of these professionals have agreed to come and work all day for free, and we only have to pay the cost of their disposable supplies and the medicines they’ll need. I have been amazed by how kind, enthusiastic and willing to help everyone has been. When we first showed up at the clinic in Huanchaco to ask for help, the dentist immediately said she would come and gave us all her contact information and a list of the supplies she’d need. She even wanted to come two hours earlier than we’d originally asked, and is fully prepared to pull out teeth at a desk in a first grade classroom.

At the fair, the doctors will work in classrooms, and the rest of the activities will take place outside in the school courtyard. The actual “fair” part of this will be made up of several different stations, each offering information, games and activities about a different health topic. As far as I can remember, the topics are:

-Oral hygiene
-Infectious disease
-Maternal health
-Respiratory disease
-Stress and mental health

We’ve already made  informational posters for each station, and we’re planning to include activities and games for kids. We made up a nutrition relay race and a giant mouth game for toothbrushing practice, and we have glitter to demonstrate how germs spread. For the adults, I think the main draw will be all the free supplies we have to give away, including almost 300 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste that our team collected at home plus soap, vitamins, hand sanitizer, Band-Aids, etc etc etc.

I’m really glad that we’re able to give away vitamins, because the other day I was talking with a woman who was telling me how hard it was to provide nutritious meals for her two-year-old daughter. She said that doctors told her that her daughter needed calcium supplements, but a bottle cost 50 soles (about $16) and the family couldn’t afford them. We were able to find folic acid and other vitamins fairly cheap at the market in Trujillo, and I hope we can get them to as many families as possible.

At the same time as the fair, we’re hosting a soccer tournament (for men) and a volleyball tournament (for women). As far as I can tell, people here only play two sports, futbol and volleyball, and they’re pretty strictly divided by gender. There’s also going to be a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the site of the future clinic that MOCHE is planning to build in Bello Horizonte next year. So it promises to be a hectic, busy, probably crazy, definitely fun and hopefully very successful day. This week is going to be full of last-minute planning and working out logistics, and I’m very excited for Sunday to finally come around.

A Very Long Post

July 12, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

I meant to write yesterday, but I got sick instead. Chills and puking never make for a particularly pleasant experience, but after being told repeatedly not to eat raw food at all of our pre-departure clinics, I figured I was bound to get sick at some point during our trip. After spending a miserable afternoon throwing up, I now kind of feel like I have gone through some rite of passage.

Aside from that lovely interlude, this last week has been great. I feel like we’ve really started to get our projects off the ground. On Monday, Dr. Brian Billman, the UNC archaeology professor who is leading our trip, arrived in Huanchaco. He has been working as an archaeologist in this area for about 20 years, and in community development for about 12. In 2007 he founded an NGO called MOCHE, Inc., which operates in several communities in the Moche Valley. Its goal is to get people to stop building on the archaeological sites near the villages in exchange for carrying out projects meant to improve the quality of life in the villages themselves. In recent years, MOCHE has constructed a water system, a new central plaza, a bunch of latrines, etc. etc. in the village of Ciudad de Dios, the first village they collaborated with and the one where we spend most of our time. Last year’s Nourish group, working with MOCHE, held a health fair in Ciudad de Dios that drew 300 people from all over the valley. This year, one of our biggest projects is to plan another health fair, which is to be held in the nearby village of Bello Horizonte. MOCHE is planning to build a clinic in Bello Horizonte as its next big initiative, and our health fair will serve as the kickoff for its construction.

