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Nourish International

Examining Power, Privilege, and our Role in International Development by Nathan Albright

November 18, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Alumni Spotlight, Newsletters, Nourish in the News, Office Updates, Student Advisory Board, Summer Institute, Summer Projects | By

Sometimes to think critically, you need to listen to your biggest critics. It would be hard to find someone who was more critical of international volunteer projects than Ivan Illich. As we begin looking into potential project partners for next summer, maybe listening to someone like Illich will help us think more critically about some of the tough decisions involved.

In 1968, the philosopher and former Catholic Priest spoke to the “Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects” about its work in Mexico and Latin America. In this impassioned speech, he told the well intentioned ‘do-gooders’ that “the existence of organizations like yours is offensive” and “to hell with good intentions… the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Here’s a little of what he went on to say:

By definition, you cannot help being ultimately vacationing salesmen for the middle-class “American Way of Life,” since that is really the only life you know.
Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the U.S. idealist…
Ideally, these people define their role as service. Actually, they frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money and weapons, or “seducing” the “underdeveloped” to the benefits of the world of affluence and achievement.
All you will do in a Mexican village is create disorder.
You start on your task without any training. Even the Peace Corps spends around $10,000 on each corps member to help him adapt to his new environment and to guard him against culture shock. How odd that nobody ever thought about spending money to educate poor Mexicans in order to prevent them from the culture shock of meeting you?
Suppose you went to a U.S. ghetto this summer and tried to help the poor there “help themselves.” Very soon you would be either spit upon or laughed at. People offended by your pretentiousness would hit or spit. People who understand that your own bad consciences push you to this gesture would laugh condescendingly. Soon you would be made aware of your irrelevance among the poor, of your status as middle-class college students on a summer assignment. … If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don’t even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as “good,” a “sacrifice” and “help.”

That was nearly 50 years ago. Since then, the phenomenon of traveling to economically poor regions to volunteer—sometimes referred to as voluntourism—has seen a dramatic rise in popularity. But are the same issues Illich warned against still relevant today?

A more recent viewpoint comes from Linda Richter, executive director of the Human Sciences Research Council, who led a study looking into what she calls the “thriving industry of AIDS orphan tourism” in sub-Saharan Africa. What she found is disturbing. The majority of children in these orphanages are not orphans, she explains “[they] are there because of poverty rather than because their parents have died. Destitute parents may place their children in orphanages in the hope that their child will receive meals, clothing and schooling.” An influx of voluntourists who are willing to pay for the emotionally powerful experience of working in an orphanage has effectively created a market for orphans that local communities are now filling by giving up their own children. Richter explains:

Short-term volunteer tourists are encouraged to “make intimate connections” with previously neglected, abused, and abandoned young children. However, shortly after these ‘connections’ have been made, tourists leave—many undoubtedly feeling that they have made a positive contribution to the plight of very vulnerable children. And, in turn, feeling very special as a result of receiving a needy child’s affection. Unfortunately, many of the children they leave behind have experienced another abandonment to the detriment of their short- and long-term emotional and social development.

Rather than being raised by their living parents and family members, children are raised through an ever-changing stream of foreign volunteers that is “likely to be especially damaging to young children.” In light of this kind of study, it’s understandable that Illich and others have warned against voluntourism altogether. It’s disturbing to imagine the kind of damage that can be (and has been) done to a small community by a group of well-intentioned Westerners on a whirlwind trip to “make a difference” abroad. But how does something like that happen? And how can we avoid being part of a potentially detrimental project? Social critic and entrepreneur Pippa Biddle thinks it starts with acknowledging privilege.

When it comes to the power dynamics of voluntourism, it is all about privilege. Privilege comes in a multitude of forms and is sometimes hard to identify. There is racial privilege, then there is economic privilege, educational privilege, geographic privilege, gender privilege, religious privilege, privilege that comes with adhering to heteronormative standards, skinny privilege, and a million more that have yet to be recognized or that I just do not know.
Privilege is, at its core, easy to identify but difficult to own up to. Those who experience it, myself included, struggle to openly recognize its existence as we hope beyond hope that our kind intentions and good will are enough to overcome it. But they aren’t. Intentions are not enough.

