“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” – Buddha
There comes a time in our lives where we find ourselves challenged by the opportunities that we come across, a moment in which we are finally called upon to put all those plans, dreams, and ideas into practice. When those moments present themselves we find ourselves with two options: we can discard the plan and continue leaving a comfortable, nothing out of the ordinary lifestyle, or, we can take on the challenge and give our dreams a shot. The tools to act upon such dreams and ideas are within us; however, it is easier to let those tools oxidize instead of putting them to use and polishing them. Such was the challenge we both embarked upon working with FUNCEDESCRI, Guatemala.
The experience in Guatemala has definitely changed us and has without question impacted our career goals and aspirations. When we go to another place whether it’d be country, city, town, etc., with the purpose to help we tend to think of ourselves as the “heroes” of the story. What Guatemala taught us was that the heroes of the story are not us, but the people we help…they are the true heroes. Such concept changed us in a way that it made us more humble in certain areas of our lives, more open minded, and it definitely taught to not underestimate the situation at hand. It taught us that in order to achieve a goal we have to work together, listen to one another, consider different ideas, talk and come to an agreement, make a decision and go through with it. Helping is not just giving but also receiving, it is a contribution, or a collaboration between both parties. The experience in Guatemala also showed that truly live here in the US is like a bubble; in other words, lifestyle in the States is full of privileges, but also filled with a vast amount of things that we undoubtedly take for granted. For example, the simplicity of standing up, going to the kitchen and getting a glass of water. In many of the indigenous communities we worked in, water was one of the main issues. There was a community in which the people had to walk miles and miles (around 30 kilometers) down a mountain in order to get access to this small waterfall…and then carry it all the way back up. We plus the other student volunteers walked with the “village council” which were five older men and the FUNCEDESCRI worker, Pedro, and brainstorm a technique to get the water pumping all the way up the mountain where the village was located…and here in the States water is consumed in an incredible amount and easily accessible. Here in the US society consumes so much while at the same time wastes so much, while in those communities nothing is wasted: like our trip motto says, “not even our own waste goes to waste.”
The experience with FUNCEDESCRI and Guatemala reaffirmed the believe an individual is formed at home and childhood plays an immense role in the molding of that individual; if we can aid and work with children who have faced rough times, who have been victims of human rights violations, if we can establish a friendship and make a contribution, then those positive grains of sand that others have instilled upon us plus the experiences we’ve had and will have, can be passed to others and provide a sense of hope. At the same time, those children and families will give teach us life lessons, an appreciation for what we tend to forget, and be thankful for the blessings God has given.
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.
I already miss Elouisa’s cooking, practicing my Spanglish and riding in combi’s.
I will always remember nights with Ron Cartavio, my first experiences with archeology and the strength of the people in Cerro Blanco.
I’m extremely proud of our achievements on the pipeline/reservoir project, killing a scorpion with my bare hands, and the incredible attitude our group maintained throughout our trip (thanks guys).
I love Inca corn, makeshift costume/9 year old birthday parties and Jenga!
I’m super impressed by Machu Picchu, the amount of pot shurds left about and our boulder moving skills.
And while I’m happy to leave behind 21 hour bus rides, Spirit Airlines and cold showers, the trip would not have been the same without them.
I’m happy that we didn’t lose anyone to the pneumonic plague and that we got to see those crazy catacombs in Lima!
Next time I go to Peru I’m going to ride in a caballito, swim with seals and visit Paul Farmer’s clinic in Carabayllo.