Anyway, the point is that Brian has been around here for a while, and it’s become apparent that he is a much-loved guy in these parts, especially in Ciudad de Dios. The people all know him as “Professor Brian” or just “El Profesor,” and it’s clear how much he is respected. On Wednesday evening, we all attended a town meeting in Ciudad de Dios. The approval of the men of the town was needed before we could begin our projects, and they all work in the sugarcane fields during the day, so we had to have an evening meeting. Before the meeting, we were all invited to a feast in the backyard of the mayor’s house. His family served us chicken (some of us even got to see the chicken get killed!), yucca, rice, Coke and Inca Kola. There was also an abundance of ahi, a word that literally means “chili pepper” but in Peru takes the form of a bright yellow hot sauce that they put on pretty much everything (unless there’s mayonnaise on it.) I’d eaten ahi before at our house, where it’s definitely spicy but not unbearable, so I slopped some onto my rice. This turned out to be a mistake. It was one of the hottest things I’ve ever eaten, and I spent the rest of the meal cramming yucca into my mouth to try to stop the burn.

After we ate, the community meeting eventually started in the town’s main plaza. I’ve learned since we arrived that each of the communities we’re working in has a very strict hierarchy, and a majority must approve any decision to be made that involves the whole town. It seems to be a direct democracy with lots of factions, and the fact that Brian understands and respects this system, I think, is one of the reasons he has been so successful here. He gave a speech about the things we are trying to accomplish in Ciudad this summer– namely building latrines, planting gardens, and building a new wall for the plaza. Throughout his speech he continued to remind the people that we were all working together, and that nothing would be done that they didn’t approve. There was a bit of argument about the wall, as apparently the current wall actually belongs to the homeowner directly next to the plaza, so we are waiting to find out if that project will happen. But the others are go.

On Thursday, with Ciudad’s official approval, we were finally able to start working on our major Latrine Project. We had to carry out surveys to ascertain the current latrine situation in each of the houses in the village. A small number of households already have a latrine, usually a “Ventilated Improved Pit latrine.” Many more households have what is called a “pozo ciego,” or a hole in the ground. They dig a hole anywhere from 2 to 10 meters deep, use it until it fills up, and then dig another one someplace else. And then there are several other households who don’t have either of these– they just go out into the mountains that surround the town.

Our survey consisted of going around to every house in the village, asking people how big their family was and whether they had a latrine or pozo ciego, and then asking to see it. I was a little nervous about how people would respond to this, but everyone was so welcoming and each person we interviewed seemed more than happy to invite us into his or her home and show us the toilet. A lot of the pozo ciegos are only covered by branches and sticks, making it easy to fall in and scary for children to use. One idea we had was to distribute stone slabs to cover the pozo ciegos, which might encourage more people to use them. Our final survey found 17 families with nowhere to dispose of their waste. The next job is to decide where we will build latrines.

Also on Thursday, several of us carried out health services surveys in hospitals and clinics around the Moche Valley. We were doing this to get some kind of idea of what health services are offered in the area and at what price, as background for the clinic that MOCHE plans to build this year.  Along with Tam and Kaitlin, I went to a public women and children’s hospital and a large general health center  in the town of Laredo, as well as a clinic in the village of Quirihuac. Laredo is a pretty big town, and the women’s and children’s hospital was swamped. The director told us that they employed nine doctors and five nurses, and that services are offered 24/7. (This was the only place we found that was open around the clock.) They get about 100 patients every day, and he said the most common problems they saw were diarrhea and respiratory issues like asthma. Respiratory illnesses are a big problem here because sugarcane is the main crop, and after the harvest the men burn it in huge swathes to get rid of the rest and to fertilize the soil for the next year. This means that during the harvest season, there is a huge fire gushing smoke pretty much every day.

At the general Centro de Salud in Laredo, we were told that the biggest medical issues seen were asthma, diabetes, diarrhea and hypertension. At the mobile health clinic in Quirihuac, which serves more people from rural areas, the doctor said that people were coming in largely with respiratory problems, skin problems and parasites. It’s clear that the clinic is going to have to address a wide range of issues.