Amy Ernst, a human rights advocate and international aid worker, agrees that good intentions won’t protect those you may work with and offers a concrete example from her experience:

The small team I worked with taught me the many ways I could make problems worse, even with the best of intentions… it’s not always easy to predict when your actions will cause harm. As a white American, my presence alone indicated wealth and could endanger people—even entire villages—as armed groups, or community members, in desperate need could have targeted people I spoke with, thinking I had left money or goods behind.

Rafia Zakaria, a columnist for Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, explains another pitfall of unchecked privilege in a foreign culture:

Typically other people’s problems seem simpler, uncomplicated and easier to solve than those of one’s own society. In this context, the decontextualized hunger and homelessness in Haiti, Cambodia or Vietnam is an easy moral choice. Unlike the problems of other societies, the failing inner city schools in Chicago or the haplessness of those living on the fringes in Detroit is connected to larger political narratives. In simple terms, the lack of knowledge of other cultures makes them [seem] easier to help.

The dangers of privilege and relying on good intentions are very real and are all the more reason to be cautious and well-informed while interacting with another culture. However most, like Zakaria, believe there is still a great value to the experience of working alongside a foreign community and that “despite its flaws, the educational aspect of voluntourism’s cross-cultural exchange must be saved, made better instead of being rejected completely.” Zakaria believes we can do this by focusing on “the recipient community’s actual needs” as opposed to “the volunteer’s quest for experience.” Plenty of others offer their own advice and experiences to consider while you sift through international projects:

Richter suggests that rather than volunteering in an orphanage:

Every available resource should be utilised to support families and extended kin to enable them to provide high quality care for their children. Out-of-home residential care should not be an option when support can be given to families to take care of their own children.

Biddle believes we should first look at what we have to offer a community:

Wanting to create change does not necessarily mean that you have the skills or access to the resources needed to make that happen… [Students] should be helped, with input from the community, in finding what skills she can offer, whether that be fund-raising for new textbooks or helping with the harvest.

Young volunteers offer unique sets of skills and experiences that most current placement organizations don’t do enough to take advantage of. By sending volunteers to do complicated tasks, we set them up for failure and increase the likelihood that their trips become poverty tourism rather than productive service work.

Ernst reminds us that even if we think we have a pretty firm grasp on the project situation:

Accountability and humility are key. You may not have a training booklet telling you what’s right or wrong, but local experts exist everywhere. And if you look hard enough, you will find that all skills are needed; you just need to figure out where and how to apply them in the appropriate context.

Ossob Mohamud, a contributor for an African subsidiary of The Guardian, suggests addressing the “root institutional and structural causes of the problem”:

Time and energy would be better spent building real solidarity between disparate societies based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead of focusing on surface symptoms of poverty, volunteers and the organisations that recruit them should focus on the causes that often stem from an unjust global economic order. Why not advocate and campaign for IMF and World Bank reforms? How about having volunteers advocate for their home country to change aggressive foreign and agricultural policies (such as subsidy programmes)? This might seem unrealistic but the idea is to get volunteers to understand their own (direct or indirect) role in global poverty. The idea is to get volunteers truly invested in ending poverty, and not simply to feel better about themselves.

Among the countless voices offering opinions on navigating the world of international volunteering, there isn’t one that reveals a clear path to picking a partner or a guaranteed method for a successful project. From the partner selection process to your first day on site, to posting pictures online and talking to friends when you get home, there’s a lot to be considered. A few basic themes seem to repeat:

Be educated. Learn whatever you can about the region and the culture of the people you’re planning to work with. Be aware of the historical events that led to their complicated situation and to your own.

Be humble. Part of learning is knowing how much you still don’t know. Remember that you’re coming from a position of immense privilege- simply by being enrolled in a college and travelling by plane to a project you are part of a relatively small global class. Be aware of the power dynamic this creates as well as the danger that power brings with it.

