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In Awe | Nourish International

July 10, 2008 | Posted in 2008, Peru, UNC | By

The last week has been rough for everyone involved in this project.  Our exhaustion, combined with the daunting task of raising $5,000 in less than a week (which, by the way we now have half of!) has taken a toll on us.   The last few days everyone has been on edge, rightfully so.  Today, however, was our turning point (thank goodness for that, we only have two more days to work).  Although things started out a little rocky when we realized we didn’t have the key to the schoolhouse, and therefore had no access to tools or paint, they immediately started looking up when we realized we were in fact going to get 38 pipes delivered to lay today (out of 122…so only 84 more! – out of a total of over 700).

Some people began to work on finishing the mural and the rest of us began hauling pipe.  I might also mention that today was scorching hot…painfully hot, really.  So we start carrying these pipes, and we have to carry them up through the mountains where there isn’t really a trail and it’s hard enough to get your footing, let alone carry a 5-meter, three inch diameter pipe.  Each pipe has to go over 600 meters.  Needless to say, this process was tedious.  After making three trips there and back to get pipes, the sanding, scrubbing and gluing of each unit began.  At about this time I was feeling beat.  I was soaked in sweat and dreading the backfilling we were going to have to do once we laid the pipe.  (Backfilling consists of us shoveling the dirt we dug up back over the pipe, and is tedious to begin with, but really difficult when where we dug is surrounded by rock so you have to dig around the rocks or go down lower and find soft dirt to try to fill the area immediately around the pipe.)   As I sat down to try to muster up some energy, I looked up and saw people from the town coming out with their shovels and picks.  In the past we have tried to pay people 20 soles for 8 hours of labor a day.  (This is a fairly standard rate for manual labor and we thought it only fair to pay people since they were having to take off work.)  However, for the last week or so since money has been running low we have stopped hiring people from town, although a number of them volunteer and work with us anyway.  But today, there were so many of them.  When the reached the point where we were working I asked someone if they had taken the day off of work.  They informed me that they hadn’t, but they had wanted to help, so they were taking their lunch break from 12-2 to help us finish backfilling.  We had the job done in just a little over an hour.  It would have taken us all afternoon without their help.

Not only was it great to be done with the tedious labor, but it was fantastic to realize that this whole project is going to happen, and it is going to be sustainable.  All along it has been very obvious that the people of Ciudad de Dios want this water system and are willing to work for it, but until today I hadn’t really been convinced that they were going to be able to sustain it after we left.  MOCHE the non-profit has done so much to foster the community’s morale and the project that I was afraid of what might happen once we were gone.  Today though, my fears were put to rest when I saw these people stepping up and taking ownership.  We were trying to connect the pipes one way and one of the older men took over and told everyone what a better way to do it would be.  Some of the water committee members were there helping out and they were telling me about going through all of the rules they were having to figure out for the town.  People were excited and they seemed more ready for this to actually happen than they have all summer.  From what I’ve heard, Ciudad de Dios is often promised things that never happen, and I think this whole project has given them hope for the future of their community and their lives.