On Friday, Rachel, Mackenzie and I visited some more health centers, this time going to try to gather resources and volunteers to help us with our health fair. It’s planned to take place on Sunday, July 25, which crazily is less than two weeks from today. We went to the central clinic in Huanchaco and found the people there to be incredibly helpful. The first man we met, in the infectious diseases department, bequeathed to us an enormous stack of brochures about rabies. Then a woman giving immunizations let us take a ton of pamphlets about tuberculosis, typhoid and other infectious diseases. The health promotion coordinator gave us a bunch of free posters about sanitation and nutrition. And best of all, when we told the clinic’s dentist why we were there, she volunteered to come work at the fair! Now we just need to find a doctor and two nurses.

In the afternoon we visited the public regional hospital in Trujillo, which is an enormous building with some pretty forbidding security. The woman we spoke to there said that if we came back with a formal letter, she might be able to send a doctor to work with us. I am really hoping that works out. We ended the afternoon by walking around downtown Trujillo and shopping for supplies in the busy Mercado Central, where I bought some fruit I had never tried before and was jealous of all the people eating huge slices of cake at the bakery. On the weekend we visited the Huaca de la Luna, a sacred pyramid of the Moche people which was incredibly cool and which I will talk about another time. Sunday was taken up by World Cup madness and it was excellent– we got to watch at a bar on the beach. Today some of us worked more on planning and making materials for the health fair, while the other half of the group helped with the reservoir project in Cerro Blanco.

I think that brings us up to date! Sorry for being exceptionally long-winded. I’ll write again soon.

Much love from Peru!


Week One

July 6, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

Hola de nuevo!

Today marks exactly a week since we all took off from the States, and I have to say for me it feels like we have been in Peru for much longer than that. We have already spent a good amount of time in Lima, Trujillo, Huanchaco, Chan Chan, and the three villages of Cerro Blanco, Bello Horizonte and Ciudad de Dios. And I have learned quite a few new things about Peru. For example:

1. There are no stoplights here, except for at the biggest intersections. Watching people drive in the big cities is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen because everyone just continues to drive fast until they find some kind of obstacle in their way, like another car or a person, and then they brake and honk loudly until they are let by. The other day in Trujillo the combi (thatś what they call buses here) we were on encountered a lot of traffic ahead of it, so the driver just turned and drove a couple of blocks in the wrong direction on a (large) one way street. It is amazing. When Peruvians come to the US they must think we are really terrible drivers.

2. The food is delicious. That isnt really a surprise, but I am very happy about it. The mother of the family we are staying with cooks our meals six days a week, and they have been incredible so far. For breakfast we always have bread with butter and jam, bananas, oranges, tea and coffee. Peruvian coffee is good, too– they make it really concentrated and you pour a little bit into a cup and fill the rest with milk or hot water. For a while we didnt know this and we were just drinking it straight, which apparently is crazy but none of us even realized. For lunch and dinner we always have a two-course meal, with some kind of soup or potato dish first and then the main course. Main courses usually involve rice, chicken or fish, and potatoes or some vegetables. Last night we had chicken broth soup followed by this dish that was like a cake of white rice with tuna and vegetables in it, served with fried plantains. Delicious. Also, for lunch we had fried potatoes covered with mushrooms and garlic, my personal favorite so far.

3. Inca Kola. This is the soda that everyone drinks here, and if you have ever been to Peru you know all about it. It is a neon yellow color and tastes like fizzy bubble gum. It is everywhere.

4. When you shower, there is a switch that you have to flip to turn on and off the hot water, and you have to make sure to do this while the water is NOT running or you will get shocked. I learned this the hard way.

We spent most of last week getting oriented and planning the projects we’ll be doing. There are six students here from Ohio State who will be building a reservoir in the town of Cerro Blanco, and the ten of us from UNC will be building latrines in Ciudad de Dios. Last year’s group built two or three, I think, and we are going to try to build eight or nine. About 75 families live in the village, so this week we need to decide which families we’ll build latrines for this year. We are doing this using information from surveys that two UNC students did in the village in the weeks before we arrived, showing which families have a lot of children or old people, health issues, etc. that boost the need for a latrine in their home.