Be practical. Good intentions are not enough to guarantee success. Find out what the community needs (as opposed to what you want to do), and ask yourselves what you can realistically contribute. Attack root causes, rather than surface problems. Will people be better off when you leave? Pick a project or partner that has proven results.

At the end of the day, try to be thankful for the incredible gift of being invited into another culture and remember how much there is to learn from a culture so incredibly different than our own. Even Ivan Illich has some advice for those who are willing to go abroad humbly:

[Traveling on these projects] could lead you to new awareness: the awareness that even North Americans can receive the gift of hospitality without the slightest ability to pay for it; the awareness that for some gifts one cannot even say “thank you.”

Nathan Albright is the Community Discourse Coordinator at Nourish International.

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Annotations:

Ivan Illich speech to the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects

http://blogs.cornell.edu/ccecrosscultural/2011/11/09/ivan-illich-to-hell-with-good-intentions/

HSRC- AIDS Orphan Tourism

http://www.hsrc.ac.za/en/review/August-2010/aids-orphan-tourism

New York Times- Voluntourism Debate http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/04/29/can-voluntourism-make-a-difference/poverty-as-a-tourist-attraction

Pippa Biddle- White Girls Aren’t The Problem…
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pippa-biddle/little-white-girls-arent-_b_6062638.html

Rafia Zakaria- The White Tourist’s Burden
http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/4/volunter-tourismwhitevoluntouristsafricaaidsorphans.html

Ossob Mohamud
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/13/beware-voluntourists-doing-good

Exploring the Jungle

September 26, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Cornell, Ecuador, Summer Projects, UPenn | By

Sleeping for four days in a hammock underneath a large wooden structure, open and exposed to all of the Amazon’s elements beckons for a post. Three of the nourishers (including myself), worked with members in a community on the outskirts of the rainforest to build a greenhouse in order to grow vegetables. Due to the infamous amount of rain the region receives, vegetables are nearly impossible to grow without some sort of roof to grow under, and of course, protection is necessary to deter the large array of pests.

The community was roughly two hours from the city, Puyo, where we were staying. Thus, to be more efficient, we decided to stay in the community with a host family for a week as we helped build the greenhouse.

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During our stay, our host family and partner organization’s coordinator cooked for us different regional foods on an open fire: Photo Jul 22, 7 34 28 AM

We painted a mural in our free time:

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We played in waterfalls, picked bananas and cocoa beans, hiked in the rainforest, and had our faces painted with tribal art:

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But more importantly, we made an impact within a community composed of the most welcoming and liveliest people, all while creating a bond between us three that continue to this day.

Photo Aug 04, 12 34 37 PM Photo Aug 04, 11 58 07 AM

 

Ohio State Triple Salto Follow-up

September 16, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Ecuador, OSU, Summer Projects | By

It feels like a dream that just a few weeks ago we were standing over the equator staring at the completed structure of a greenhouse we had built with our own hands. For some of our group’s members this was the first time we had ever constructed something from start to finish. From the initial step of clearing and flattening the land to adding the plastic to the outside of our greenhouse structure, every step of the process came with its own challenges. It was on our most trying days that I came to understand and admire my teammates in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. Each person brought their own light, positivity, and sense of humor that made every single day fun and inspiring. The positive energy of our group was reflected onto our project and the local community as we were told several times how fun and unique our group of volunteers was.
The first greenhouse we built was at a local primary school. Despite our poor Spanish language skills, the children would crowd around us every day excited to ask questions. My attempts to respond were comical to say the least, and would often send the kids into fits of laughter. We had a blast with the children, but at the end of the day we didn’t know which ones could be going to bed hungry. It was incredible to interact with the people who would directly benefit from our efforts.  The greenhouse we built will be used to provide our new friends with at least one balanced and nutritious organic meal a day.
The second greenhouse was placed at a local farmers market. Here we were given the opportunity to work side by side with the community. This project site was unique in comparison to the first because the people would be using the greenhouse to generate an income for their families. It’s interesting to me that the same project could mean something completely different to different groups of people. At the school, a greenhouse is a means of sustaining life itself through nutrition. At the farmers market, a greenhouse is a means of improving the quality of life. Extra income could mean access to things like medicine and education.
While we hope that our efforts made a lasting impact on the communities in Ecuador, we know that this project and the friends we made have had an impact on us. I am so thankful for this opportunity to learn and grow, and I will never forget the experiences I had in Ecuador. Thank you Triple Salto for being such a gracious host. Thank you to the community members who brought us food every day, even when they had their own families to feed at home. Last but not least, thank you to my OSU project teammates for always lifting my spirits.
Nourish Love <3
Maxie​

