Thursday, September 19, 2013

Judging the Science Fair

Earlier this week, I served as a judge for the science fair at the Instituto de Educacion Superior Tecnologico Publico de Marco, the local technical school. It turned out to be much more formal than I expected. I thought I'd just walk around and look at displays and talk to students, but no. Instead, I was assigned to the food science program and was given 5 lengthy term papers (in Spanish) to read and grade according to a very specific rubric. In an hour. Then, I went to each of the groups' tables and the students gave me a presentation on the food they'd created. A lot was riding on this, because the winners get to go on to the provincial science fair, and if they win there, to the regional fair.

The projects were all good ones. The task of grading papers was awfully familiar.

This group made yogurt that used local milk and a Peruvian fruit. Instead of sugar, they sweetened it with stevia. Their idea was to produce something beneficial for consumers with diabetes. It was excellent.

These students also used handmade yogurt, baked into a flan flavored with local fruit. The great thing about being assigned to the culinary program was that I got to try all the food!

The next group invented an empanada (pot pie) with Guinea pig meat. It was yummy. Cuy (Guinea pig) is high in protein and low in fat, making it a very healthy meat. It's also very cheap and easy to raise. Archeological evidence has found cuy bones in human living sites going back 5 thousand years in our region.

Next was a baby food made from quinoa, a traditional grain that has been raised here since antiquity. The students tested it at a local nido (infant care facility) and the babies had a very low spit-out rate.

The last food I taste-tested was an instant lunch made of dried olluco (a native tuber kind of like a cross between potato and yam) and alpaca meat. (Alpacas are like a smaller version of a llama.) These students did an especially professional job with their data analysis.

I was glad to be able to help out as a judge. It was a very tasty morning!

Friday, September 13, 2013

I kind of have a dog

If you know me, you know how improbable this is. I don't like dogs. I'm a little bit phobic about them. But Banban doesn't seem to be aware of this. He lives with a friend but sometimes stays at my boyfriend's house and he thinks we're all part of the same pack.
Like most Peruvian dogs, he hangs out outside his house. When I go by on my bike Banban jumps up and gives me a full-body wagging greeting. Then he follows me wherever I'm going. Earlier this week, he followed me all over Marco while I delivered officios. I was on my bike and Banban seemed to enjoy running alongside. Here we are on the only paved road in Marco.
I went in to the technical college to make agreements with the Director about various things. I'm going to judge the science fair Monday. We scheduled a meeting between the watershed committee and the agriculture and culinary arts teachers about how to include organic gardening in our GeoTour (ecotourism circuit). We also discussed how the director will choose a representative to the municipal environment committee (CAM) before the swearing-in next week.
Finally, we reached an agreement about a tree-planting day when some of the Peruvian students will work with Peace Corps trainees to finish a demonstration "living fence" around one of the school's fields that we started back in May. My tara trees will finally get planted. They're ready:
 All this took a while. But when I came out, Banban was waiting by my bike. I thought that was a pretty smart strategy. We headed back to Marco.
My neighbors were loading eucalypus branches on their donkey.
They let me take pictures.
Banban shared his latest news with their dog.
I still don't like dogs. But I have to admit, it's kind of cool having a dog follow you everywhere. It's just possible that I might like this dog.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In the Andes of Peru GeoTour

