Hello! We are the Nourish volunteers signed on to work with Maya Traditions Foundation this summer. We represent the Nourish International branch at the University of Pittsburgh, a club founded to create and promote sustainable development worldwide. We have spent the last two semesters fundraising and spreading poverty awareness in order to send seven students to Panajachel, Guatemala for a six-week venture.
We leave tomorrow morning, the 28th of April, from all different locations and will meet at La Aurora, the Guatemala City airport by noon. From there we will travel northwest to our host city: Panajachel. This city of 15,000 is home to Maya Traditions Foundation, a non-profit organization started by Jane Mintz in 1988 that has agreed to partner with Pitt Nourish. For the next six weeks we will spend our mornings and early afternoons helping to build an educational center for the Foundation’s Mayan medicinal herbal garden. Our afternoons will be spent indoors escaping the rainy season by helping in the offices of the non-profit or visiting various medical centers to volunteer our time. Weekends are entirely open, some we will be spend traveling to nearby cities such as Antigua and Monterrico while others we will spend in Panajachel getting to know the area and its residents. As a group we have come up with goals and tasks to complete or add to by the project’s end, they are as follows:
1.Promote and restore the role of Maya healers in local indigenous communities and use of traditional medicines made from traditional native plants.
2.Make use of new plants and renovate garden (the new driers will increase efficiency in producing medicinal teas)
3.Complete SWOT analysis of the garden and the garden products
4.Develop action plan that will allow Maya Traditions’ team to continuously improve the garden and Community Health Program
5.Create a greater awareness of the benefits and uses of herbs, strengthen of the Atitlan Ajq’omanela’ Association (Maya Healers)
6.Increase tourism and focus on promoting and preserving traditional knowledge
7.Create greater awareness of healthy practices at the clinics
A great deal of preparation has gone into planning for our project. Over the past month and a half the seven of us met Monday evenings to get to know one another and prepare for our journey together. Much of what we did was logistical – booking flights, getting travel insurance and immunizations, discussing our aims and how we would divide the work based on our strengths and weaknesses to effectively accomplish our goals. We also went over little things, such as what gifts to bring our host families or how will get to Panajachel from Guatemala City when we arrive.
More importantly, a large focus of our weekly meetings was learning about different aspects of life in Guatemala. Everyone paired off and researched a specific topic and then presented it via powerpoint to teach the others of some aspect of culture. We went over a broad range of topics – the history of Guatemala and Panajachel, climate and geography, medicinal plants and their uses, food/drink, holidays and pasttimes, and appropriate behaviors and taboos. In addition, we went over Spanish phrases that will be useful to us, including garden and medical terms. Our preparation as a team has left us as prepared as possible to face whatever Panajachel has in store for us!
So long for now, the next time you hear from us we’ll be in Guatemala!
It’s been just short of a month since we returned to the United States. For the most part, we are readjusted though I will admit I’m still careful with the shower knob because I’m not yet convinced it won’t shock me if the hot water is on. As we settle back in, working our summer jobs and preparing for school in the fall, life seems very…normal. Too normal. It’s amazing how one can go from being abroad, working daily in a rural community in Peru speaking a different language, to working at a day camp in the suburbs of Philadelphia, surrounded by kids playing on their iPhones. The extreme contrast of daily life almost makes it seem as though Peru wasn’t real, just a really awesome dream. But obviously the knowledge that it did in fact happen simply makes me miss it more. I think I can speak for the whole group when I say that our project changed my life—not in outright, identifiable ways. But it did. It gave me perspective—it made me realize what makes a life rich. The people we worked with daily did not have much money, but they had a roof, they had a bed, and most importantly they had family and friends. They were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. And one of the best moments there was on one of the last days when I was at Liz (the schoolteacher) and her family’s house and we had a huge dance party in their living room as a farewell for me. As Mislet, Liz’s daughter, called it “La despedida de Raquel!”. All it took was a little music and a lot of energy to make the moment so special. I also learned that dance parties are completely underrated.
I hate that we cannot remain there forever, that the project is now out of our hands. But I am not scared. I don’t think our latrines will go to waste. The power of the Nourish model is that it is not about providing aid and hoping for the best. It’s about working with the community, exchanging skills and knowledge, and creating change that will last. The truth is, we were probably not the best workers in the community. We were probably not even close. We would try to break a single rock for an hour with no luck, while Andres, our foreman, would momentarily assess a rock, grab the baretta, and drop it with no force and the rock would break in half (probably out of respect). What we had was the funds, the motivation, and the plan to make it happen. We worked with families who wanted the latrines, who had to make their own adobes, and dig, if possible, their own holes, to show that the relationship was one of give and take. Though honestly with everything I got out of the experience, it hardly feels like I gave anything. We all feel so incredibly lucky to have spent that time in Peru and hope to go back some day.