In retrospect…

August 28, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Indonesia, Summer Projects, U Idaho | By

Hello virtual world! It has been a while. Upon return from Bali, half of the team launched right into the summer institute and the other half fell back into normal life in our respective home towns.

This week we are all reunited and are jumping back on the Nourish train. Having the group back together has given us a lot of opportunity to look back upon our time in Bali.

We started off the journey pale but bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We returned home after an amazing stint in Bali a little road-weary but tanner and satisfied. We were able to teach students of varying ages English skills like reading, writing, speaking and listening. With education, the progress is difficult to see to the naked eye but everyone was able to find worth in students correctly utilizing a pronoun or remembering to differentiate between he and she (there is no gender in Indonesian.)

The last week of our stay was all about launching an environmental program. We talked about this a bit in the previous blog post so I won’t bore you with all of the details again but we were able to make a real and visible impact on the coastline by Slukat and seemingly inspire many students to take initiative in their own communities and make a change for a more environmentally-friendly Indonesia.

As well as working with the students, the Slukat alumni were often around the compound and always willing to sit and chat. They also sought help with academia and English. For example, Agus is a talented young man who is looking to study abroad in Japan to further his hopeful law career in Bali. However, money and a solid application were needed for this so there was editing to be done as well as networking for finances. Check out his Gofundme page if y’all are interested in learning more. http://www.gofundme.com/c3cimk

I think that every team member had interactions with people this summer: students, staff, alumni, local people or other travelers that really widened their perspective on human nature. We were treated with nothing but kindness and respect by almost every single person we encountered. Sure, I would like to think that we made an impact and bettered the lives of our students; but they definitely made a bigger impact on our lives. And we are incredibly lucky to have been given such an amazing opportunity.

Thank you so very very much to everyone who contributed time or thoughts or money to our journey. We could not have done it without you and we appreciate it so much!

IDAHO OUT!

Nourish University of Idaho Chapter

Update from UW Project Interns in Uganda

August 14, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Summer Projects, U Washington, Uganda, Uncategorized | By

It’s almost half way through our project and things are going well! Both of the water projects are underway. The first, in Kiseeza, should be working by the middle of next week. We helped to build the cement covering a few days ago and we’re waiting for it to dry before we can finish up. Yesterday, we watched the start of the second water project in Mazooba village – in one day the community dug 10 feet! It’s been really exciting to witness the construction of both projects and to see the commitment of the community.

These successes haven’t come without some slight setbacks. The weather, periodic heavy downpours, have definitely delayed the progress at Kiseeza. Many times, due to soil saturation, the sides of the well caved in. This destroyed the work on the day and the well had to be re-dug. The heavy rains also have been affecting our ability to get to and from the site. Our car has been stuck in the mud more than once, but thanks to the ingenuity of the villagers, we have been able to get it out and moving again. This definitely isn’t what we expected when we thought about complications, but thankfully nothing has been able to stop us from pushing forward!

In our free time, we’ve taken on a few more projects at the office to help make an even bigger impact. Tarryn has been working on helping create reports and graphs from baseline data, and teaching the staff how to use the various programs needed. We’ve also been helping to revamp their website to make it more user friendly and to hopefully help them attract more donors and grants! Check it out!

On our way back from Kampala last weekend, we had the honor to stop by another RHCF project – Rural Mama Children’s Home. We found out that it is an orphanage that was created as an offshoot of an HIV/AIDS program that they were running in order to find care for the orphans of the affected persons. While it is still largely under construction, the work that RHCF has done and what they hope to do is inspiring, and we can’t wait to see where it goes.