For months I've been working on an ecotourism project and in the past few weeks things have really started to happen. It's the brainchild of our Watershed Committee. We figured that tourism, if done the right way, could support environmentally-friendly changes here in our valley. There are three districts here in the watershed of the Yanamarca river: Marco, Acolla and Tunanmarca. These three local governments don't work together much. However, from an environmental standpoint, this whole watershed is one ecosystem. The water doesn't care about jurisdiction as it flows from the springs
 through the fields, picking up toxic agricultural chemicals,
then into the river, picking up the detergents from people washing their clothes in the river,
 and into the wetland where the birds, amphibians and fish live.
We hope this project will help the people here think in terms of the watershed, and so our ecotourism project will take visitors on a journey around the watershed. The circuit will have an environment theme. When people visit the archeological site, we'll ask them to pick up trash. When they visit the organic gardening demonstration, they'll learn about how to farm without toxic chemicals. We have a very successful reforestation area, and the GeoTour will celebrate that.
We'll require hostels and restaurants to pass a 'green practices' test in order to be part of the tour.
We're still trying to think of other ways the tourism circuit can incorporate environmental education, and ways it can motivate local people (and tourists) to care for the environment. If you have any suggestions, please write me a comment! We need all the creativity we can find. Tourism can be tough on the environment. Here in the Yanamarca Valley, we want it to do the opposite. We want it to help us toward our dream of becoming a "Valle Ecologico", an example to other communities here in Peru of how to care for the Pachamama.
I'm having a great time developing this project with the local ecotourism team. For over a decade, I've played a game called "geocaching". It's a treasure hunt game that uses GPS coordinates to guide people to interesting locations. I like this game a lot because it gets you outside and brings you to places you never would have seen otherwise. And the hunt aspect is exciting. I suggested to the committee that we organize our tour around this game. The "In the Andes of Peru" GeoTour was born. It's been a huge process. I wrote a Peace Corps grant, and after multiple revisions, it was accepted and my project was placed up on the Peace Corps website. At the time of this writing, we're actively raising money. So, dear reader, if you have some cash to spare, please donate to this project here.Update: the project is fully funded. Thank you donors!
     I'm also working with a tourism website that was developed by some Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. The idea is to bring tourists to communities where Peace Corps volunteers are posted. It's great for the kind of traveler who wants to get away from the tourist traps and experience the genuine culture of daily life. In other words, perfect for our ecotourism project. Things here may not be perfect, but they're real. This is deep Peru and our project will give visitors access to the inside story. The company is called Keteka. I've been appointed an "ambassador" for Peru. I'm writing a separate blog on their site that will follow the GeoTour project. You can have a look here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New World-wise school class

     The school year in the United States has started up again and it's time for a new World-wise school project. My partner teacher from last academic year, Mr. Klein, has retired from teaching. This year I've partnered with a Ms. Nielsen at Escalante Middle School in my home town, Durango. I'll be writing to them over the course of the school year to tell them about my Peace Corps service in Peru.
     I've also teamed up with Profesora Hilda, a sixth grade teacher here in Marco. She has a class of 22 students, most of them 11 years old. About half the class had English with me last summer (January and February) in the town's summer school program, "Vacaciones Utiles". We did a lot of games and songs to learn beginning English. These are the kids that call out my name ("Senorita Elena"!) when they see me around town, and often run up to give me a kiss. It's really comfortable to work with this particular class because I have a warm relationship with so many of them already.

     Each of Miss Hilda's students will have a 6th grade pen pal from Durango. Yesterday we picked pen pals. Ms. Neilsen had emailed a photo of her class and the names of the students. Her students also told us 2 things they like. Each of my students picked the name of an American student from a basket, and then rushed up to the photo on the wall to see what their pen pal looked like.
     Afterward, we had a lesson on the verb "to like". My students called out the things their partners liked. We collected this vocabulary on papelotes. I wrote the English and Miss Hilda wrote the Spanish.
     After that, each Peruvian student wrote two things they like on a slip of paper. Our pen pals in the USA will get their partner's name, age and two things they like, so they have something to talk about when they write their first letters to their new friends in the Southern Hemisphere.
     Pretty much all of the boys listed soccer as one of the things they like and most of the girls listed volleyball. Here in Peru, sports are very gender segregated. All boys play soccer and all girls play volleyball. Other favorite activities were acting, drawing, fishing, swimming, singing, writing, animals, reading, karate, riding a bike, football and computer games. I can attest to the latter. I live above the town's only internet cafe and there's a steady stream of kids down there, using up the bandwidth playing games. I can tell when school gets out because my connectivity drops.
     We went out to the school patio and took a picture of the class, which I have emailed to Durango so our new friends can see what their pen pals look like.
Then I told them I wanted to take "una foto loca" of the class. This was the result:
     Everyone here is excited to learn about the United States, make friends with American kids and practice some English!