These are Mary Alice’s thoughts from our trip:
It’s been a couple months since our visit to El Salvador and looking back, it seems so surreal that we walked, talked, ate, slept, and lived for the entirety of 5 weeks in three isolated, impoverished communities of Morazan. We ate tortillas and beans at every meal, bathed with buckets and washed clothes with brushes every afternoon, watched the sky pour down rain on an already extremely muddy landscape every evening, and slept in hammocks every night hoping to God that the fleas would not be biting especially hard. In the moment, it wasn’t necessarily an extraordinary nor a glamorous abroad experience. It was just a different lifestyle and one that all of us were completely capable to handle. It was a lifestyle where the day actually begins and ends with the sun. It was a lifestyle where one could produce almost as much as one consumed. A lifestyle that could push a person to both the brink of exhaustion and relaxation. It made one question their choices and actions back home, the significance of possessions, a home, a family, a community, the passing of time, and the true meaning of silence. It was a lifestyle that we are all grateful to have experienced and now, hopefully, have learned a little bit more about ourselves and what we want from the time we have left in our lives.
Being as it may, we especially hope that we positively impacted the communities where we worked this summer as much as they impacted us. By the end of the trip, it was obvious that “la gente” were excited about the gardens and their potential yields at the end of the summer. The gardens were doing well and although some plants were attacked by insects, no one seemed discouraged or even reluctant to plant again and hope for better results the next time around. The majority of the beds had plants growing, already with trellises poking up in between to accommodate their rapid growth. A variety of different veggie seedlings were growing in the “semilleros”, or seed beds, that would later be transplanted in the plant beds, maximizing the amount of space used and plant diversity in the gardens.
By now, the communities should be enjoying the influx of fresh, organic green beans, radishes, onions, cilantro, squash, melons, and cucumbers from their gardens. Instead of eating plain beans and tortillas everyday, “la gente” can infuse their diets with new tastes and nutrients for a more varied and healthy lifestyle. Hopefully, other community members unaffiliated with the gardens have noticed the garden’s benefits and are considering joining the initiative next season. We also hope that those working in the gardens are considering building their own private gardens on their land with the knowledge and skills they learned this season in the community gardens. With this extra production space, they can continue to eat vegetables often and even sell the additional produce for extra income. More importantly though, we hope the communities feel a sense of pride and brotherhood in combining their resources, time, and efforts to create something productive and beneficial in their lives that will help them address some of the issues linked to poverty that they face daily. It was an honor to be part of such an initiative and we are more than ever inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication to the gardens and their overall commitment to benefiting their communities as a whole.
When I arrived in Peru, I had no idea what was going on with the water project. I didn’t know the logistics behind the reservoir. Naturally, I felt disconnected with the project due to my lack of information. During the first few days of digging and clearing dirt for the reservoir location, I still felt disconnected. However, during those days, I worked with the men and women of Cerro Blanco. I saw the hard work they put into the project. Slowly, I learned about them and their hopes for the project. At first, I didn’t become connected to the project, I became connected to the people.
Over the next few weeks, I learned more about the Cerro Blanco’s long journey towards a clean water source. It had been 20 years since Cerro Blanco had bought pipe for a water pipeline. They had been waiting 20 years to accomplish this dream. During our work days, the people of Cerro Blanco weren’t just putting hard work into the project. They were putting their lives into the project. When I realized this, I realized the reason I came to Peru. And in the process, I became connected to the project.
During the last two weeks of the project, I learned more about the logistics of the project. Martin shared more information about the frame for the reservoir. However, at that point, Martin could have told me to move rocks for the day and I would have happily done it if knew it was helping the project. I was happy knowing that I was part of something that was bigger than me. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the finished reservoir. The cement still needed to be laid onto the frame. In the next few weeks, Cerro Blanco will complete the project, and after 20 years, they will finally have a clean water source.
At one point during the project, Martin asked me what our group name was so it could be placed on the reservoir when it was complete. So I wrote it out for him: OSU Nourish 2010. However, Martin didn’t find this acceptable. He insisted on also having each of our individual names. So I wrote them out for him: Felipe Moreno, Andy Pochedly, Mackenzie Rapp, Theresa Schmidt, Nico Mata, and Laura Lewis. He told me we would become part of the Cerro Blanco’s history, to be forever remembered. I am honored that they want to remember us. I know I will always remember Cerro Blanco.