Probably the hardest experience we’ve had so far is visiting the only school in Kiseeza that services all children in a 6km radius. Being only 2 years old, it serves over 150 students from baby school (preschool) to primary four. Despite being on holiday, most students showed up to greet us and sing us songs. The headmaster and one of the teachers took us on a tour of the grounds and told us about how important education was to the village and the children. Unfortunately, even though there is a need and desire for education, only 100 kids were able to take their exams due to the high cost of school fees. When we asked how much it was, we were devastated to hear that one trimester only cost 15,000 shillings, the USD equivalent of $6. Needless to say, we were inspired to do something to help the children and the school grow, and hopefully we will be able to contribute in the future (keep an eye out, we’re working on a plan!!)

 

Here are some photos so you can see what we’ve been up to!

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This is a kid getting water from the current water source. Not only are these local sources highly contaminated and shared with livestock, they also pose a danger to children who can fall in and drown.

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Measuring how deep the well at Kiseeza is. You can see the flooding around the well that happened after a rainstorm.

 

Guat’s Up! UCLA-UCSC team wraps up in Guatemala

August 9, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UCLA, UCSC | By

Just over two weeks ago we started the work week with finishing the bunny cage that tortured our souls (we tried to upload a photo of finished product, but it repeatedly caused the computer to freeze). It was a great way to begin a week full of completing projects. After finalizing the construction at San Bartolome in the morning we taught all three workshops (accounting, empowerment, and herbs) in the afternoon. The next day (Tues., July 22 if you’re following along), we conducted the accounting workshop at Sumpango and we were treated to delicious local cuisine made by the women of the cooperative.

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Anna Goldby, Jeffrey Hsiao, Ashley Luna, and Marisa Galasso instruct a lesson on accounting to the Cooperativa de Mujeres in San Bartolome.

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Tamale, beef, and soup made for the team by the women in Sumpango.

After lunch and a round of good-byes, we transferred back to Guatemala City and surveyed the site at Junkabalito. Over the next two days, we made, sanded, and sealed three tables, tilled ground and planted mother herbs, installed wire mesh inside a structure (note: getting the wire mesh inside the structure was a task in and of itself), and made two planter boxes from recycled pallets.

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Allison Stafford, Paul Lee, Ashley Luna, and Jeffrey Hsiao secure additions to recycled pallets, which will be used as planters at Junkabalito in Guatemala City.

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Allison Stafford installs wire mesh and nylon screening to the greenhouse frame at Junkabalito in Guatemala City.

The weekend greeted us early – with a trip to Maria’s finca south of Mazatenango. For two days, we were hosted by a fabulous family in a fabulous puebla and stayed in an amazing home built by Maria’s grandfather 60 years ago, who styled it with antique Spanish and Moroccan flair. There was a waterfall, a gorgeous pool, coffee production, vermicompost production, bats, and insanely delicious home-cooked food in a grand hall. It was difficult to leave this wonderland, but we headed back to the city.

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Maria’s finca, a Spanish-Morrocan masonry estate with coffee production, on the side of a volcano in east Guatemala.

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Marisa Galasso and Lilianna Romero enjoy the waterfall on Maria’s property in east Guatemala.

After conducting all three workshops for the women of Junkabalito on Monday, we had our first inauguration there that afternoon. It was great seeing the women excited about the work we did and eager to ask questions and provide feedback during the workshops.

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The team celebrates with the women of Junkabalito at the ribbon-cutting event for the new greenhouse.

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Anna Goldby and Jeffrey Hsiao instruct the women of Junkabalito how to create planters from recycled plastic bottles and adhere them to the wire mesh.

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Lilianna Romero shows the women at Junkabailito the garden that was cleared, where the mother herbs are planted.

We traveled back to Antigua that night to conduct our first follow-ups in Sumpango and San Bartolome. On Thursday, we left early in the morning for a major vacation: Semuc Champey and Tikal. There are no words to describe the beauty and awe of these two places. “The pristine, sky-blue natural pools, waterfalls, underwater caves, cliff and bridge jumping, incredible ruins, and magnificent scenery” doesn’t do these places justice. They seem other-worldly.

