Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Madison Open house

I apologize for being off the radar, but as soon as I arrived on U.S. soil to enjoy my vacation with family in the Midwest, well I just put Discover Hope Fund on the back burner for a little bit. I will be returning to Peru in about 2 weeks, so my mind is drifting back into Discover Hope thoughts. Shortly after I arrived in Minnesota I made a trip across the border to Wisconsin. My dear friend Erica in Madison, after visiting Cajamarca this past October, decided she wanted to host a fundraiser for our women. So we held a very informal "Open House" to come and see what Discover Hope is all about in her living room. It turned out to be a smashing success (in my virgen fundraising eyes). I got to catch up with old friends, talk about village banking and show off a ton of pictures to curious souls. We raised a small bit of support that will help in more than one way this coming year.

Cheers to all of you reading this and may 2009 bring many hopeful things!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Last Literacy update

Literacy tests: 7 out of the 9 women that took the test last Saturday passed and therefore will receive a certificate in January from the Department of Education stating that they are literate! Yeah for Andrea, Elena, Precila, Casimira, Maria Cruz, Sebastiana and Angelica!!!! Good work to all.

Nora is leaving Cajamarca tomorrow, but left the women with homework. When I return in January for another year we will have our first Buy Day with Maggie. Although women have told me, "you're not coming back.." I respond,"See you at our first event in 2009."

I am leaving Cajamara exhausted, but happy for a success first year of inventions, trial, error and learning experience. I will rest for the month of December and be ready for more come 2009!

Until Then....

Friday, November 21, 2008


I don't know where to start as I share my final thoughts about Discover Hope work that is unofficially finishing today. I don't want to bore you, but there were many computer glitches that made the week eventful and turned yours truly into a spaz. I have actually become more of a spaz in these past couple of months than I have in all my life. It takes a lot of energy to be a spaz and I don't especially enjoy it. Maybe it is cultural differences or huge work load or any number of little things. Yesterday I was on the verge of finishing my 20 page year end report when I realized I accidentally erased Microsoft word from my computer. Why would I do something like this? There is no good answer, because I surely didn't do it for the adventure and thrill to see how long it would take me to replace the program.

After my no-good, very bad morning I had a complete change of heart in the afternoon. A group of some of our loan recipients organized a small surprise little going away party for me in the office. There were speeches, a toast, singing, poems, gifts and let's not forget the food and dancing. I was thrilled that the women I have been working with actually organized themselves enough to pull this off. And, it was so nice to show up and not do a thing. Although I was feeling tired and defeated earlier in the day, the women lifted my spirit and put me in very tranquil state. They showed me that among all the classes and activities that were held this year, there has been a spark of love, caring, and confidence that has grown between all of us. So I leave my Discover Hope work this year exhausted, but proud and extremely happy - with more hope for things to come next year.
Last jewelry class this year with loan recipients from various village banks. The women insisted I be in the middle of all of them. Why? So that they could use my camera memory to develop this picture for me, frame it and present it to me.

P.S. Keep checking back at this blog - as there are still the final literacy exams to report....

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Goodbye lunches

Yes, my time (this year) in Cajamarca is down to it's last days. As of yesterday I had two weeks in Cajamarca left on my calendar. I can hardly believe that a year has passed since I arrived in this beautiful and strange city in the Andes. Kinda like my Peace Corps site back in the day, I feel like Cajamarca has made a mark on me and even the annoying things have become so familiar that I think I will miss this little city come December. But, don't worry, those of you who are reading this in MN or WI, I am so excited to get on the plane on Dec. 6 and spend the month with all of you. I just realize I have come to this comfortable, weird place where I feel like home is not only St.Paul, MN. Home is (I am not trying to be cheesy) where the heart is. And at this point I feel like my heart is all over the place.

