Towards the end of August, I had the idiosyncratic pleasure of helping the local hospital with a breast feeding promotion campaign. Indeed, this was something far beyond my conventional realm of knowledge...and a little outside my comfort zone, as well. Seeing a crowd of young children marching through the hospital with signs exclaiming the importance of their mother's breast milk was most definitely a unique experience. A personal highlight of the exploit was when I noticed a crowd of women giddily congested near the sitting area. One of my counterparts in the hospital also seemed very enthused as she waved me over so that I could partake in the commotion. Being that I stand at least a foot taller than most people in my community, I had an eagle eye view at the pother. Upon approaching the mob, I immediately saw what all the fuss was about. A young woman was breast feeding her twins...at the same time. Yes, I suppose that that is an impressive feat. Nonetheless, my retreat was swift; as it suddenly became all the more obvious just how out of my element I had become.
I also agreed to assist in doing some tourism development with the local tourism union in a very small community (of about 30 families) about an hour out of my site. This small community rests high up on the mountainside, and is the start-off point for a nine day trek that winds around the mountain of Alpamayo (declared the most beautiful mountain in the world). The community had decided that they wanted to construct a building for tourists to use as lodging. Not only could this make life a little easier for passing trekkers, it could also bring some money into the community. So, I spent some time up in the community with a few other people doing land surveys and preparing for the construction. Of course, because I am a rather large gringo, the townspeople thought that I was the engineer. They couldn't have been more mistaken. In fact, it was my first time using this type of equipment. Nonetheless, I did end up impressing them with my Quechua speaking abilities...or, maybe I just confused them further.
I had also been very excited to finish a garden project I have been working on in a local school. However, when I showed up, I encountered a rather large problem. It turns out that the adobe wall separating the school grounds from the neighbors had collapsed, which resulted in two fairly large trees being cast upon the area we had prepared to plant our vegetable garden. Luckily, the parents had expressed great interest in the project, and a fairly large number of them showed up to assist in the planting that day. Since our agenda had abruptly changed, the parents quickly ran home and returned with machetes to cut up the trees. So, rather than finish the project, we spent the day hacking at trees with machetes. How's that for unexpected events?
Working with the obstetrician and the local psychologist, I also have formed a youth group which is compiled of local students who have social disorders. Unlike the aforementioned breastfeeding campaign, this is a little more in my realm of experience. This type of support group is very new to this area, and I am very much looking forward to our meetings in the next few months.
I also assisted with the planning, preparations, and execution of a fundraising activity for the local school for children with special needs. The school will soon be celebrating it's anniversary; and, like any such even in Peru, a party is absolutely mandatory. Therefore, we made fried deserts (picarones) and sold them around town. Perhaps it was due to intimidation, but I sold the most. The event was such a success that we did it again a few days later.
In addition, I've been working a great deal on a "Healthy Schools" campaign. You see, September is the month for children here in Peru. I found out while doing some work in the hospital that the two big schools in the area were going to be receiving special treatment from a few hospital workers throughout the month. Mildly outraged, I decided to organize a series of events for students in a school about 45 minutes outside of town. These students are far more disadvantaged, and have a much greater need for such activities. Therefore, I have been orchestrating a variety of events with numerous counterparts in that school. We've covered themes such as self-esteem, nutrition, recycling, and sexual responsibility. Thus far, things have been going great; and I'm happy to report that this program is far superior to that being conducted in the other schools.
In my free time, of which there is little these days, I have been preparing for the next Peer Support Network meeting in our Lima office. As you may recall, I have been a coordinator for this group since its establishment in late 2007. Our goal is to act as a pilar of support for fellow volunteers who may be undergoing difficulties in their sites. In fact, I have even made a manual which is to act as a resource for volunteers and other Peer Support Network representatives. It has taken quite a bit of work, but is basically a compilation of information regarding how to deal with the typical problems that Peace Corps Volunteers encounter; such as depression, loneliness, and even sexual harrasment and assault. I am very enthusiastic about this group, as I believe that looking out for the well-being of fellow volunteers is a vital component in providing a positive experience for both the volunteer and their community.
So, yeah, as you can see, things have been pretty busy. For that, I am grateful. I'm also really grateful for the delicious homegrown coffee that some fellow volunteers living nearby bring me. Although, falling asleep on the job wouldn't really pose a big problem in this line of work. Afterall, my neighbors' roosters seem to be inclined to cock-a-doodle-do all day long...so I might as well join them.