On another note, I know we said we would upload pictures andnever got the chance so here’s a quick snapshot of the trip!
Emma trying out some new hairstyles coiurtesy of Estefanie (Left) and Mislet
Emma, Renee, and I worked at Berta’s latrine for a lot of the work. One day we had a photoshoot with Yenina (pictured) and Deana, Berta’s nieces who live with her. Theres about 100 more where this came from!
Katie, Annie, and I in front of Lake 69, on top of a mountain in Huaraz. We were at an altitude of 4600 meters (only 3000 feet off of the altitude of Everest’s base camp–a lot of read Into Thin Air throughout the trip so this was a big deal to us!)
Thank you to everyone who kept up with our blog throughout the project. We loved being able to share our experience with others!
Rachel and the Pitt/Juniata team
I apologize for not posting last week. We’ve all been very busy trying to finish up as much as we can before we leave. Today we finished laying the bricks for the latrine foundation at Berta’s house. At Haydee’s we worked to put the on the roof of the latrine house and the mesh that lines the top for ventilation. Also we set the concrete for the hatch doors for Yovanna’s latrine. Yovanna’s, Pedro’s, and Juila’s latrines are now all at the same place – the latrine foundation and floor are complete and we are waiting for the adobe bricks to finish the latrine houses.
Our part of the construction process was to build the foundation, floor and doors for the latrine and then it would be up to the families to provide the adobes or bricks for the casetta (house) of the latrine. Haydee had the adobes needed for the house so we were able to build it for her. Unfortunately we won’t have enough time in Peru to see the other four latrines in their finished states. However, once the families get the materials our foremen, Andres and Felipe, will finish them.
It makes us all feel very proud that we’ve accomplished so much without power tools! Often times our foremen would ask us what the names of certain tools were in English and we honestly had no response because they aren’t things we recognized before coming to Peru.
The past two weekends MOCHE has hosted health fairs in Bello Horizonte and Collambay. There was a general physician, gynecologist, obstetrician, psychologist, dentist and pharmacist that the community members could visit for free. Additionally, all of the volunteers, including those from Yale and UNC Chapel Hill, set up informational tables. At these information tables, people could learn healthy habit tips, play games created by the volunteers, and receive free giveaways that had been donated.
Yesterday after the Collambay health fair all of the volunteers went to Ciudad de Dios where the women’s co-op was hosting an artisan fair in the plaza. All of the products the women made were so amazing. There were intricate bags embroidered with Moche iconography and beautiful hand knitted hats, scarves, ponchos, etc. All of the volunteers were extremely impressed by the skill and talent of the women but for our group it was especially unique to see what the women, who we’ve seen every day, have devoted so much time to.
Even though we have done so much in the past two weeks it was very sad having to say goodbye to Sam, Rachel, Ally and Sylvie last week. We are looking forward to our last few days but not to saying goodbye to the wonderful community we’ve been lucky enough to be working in.
It has been yet another great week here in Peru. This past weekend, we visited the town of Huaraz in the Highlands, about 7 hours southeast of where we are here in Bello Horizonte. Once we were able to adjust to a much higher altitude of Huaraz, we had a lot of fun biking, hiking, climbing, and exploring some of the most gorgeous scenery in Peru.
After returning early Monday morning, we began working towards our health fair this upcoming weekend. The health fair will be held in Bello Horizonte, however, members of all the surrounding communities are invited and hopefully will be in attendance. It will be divided into 4 parts—general hygiene, dental hygiene, water and sanitation, and Moche culture. The health fair is a project of all Moche volunteers, meaning we are working with our group as well as the Yale and UNC students here with us. The fair will be complete with posters, handouts, interactive games, and what is most likely to be the hottest new game in Peru—fly tag, an improved version of tag that includes fly wings, hula hoops, and soap buckets, that teaches kids about water contamination and diarrhea. We are really excited to see the first of our two health fairs come to fruition.