These two projects should hopefully take only a few weeks to complete, though, so we have divided up into four committees to plan other things to work on during and after them. We have people working on public health, trash and recycling, community beautification, and education. I think Cora has already explained this so I’ll just say that I am in the education group and I am excited about it. We hope to go two or three times a week to the school in Cerro Blanco, which has about 45 students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, and do activities about environment, geography, personal health, and the history and culture of the area.

After spending all day yesterday planning and buying supplies, today we went into the villages to work. Part of our group went to Ciudad de Dios, where they painted rocks and collected trash, and the rest of us, including me, were in Cerro Blanco. My group went to Cerro Blanco hoping to talk to the director of the school there to set up a good time for our activities, but it turns out that today is a holiday, Dia del Maestro (Teachers’ Day), so no one was at school. Brian, the director of MOCHE, had to talk to the village leaders about where to put the reservoir that the OSU kids will be building (they wanted to put it in a different location than the one that Engineers Without Borders had selected), so he was with them all day while the rest of us did a trash pickup.

One of the biggest sanitation problems in these communities is that there is nowhere to put the garbage. As of now, no truck ever comes to collect the trash in Cerro Blanco, so it just gets thrown down anywhere and everywhere. This includes in and around the canal where the community’s water flows. Today we found plastic, dishes, corn, orange peels, beer bottles and all kinds of other stuff in the water, as well as horse poop just a few feet away. Our director Julio has told us countless times that a woman once found a dead dog in the canal.

So today we showed up with our gloves and trash bags and started collecting trash around town. The trash is piled up next to walls, next to the water canal, in abandoned buildings, on the side of the street– it’s everywhere.  Because there was no school today due to the holiday, a whole bunch of curious kids came to watch us work. At first they wouldn’t say anything,  just stood there big-eyed, but eventually I asked if they wanted to help with the cleanup and they quite enthusiastically did. Each kid was very proud to have his or her own big yellow glove and trash bag, and they collected so much trash that we ran out of garbage bags. By the end of the day there were probably ten or twelve kids working with us, running across muddy fields and swinging on tree branches to pick up as much trash as they could find. They even ran home to get trash bags from their own houses when we ran out. And they all wanted to know when we would be back so that they could do it again. It was a wonderful experience.

Tomorrow we will be back in the villages, working and meeting with community members about the rest of our projects. I have taken tons of pictures that I want to show you guys, but I haven’t yet found a computer slash wireless connection that can successfully transfer them. I’ll keep trying, and I’ll write again soon and let you all know how our projects are going.

Until soon!


July 5, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

Blog for Monday July 5, 2010
So we’ve been in Peru since Wednesday (although some of us got here earlier to hang out in Lima or go to Cusco to check out Manchu Pichu) and today is our first day planning our projects. Last Thursday we went into the three communities of Cerro Blanco, Bello Horizonte, and Ciudad de Dios in order to meet some of the people and just get an introduction to the places we will be working. The Ohio State group will mostly be working in Cerro Blanco to create a water reservoir while the UNC group will be in Ciudad de Dios building the Latrines. Besides those two projects, we have about four side projects that the groups came together to work on. The first project is the biggest one and that is the Health Fair, surveys and overall sanitation. That group is talking to people in the communities and also organizing the health fair which is going to be towards the end of July. The second group is working with recycling/compost/trash in order to clean up the communities and hopefully create a separate compost area in each place. The third project is the “beautification” of the communities by doing things like painting the plaza de armas (which is like their town gathering area), building a wall and painting a mural on it and just making everything more pleasing to the eye. The last group, which is the group I’m in, is working on activities for children and also taking photographs of the families in each community because none of them have photos of the family.