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Semuc Champey – gorgeous natural pools formed by a rushing river below the surface – as seen from the mirador after an intense 40-minute hike.

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Swimming in the natural pools at Semuc Champey.

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Looking east from the highest pyramid in Tikal.

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Most of the crew in Tikal.

We’ve been back in Guatemala City now for the last few days. We visited Sumpango and San Bartolome Tuesday to do a final follow-up and answer questions the women had. We were again treated to delicious food, great conversation, and said our tearful good-byes por ahora – as we are all certain we’ll accept their offers to return. During a debriefing session with Byoearth, we all acknowledged how grateful and positive this experience has been. We are excited to see how next year’s team follows up and are anxious to stay in touch with each cooperativa.

As this trip wraps up, we’re bidding our final adieus and taking in all we can of this amazing country. We’re sad to leave and our good-byes are always tearful, but we’re looking forward to seeing our friends and family back home. Expect a reflective post in the coming weeks, and thanks for all your support, encouragement, and positive thoughts throughout.

Adios por ahora.

Week 5

August 8, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Ghana, Summer Projects, UMN | By

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Ericka’s Batik

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Crushing glass bottles to make beads

Global Mamas offers an awesome experience to both its volunteers as well as anyone who is interested to learn about traditional Ghanaian arts. The Cape Coast location manages the batikers and seamstresses around the area, so Abbey and Ericka were able to meet up with one of the batikers and take a workshop with her. Seeing the women do their work first-hand was fascinating. We had a lot of fun and were able to create the fabric that we used. We also got the chance to travel to and do some smaller projects at the Global Mamas Krobo location. The Krobo area is known for beads, hosting an enormous bead market every Wednesday. There, we were able to take another workshop with Grace and Moses, two bead makers who have worked with Global Mamas for 5 years. We learned the whole process of creating beads – from glass bottle to bracelet. It was great to see firsthand the work that is done within the Global Mamas family each day.

But our project nears its end. Over the past month, we have formed amazing friendships and successfully adapted to the Ghanaian groove—traveling in taxis to the office each morning and afternoon, in “tro-tros” to our favorite beach spots and weekly cricket matches, and to the farthest reaches of Ghana to experience the enormity of the largest waterfall in West Africa. Our database project is almost complete. When it is, Global Mamas will be able to use this tool to analyze how their organization has impacted their producers since the very beginning. We meet with management next week to illustrate our ideas to reorganize their offices in order to add an inventory Room and account for three new positions at the Cape Coast location- Inventory Manager, Design Assistant, and Production Assistant.

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Some of the Krobo Staff

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On our way to Wli Waterfalls

Trip Reflection – Brandon

August 8, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Cornell, Ecuador, Summer Projects, UPenn | By

Only have a day left in Ecuador now. I meant to blog more than this but the time went by so fast. I’m definitely satisfied with how the trip went. We worked hard and I felt we had a positive impact on the communities that will be long lasting. I liked being able to experience Esfuerzo, Chuya Yaku, and teaching at a few of the schools. The Esfuerzo community was always very welcoming and thankful for the work we were doing. The people at Chuya Yaku seemed invested in carrying on the completion of the garden.

I wish we had explored more of the country but long travel times and short weekends made it difficult.

Overall, a great experience.

Pe-ruflections

August 6, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Peru, Rice, Summer Projects | By

Five weeks later and we’re back in the United States (or Canada if you’re Dayae). Over the past few weeks we’ve experienced and accomplished more than we could have expected. We’ve painted well over ten walls and helped to fix the plumbing and mosquito nets around the bathroom of the school in Santa Cruz all while translating games from our childhood into Spanish.

The renovated teacher's lounge!

The renovated teacher’s lounge!

Inside the girls' bathroom.

Inside the girls’ bathroom.

We didn't get to paint all the green walls.

We didn’t get to paint the green walls.

The teachers invited us to a final lunch on our last day.

The teachers invited us to a final lunch on our last day.