This week in Cuidad, we have continued laying bricks and cement at the two houses we began last week, and have began laying bricks at two new ones. Two of the latrine underground structures are almost done and ready for the adobe brick structure on top. It’s been great learning how concrete works and learning how to make stable structures. We also almost consider ourselves able foremen and are willing to build houses if anyone’s looking for a new one when we return to the United States.
We are looking forward to spending the first part of this weekend in Huanchaco and then Sunday here for the health fair.
As a side note—we apologize for not uploading any pictures! Our internet connection is quite spotty and unfortunately our Ethernet cannot handle uploading pictures. We will be sure to post pictures when we return as we have many worth sharing.
Rachel and Emily
It’s been another great week. We spent the last few days finishing up the last of the holes and are almost finished digging. We began laying down the bricks this week and have built up the brick foundation at two houses. More importantly we now know the difference between cement and concrete thanks to Renee’s engineering knowledge (cement is a component of concrete).
There was a miscommunication between our project leaders and our foremen on site about the design of the latrines. In years past Moche has lined the bottom of the pit with concrete to prevent the excretions from leaking into the ground. However the design was changed because it was an unnecessary step that would cause the latrine to fill up too quickly and start smelling. Our foremen, Philippe and Andres began putting concrete on the bottom this morning but luckily the mistake was caught just in time. With teamwork, patience, and running across Ciudad with big buckets of concrete we were able to remove the concrete and then still be able to reuse it properly.
It’s exciting to finally start building structures and we can’t wait to see what we will accomplish in the coming weeks.
This weekend we are going to Huaraz and are very eager to explore a new part of Peru. We are looking forward to some great hiking, other great outdoor activities, and scenic views!
Emily and Rachel
We have now been here for a little over two weeks. It’s been an eventful week –both at the site and at our house.
The A Drink For Tomorrow chapter at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill arrived this past Thursday. Saturday morning was spent doing orientation activities to become acquainted both with the groups and the projects we were conducting. Afterwards we headed to Huanchaco, a small beach town right out of Trujillo, for the rest of the weekend. We ate great food, went to beach, and enjoyed seeing a new part of Peru. Some of us tried Ceviche, a Peruvian specialty cooked with only lime juice.
After a much needed rest, we headed back to work on Monday. We continued working on the three holes we started last week and began digging at two new holes. As we mentioned last week, one of the holes required dynamite. This past Tuesday and Wednesday we blew up the boulders. By we, we mean our very own Peruvian Chuck Norris, Andres, who is also our foreman. Rumor has it Andres doesn’t need to break rocks, they crumble out of respect. We also heard once that he could irrigate the entire Moche Valley with a single tear, but Andres has never cried. Long story short, he is awesome. He has shown us how to properly use the tools to our best advantage and is now showing us how to build and lay bricks as two of our holes are now ready for latrine construction. Tomorrow we will begin digging for our last hole bringing us up to the goal number of six latrine locations.
Also happening tomorrow is Freaky Friday!! …This time sans Jamie Lee Curtis. Freaky Friday is an idea the staff came up with to give each of the three project groups (UNC, Yale, Pitt/Juniata) a chance to see what each other has been working on. Three of our group members will go to the town of Collambay to work on a school playground, three others will go to Los Cocas to help with construction of an irrigation system, and three of our members will stay in Ciudad to show the other groups the ropes. We are all very excited to experience the other sites.
Despite the positives, we’ve had our first encounter with sickness abroad. It all began this past Sunday with one of our team members getting sick followed by five others from different groups in the house. Sick joke, the electricity went out early Wednesday morning at a time when all toilets were at full capacity. Luckily, the sick had 30 caring housemates more than willing to help out by whatever means necessary. Now most of the sickness has ended and we are all taking extra precautions to avoid further illness. The power outage ended last night with the help of Renee’s glow stick stash and a ukulele.
We are looking forward to exploring the archaeological site of Huaca del Sol and Huaca del Luna this upcoming weekend and sincerely hope for a calamity free week.
Unfortunately the internet is not strong enough to load pictures now but we will try as soon as we can!
Rachel and Emily
We’ve now been in Peru for a whole week! It feels both as if we just got here and that we’ve lived here forever. We spent the first day orienting ourselves with the people around us and the community that we are living in. We live in Bello Horizonte with a few students from Yale University and a UNC project group. We are about half an hour outside of Trujillo, the third largest city in Peru. The community we are working in is Ciudad de Dios, about ten minutes down the road from where we are living.