Today was a planning day so we split into groups and started organizing for the weeks to come. I’m really excited because everything is starting to develop and our goals are becoming clearer. And it’s really important for us to do this planning now and get as much information as we can because one of our issues is going to be communication with the communities. Not only do we have to gain their trust but it’s also difficult to understand each other when there is a language barrier. In order to help with that part, each group has at least one person that we decided was a fluent Spanish speaker. We’ve also found that it takes a long time to organize and implement anything in Peru so the more information we have, the easier it will be to get things started. After lunch many of us are going to go into Trujillo, which is the larger city outside of Huanchaco. It takes about 30 minutes to get there by bus and it has a huge market that has items ranging from fruits, meat, household products and clothing. We are going to start checking prices and getting an estimate for costs before we start any projects.

Although today is our first day working on our projects, I’d like to think the last few days can be seen as research into the Peruvian culture. On Friday we took our first trip into Trujillo in order to see the market and just walk around. It is much more compact than Huanchaco is and some of the streets reminded me of Canal St in New York. It is customary to bargain here and many of the items in Trujillo are knock-offs of expensive brands. On Saturday we took a trip to see Chan Chan, an archeological site within Huanchaco. We went through the area and saw one of the palaces created for the leaders of the group. It was really interesting and we got some great photos. I’m not technologically savvy, but hopefully someone can help me post the photos on the wall so you can see where we went. The culture was really impressive considering they lived here before the Incas and created everything with Adobe (a mud mixture that creates a brick), even though they did not have the wheel to help them.

Yesterday was the 4th of July of course so we had to celebrate American style and have a cook-out. We grilled burgers and barbeque chicken. But before we had the cook-put we were somehow all (well, most of us) talked into going surfing even though the water is freezing. It’s so cold that the first day we were walking on the beach we went to put our feet in the water and it was just way too cold to even do that. But we decided to be brave and try it anyways and we are all so happy we did. We each got a wetsuit and a board and then they gave us lessons. We looked pretty silly considering we had like 15 Americans running down the beach in wetsuits while the Peruvians sat on the boardwalk and pier watching us and laughing. One of our surfing instructors is the son of the family we are staying with so it was really cool to see him do his job. And they were all so good at teaching us! Every single one of us got up on the board for at least a second- enough to tell people that we’ve gone surfing haha. The waves were pretty big and we got beat up a little bit, but it was so much fun and a great experience.

Those are all the updates I have for now. We are having a great time and everyone in the UNC group is getting along well and we are mixing with the OSU group too. The food has been outstanding, the wife in the family we are staying with cooks our meals during the week and on Saturdays and then we are on our own for Sundays. Each meal has been wonderful and I think we are getting spoiled with this food.

I’ll post again soon!


July 2, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Peru, UNC | By

Hello everyone, and welcome to our blog!

After two summer months that feel simultaneously like forever and no time at all, our team is finally getting ready to leave for Peru tomorrow. We will all be living together in a house in the beachfront town of Huanchaco and commuting daily to the Moche Valley, where we’ll be working in two villages, Cerro Blanco and Ciudad de Dios.

Last summer a team from UNC built three latrines in the valley, so we’re going to conduct surveys to evaluate how those are working and what changes need to be made. Once we’ve done this, we plan to build several more sustainable, sanitary latrines in Ciudad de Dios. We’ll also be conducting surveys about general health in the valley and working together to plan a health fair for one of the communities.

I am thrilled that I have the chance to participate in this trip. I can’t believe we leave tomorrow and that we’ll be in Peru in two days! I feel like we’ve been planning forever and I cannot wait to actually get started. I can’t even imagine how I’ll feel when our plane takes off from Miami.

We arrive in Lima at about 4:30 in the morning and leave together on a bus for Trujillo at 12:30pm (9-hour ride on the Pan American Highway!), so I’m excited about the chance to explore a little bit of Peru’s capital in the morning.

As I am the absolute worst of the last-minute packers, I conveniently haven’t started packing at all yet,  so I think I’ll go get started on that. We’ll be back in touch once we all arrive in Peru and will keep you all updated on our adventures!