We’ve traveled for countless hours by boat and hiked over 50 miles through the Amazon rainforest. We’ve found entertainment in things like mud balls and butterfly-eating spiders. We’re so thankful to people like Emerson, Gilberto, Devon and of course Nourish International for making our trip possible. We’re so excited to continue communicating with Santa Cruz throughout the year and help another group of Rice students prepare for their own Amazonian adventure.

Michael playing soccer during recess

Michael playing soccer during recess

Vy got the kids to do the "Vy pose" with her!

Vy got the kids to do the “Vy pose” with her!

Me (Dayae) with my trusty walking stick.

Dayae with her trusty walking stick.

Laura befriends Charlie the Cow.

Laura befriends Charlie the Cow.

Juan getting ready to lead the hike.

Juan getting ready to lead the hike.

Avery and the kids

Avery and the kids

Nick (who's already tall enough!) even taller on a ladder.

Nick (who’s already tall enough!) even taller on a ladder.

But first...let me take a selfie.

But first…let me take a selfie.

-Laura

Week 5: Back into modern civilization!

August 6, 2014 | Posted in 2014, Peru, Rice, Summer Projects | By

This week was our last in Peru! We left our field station on Tuesday morning, and trekked our last hike. We exchanged sad farewells with Ruth and Casey, the two little girls who lived with us, their parents, and Oso their pet dog. We said bye to Gilberto (our cook) in Mazàn, and finally arrived back in Iquitos around noon. I can’t express the joy I (Dayae) felt at the sight of motorcars and streets. We all enjoyed the wifi at our hotel and fans (electricity is amazing) before heading out to eat at Ari’s, a local hamburger/pizza/pasta place near the hotel. We then headed to the Artisan Market where we were able to buy some beautiful souvenirs. I ended up going a little overboard on earrings – where else can you buy anaconda vertebrae, butterfly wings, porcupine spines, and Paiche (a fish) scales?!

Enjoying slushies at Ari's

Enjoying slushies at Ari’s

At night, we went to a pizza restaurant and gorged ourselves on the most delicious pizza I’ve had. Half of that deliciousness came from the fact that we hadn’t had any Western food for five weeks, but the pizza was also great and cooked in an oven right below us. We then had some fun looking around the area near our hotel – it seemed like downtown Iquitos, with plenty of casinos and brightly lit clothing and electronic stores.

The next day, we attempted to go to a Manatee reservation  and took a 40 minute motorcar ride there, but sadly it was closed. We did run into the director of Project Amazonas, who was there with another group about to leave for the field site, and he suggested we go to the zoo which was nearby. Fortunately that was open and it was a fun experience. It was also a little saddening to see the small spaces they left the animals in – the pumas had a cage smaller than my own room at Rice.

A monkey that managed to escape from it's cage.

A monkey that managed to escape from it’s cage.

The next morning, we left for Lima and made it safely to our hotel. I thought I had been over-excited to see motorcars in Iquitos, but seeing cars was a whole new experience. We walked to a nearby mall to get dinner (at Chili’s!) and had some fun with a photobooth station and giant, moving stuffed animals you could ride.

Riding giant stuffed animals!

Riding giant stuffed animals!

The next day, we had the whole morning and afternoon before our flight back to the States, so we went to Miraflores. Unfortunately, Avery was sick and couldn’t make it :(. We went to a chocolate museum, where we got to make our own chocolate – all the way from unroasted cacao beans! We also went to Kennedy Park, or rather, Cat-edy park. There were so many cats just lying around everywhere – so many I couldn’t even keep count. Apparently there’s an adoption campaign for these cats, but clearly it’s not working very well! We also went to a local restaurant and the group split Cui…also known as guinea pig. It’s a delicacy in Peru, and we felt like we should experience it before leaving. It was quite the experience!

Finally, we returned to the hotel to collect our luggage and get Avery before going to the airport. I was actually very sad that the trip had ended, even though we’ll all be seeing each other again in two or three weeks. Nothing like the Amazon to make a group of strangers into a group of close friends!

-Dayae