As I was walking back to town I was marveling at how far we’ve come this summer.  It may not seem like much, but six weeks ago this water system still hadn’t even been surveyed.  It was a mess.  We didn’t know what we were doing.  There were engineers, public health students, environmental science majors, and an array of other people all working on this project.  There were disagreements on the best way to go about things, and difficulties in getting the momentum to get the whole thing started.  Now, we are 82 pipes away from having a fully functioning water system.  But that’s not all.   On my walk back into town I saw that the mural was looking even more colorful than before.  When I made my way down there I was thrilled at what I saw.  The whole 43 meter wall (that’s a really big mural, in case you’re wondering) was looking wonderful.  On the left were people from the highlands coming down.  Ciudad de Dios was depicted as a colorful and bright place, and all of the suggestions the people gave us for the mural were being used: donkeys, cows, sheep, goats, banana trees, avocado trees, sugar cane, mountains, bright colors, cuy (guinea pigs-coveted meat), and so many more.  A number of the members in the community were out in the plaza (which is actually beginning to be treated like a plaza-there was a town effort to clean it up the other day) giggling at the colors we were using and giving us suggestions.  We’re still trying to talk some of them into trying to paint, but they all claim they’re terrible artists (obviously they haven’t seen me try to draw…I usually stick to the coloring).  And keep in mind we’re using house paint, so the colors we have force us to be creative – who knew red, brown, and white were the perfect colors for a goat?  The kids were also loving the mural and the painting today.  The attitude was fantastic-so alive.  It was ridiculously hot, and trying to paint while staring at bright green and white was difficult, but every time I looked around or just listened to the happy sounds around me, I remembered how worth it this mural was.  It’s hard to explain how a little splash of color stands out.  Everyone’s houses and any building for a long distance around is made of adobe brick.  The valley is green, but Ciudad is in the mountains and is therefore very dry and brown.  The color does wonders for the plaza and the community as a whole.  Everyone keeps telling me how much they love it.

I guess what I’m trying to explain is the awe I felt today at the change I can sense in this community and in our group as a whole.  It’s hope and excitement.   I think everyone is finally realizing the magnitude of what we have accomplished and how significant it is for the people of Ciudad de Dios.  And I am thrilled when I hear people say how much they like the mural, because the one thing that came up over and over in the first week I was here when I was asking people what they wanted most in their community, was a sense of pride.  They want to have a beautiful place to live in where people from outside want to come and visit.  I’ve never met such strong, determined, kindhearted, and humble people before in my life, and I am just so glad that our efforts combined with their community are accomplishing something that they are proud of and are excited about sustaining and growing.

I am pumped for tomorrow.  We have 82 pipes arriving, which is a lot, but who would dare limit what we can all accomplish together?  2 months ago I would’ve said a lot of things weren’t possible – digging kilometers of trenches through rocks, carrying adobe bricks long distances, painting (and making pretty) a 43 meter long mural, understanding the legal processes of Peruvian development.  Now, however, I know better.  82 pipes?  We’re talking small potatoes there…just ask anyone in Ciudad de Dios–they’re the ones who have known all along that everything we’ve wanted to do is possible.  I just think that just as they’ve shocked us with what is possible, we’ve shocked them by actually following through.

1 Comment

  1. robzandt
    July 10, 2008

    Each night after work we open the Summer Blog from Peru and then ride the roller-coaster of emotions as images of a green mural, stretches of trenches, children playing, blisters and sore muscles, community meetings and more . . . flash at us from the posts. We feel the aches, frustrations, concerns and worries. Through it all we proud parents know that these college students are making a difference in those lives so far from the comforts of home. We beam as we tell friends and all who will listen about this great project, this community of students and locals, this amazing organization called Nourish International.
    from Alyson’s mom, Diana Monroe Zandt

    Melissa, all I can say is Wow! The saga continues. The best analogy I can come up with so far is the Los Angeles Freeway System, Skyline drive, and Mr. Toads Fantastic Ride at Disney World all rolled into one. The joys, the sweat, the fast pace, the difficulties, the victories, and grand vistas all merged into an amazing patch of your lives.

    The picture you paint is more than the simple water project, but one of mutual pride and the strong and developing sense of community being established in Ciudad de Dios that is real. It is as sustainable as the water, and maybe more important in the long run as you plant “seeds” of what can be when a community pulls together. Everyone will benefit more than you could have initially imagined. Today you witnessed this community as they willingly came out to be part of their destiny that you helped move forward in a positive manner. As a former Scout Leader, we always said leave a place better than you found it. You certainly did in Ciudad de Dios. Far too few people ever get the opportunity to make a real difference and each of you did. You will carry this experience, and this community, with you for the rest of your lives. You will always be a permanent member no matter where you are. This is incredible stuff. We look forward to seeing you all upon your return, and we look forward to listening to the students who are now the teachers and leaders of the real world.

    and of course I am Alyson’s Dad, if you haven’t guessed.