It’s been a little over five weeks since we returned from our project with FUNDAHMER. The time as gone very quickly and we’ve all seemed to re-adjusted to our lives. In about a week classes will begin; we’ll reunite with all our friends, most of which we’ve not seen since we we’ve returned from El Salvador. I wonder if we’re different from before the trip.
During the second half of our trip we partook in some really exciting events: we were in La Hacienda during the celebration of their patron saint, and on that day woke from the sound of firecrackers being set off to call everyone to the capilla (chapel). At the chapel we had quesadilla cake and coffee, followed my mass, then a community lunch a marathon of movies relating to El Salvador’s History, an inter-village soccer tournament, and finally a dance at the elementary school! It was such a fun day! A few days later, we returned to San Salvador one weekend intending to visit the beach, but were prevented from doing so due to poor weather. Instead we visited el Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, which had several very interesting exhibits about artists in El Salvador, and the University of Central America (UCA) and learned about the Jesuit martyrs who died their during the Civil War.
In considering the lasting impact our trip had; it would be so nice to see pictures of the gardens now. When we left all three were teeming with healthy seedlings. There was plague affecting the beans in Flor del Muerto if I recall correctly, and in Hacienda, some kind of insecto had carried away many of the rabino seeds, but other than that, most everything was growing well. I hope the communities are diligent about saving seeds and that each family eventually cultivates its own garden.
We visited a local elementary school two days during the project to discuss 1) the components of a balanced diet as well as its importance and 2) how to read a packaged food label. I wish we had prepared better for these activities, and that we had continued to prepare lessons for the school relating to nutrition. The language gap ended up being quite a bit wider than I had realized, preventing the students from understanding the lesson very well the first day. The situation had improved by the second day, so hopefully they found our discussion about fresh fruits and vegetables interesting.
Well it’s now been a week and a half since we’ve left the communities of Chipaota & Chazuta. In our last days there, we attempted to say our goodbyes to all the wonderful people that we had formed relationships with over the past 2.5 months. Needless to say, it was saddening to bid our new friends farewell, not knowing when we might see them again. Such was especially the case for me on the last day as I comforted three young sobbing boys that I had grown quite fond during my stay.
One the many things that this trip has taught me is that the formation and development of relationships with the community with which you are working with is not only personally rewarding, but it is also critical to the success & sustainability of almost any project. I’ve come to realize that when some nonprofit organizations provide support for community development, that they will sometimes operate at such a macro level that they never really have the opportunity to develop intimate relationships with the communities to which they are offering the support. Such was the case with a couple organizations that I encountered this summer, and to me, it is saddening that they are missing out on the richness that such relationships have to offer. This is one of the qualities that I truly appreciate about Nourish International, that it sends not only funding to impoverished communities, but just as importantly, it sends volunteers, volunteers that will forge friendships with people they would have otherwise never have known. My new friends back in Peru, from the lil 10 years old kids to the elderly, hold a very special place in my heart. I will truly miss them while I am away and can’t wait to get back to see them again.
As an archaeology nut, I had always wanted to see Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Elevated at 8,000 feet above sea level in the beautiful Andes, the site is believed to have been a sacred place rather than for military or administration use. Machu Picchu was a fully self sustaining community growing its food on terraces surrounding the city. One impressive aspect of its construction is the way they cut and fit large rocks together, needing no mortar. It was built between 1460 and 1470 AD and rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
I will never forget my first glimpse, Machu Picchu is, in a word, stunning. The green mountains surrounding frame the stone structures beautifully. I’d take two steps and feel compelled to take another photograph. It’s much bigger than I thought it would be, I wished that I had more time to explore. If you ever head to Peru, I’m requiring that you visit it.
We luckily did not hike up to get there, we would have been exhausted albeit probably more excited to see Machu Picchu. We did hike down which was an intense enough experience, taking an hour and leaving my calves sore for a few days. However, I greatly enjoyed the scenery on the way down, especially the river at the bottom. After all that exercise we gorged ourselves on hamburgers, fries, and alpaca meat. Yum!