On Sunday, we went spent the day in Ciudad for the first time and were able to get to know the community. The day started with some healthy competition – a soccer tournament of mixed teams made up of three “Gringos” (a word that simply is used to describe our skin tone, not as in insult much to our surprise) and three Peruvians. That was followed by some bonding with the children of the community. One girl Stephanie taught us “Ai Se Eu Te Pego,” a popular Peruvian dance and some of us taught her the Macarana – which is now her favorite dance. Some other kids taught us the Trumpo, a Peruvian version of tops. Others danced and just spent time practicing Spanish. We are all at different levels of Spanish speaking abilities, but the Cuidad community has been patient and helpful in trying to communicate with us.
After acquainting ourselves for the day, we began constructing the latrines on Monday. However, getting to this stage turned out to be harder than we thought. Originally, we expected that we would have six families with holes and materials ready for us to build the latrines, as has been established the previous summer. As it turned out, we had to start from scratch.
Our project leader Ruthie had to first explain the benefits of a latrine over other unsanitary options. While the idea of a VIP latrine made sense to us, the community didn’t connect their other practices with the many health problems associated with poor sanitation such as extreme diarrhea or water borne diseases. After many conversations and a little luck, we were able to find three families who wanted latrines. We chose families based upon the ages of the people living in the household, number of family members, and their commitment to the latrine. One family actually already had half of their hole dug for us when we started working.
In order to begin construction, we split our group into three teams. Ally, Sam, and Sylvie worked at the first house, Emily, Katie, and Annie at the second, and Emma, Rachel, and Renee at the third. We made sure each team had a strong Spanish speaker. Sam and Annie are fluent while Rachel and Emma are confident in their Spanglish abilities. Literally digging ourselves into holes with our teams has really allowed us to bond quickly. We’ve been able to dig deep – physically and emotionally. Throughout the week we’ve made real progress, almost finishing the first hole and getting half way through the others. We faced challenges such as boulders needing dynamite, legs with more bug bites than skin, and sassy pigs that won’t shut up. Overall it’s been a successful week of work, despite the exhausting sweaty labor we are all excited to see what next week will have in store for us!
–Rachel and Emily
This time last year, a Nourish chapter at Pitt was little more than the dream of a few students. Now, in one week, we will be in Peru for our very first chapter project. We could not be more excited! After a year of fundraising and planning, it is hard to believe we are finally able to translate our preparation to action.
For the project, our chapter and the Nourish chapter at Juniata college will be teaming up with MOCHE Inc. to build latrines and promote sanitation in the Moche Valley of Peru. I want to go into some detail of what this means because some of you reading this might roll your eyes at the euphemistic language. That’s what my mom did. When I first told her about my trip, she raised an eyebrow. “Latrines? Rachel, you want to spend your summer building toilets?!?” This initial reaction turned out to be the norm for me explaining my summer plans to people. Unfortunately, it makes sense—no one wants to talk about poop. However, what we’ve learned in preparing for this trip is that potty talk isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary. Not only do 1.1 billion people globally not have access to improved water supply sources, but also 2.4 billion people do not have access to any type of sanitation facility. Because of this, 2 million people die every year due to diarrheal diseases. Lack of sanitation is one of the biggest problems facing developing nations, including Peru. The more we’ve learned about the seriousness of the issue, the more we’ve been able to understand what kind of impact we could potentially make. So yes mom, we are building toilets! But that doesn’t mean our work will go to waste…no pun intended
As part of our preparation, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about what we hope to accomplish—in Nourish-speak, our outputs and outcomes.
Our outputs (tangible goals) are to:
- build at least 4 latrines
- facilitate at least 1 successful health fair
- distribute health (first aid) kits to the community
- distribute at least 100 packets of information to the community
Our outcomes (intangible goals) are to:
- create better waste management in the community
- increase knowledge about better sanitation practices
- increase knowledge of first aid in the community
- increase knowledge and access to available sanitation resources
We hope we will be able to achieve these goals and more as we begin this learning experience.
There is not too much more to say before we go, but really, we can’t wait! Our project leaders Emma, Ally, and Sam will be leaving in a couple days to prepare before the entire group goes down so look out for updates from them sometime soon!
P.S. if anyone is interested in learning a little more about the issue of sanitation, be sure to check out World Toilet Day’s page http://worldtoiletday.org/learn_detail.php?id=3 or watch this great TED talk from Rose George http://www.ted.com/talks/rose_george_let_s_talk_crap_seriously.html!