I have had a couple goodbye lunches with my women and it has been very humbling. Let me try to paint a picture: I arrive in an adobe kitchen with smoke escaping from the small windows. Women are gathered around clay pots cooking on the floor. I sit at the table alone catching up on the updates of animals, weaving projects and sick kids. I receive a heaping plate of rice and chicken while the women hurry to serve all the little brown faces that come running into the kitchen. We must have been 20 people in that smoky kitchen. If I don't finish my food they will place the plate of left-over food over my poor little head (a well-known custom in the countryside). I finish. There is no room for a sweet, warm cup of arroz con leche, but I make room anyway. We continue to chat, there is some yelling, kids asking for more, a little piggy that runs into the kitchen. It is a happy chaos, feeling like I have been invited to participate in an ordinary family event, that to me feels so very un-ordinary. It felt like the most special moment I could have experienced right then and there in an old, dirt house with a group of women that are united by family ties, but also the desire to better themselves. This group that lives in the most humble conditions presented me with a small gift before our lunch came to an end. Like I said, my heart is all over the place - excited for my reunion with family and friends in the midwest and also touched by the grace and gratefulness of my women's groups here in Cajamarca.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Yes, yours truely is a Madrina. What is a Madrina you ask? The woman that holds a candle and touches the child's shoulder during her baptism and then buys 50 guinea pig for the feast afterwards. Roughly translated = Godmother. Aida, one of our loan recipients in an active village bank asked me to be the Madrina for her middle child, Catalin Stephanie, a couple of weeks ago. At first I was a little hesitant about the great task, but after some deep thought and conversation with Aida I came to the conclusion that it is a honor and job I am up for. Aida and her village bank (many who are family also) have been very supported of me and DHF work and this is an amazing way for me to remain connected to them. Never in the states could I become a Godmother to a person I was working with - conflict of interest. But I am not in the states. In Peru my life is work and work is my life, boundaries that we create in the U.S. do not exist in the same form here. So yesterday I entered more deeply into the life of a Peruvian family that had already entered into mine.
As a Peruvian Madrina one of your most important tasks is to buy cuys (guinea pigs ) for the celebration feast. I told Aida I would help out with the dinner costs, but wasn't especially excited about buying 50 guinea pigs. No problem, we had steak. But, I did complete my other task as a Madrina - I danced to typical "wino" countryside music all night with just about every guest. I left the night with tired feet and a happy heart. Not only was the celebration good old Peruvian fun, but Aida had made all the appetizers and the cake with the recipes from the classes she took with DHF. I got to eat the fruits of DHF labor...and it was delicious!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mini export experiment

We had what was our last BUY DAY with Discover Hope Fund in the Afider office. Two of my good friends were visiting this week, so they really helped out with all the chaos. We had 15 women participate with bags, purses and jewelry - more than our other Buy Days. I might have to re-think how we organize Buy Day to make it run more smoothly. At the end of the night we had spent 1, 465 soles - which is more than 600 bucks. If I didn't have help I don't know how I would have done it. We had the women label their goods and then we went around the table and picked some of the best designs to send back to the U.S. I felt like Santa Clause leaving the office; we had two huge bags of goodies. I hope someone in the U.S. will not only appreciate the work the women did in creating the jewelry and bags, but all the work that goes into picking, labeling, stressing that every women sold something, and finally packaging it all up. It is a lot of work - this mini-export experience.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Evaluation pictures

I kinda put behind me the fact that I am soaking wet, cold and tired... when I see the faces on women that have taken pictures of their lives, themselves and things important to them, all the other stuff kinda fades away. DHF is doing a type of Photovoice evaluation with some of our village banks. The women have seen me take pictures all year. They turn their heads, smile, show a grin of embarrassment. I show them the photo on my digital camera, but that is where the photo stays. The idea of photovoice evaluation is giving the women another way to express themselves besides just answering evaluation questions. And I have been surprised because all of the groups (6 so far) that I have approached this year, not one of them has used a camera before. I told them this is their chance to become a photographer, show the world their world. At first there was some hesitation and uncertainty(from the women) about being able to take pictures. But so far we have had a decent turnout and good conversation around the photos. (Note the great pig photo from Angelica in La Perlita Village Bank)!

Friday, October 17, 2008


Give you a little taste of classes this week (pun intended). Our same super bakery teacher from last month offered a cooking (appetizer) class this week. Two days. 10 appetizers. We had a small group of 9 women. They worked hard getting their hands dirty to produce some really delicious appetizers, through the direction of our teacher Luisa. Like our bakery class, the women hope to use these new recipes as an additional income generating activity. Of course they won't start off right away this weekend being contracted for parties - but if they start practicing with family and friends the "word will pass" that they are good cooks and can hopefully start a domino effect to attract more paying customers.
P.S. on an unrelated cooking note - 6 out of 8 of out literacy students passed their first literacy test with flying colors last week. That is SUCCESS! The two didn't quite ace the test don't feel so bad, because as they say, "at least now I am write my name and my ID number - I couldn't do that before." Again, SUCCESS.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bags for export, Literacy tests and everything inbetween

The past couple of days have been filled with lots and lots of stuff. It all blends together and becomes part of the struggle to create hope.
Evaluation starts. Interviews. Questions. Reflection.
How has Discover Hope changed your life?
I have more skills. I can make a little bit more money.
Sewing artesian bags - another skill, another group of chaotic women and screaming kids.
One sewing machine breaks.
I take the combi back to Cajamarca late at night with our teacher, Socorro. Pay her in the dark.
The group starts to take their test just as the rain decides to fall.
The rain finds it's way through the tin roof that has sporadic holes.
What, you don't like the color of the ribbon? That's the only color we have.
These are the colors that North Americans like.
Hope you participate in our Buy Day - we want to show the world what you are learning.
Walking down a dirt road - hoping all the students are present today. Big day. Test day.
One women struggles with her literacy test - she can not finish, but she can write her name.
Exhausted with videos, pictures, and small stories of hope.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pantalones hechos

Completed pants. After our sewing blouses and skirts there was a huge outcry for sewing pants. That outcry turned into 7 students, 5 of which actually came, made paper pants molds and ultimately sewed their pants. The small group we did have worked really hard and were asking for more pants designs at the end of our third class. This month in October we won't be offering a sewing class - there are other classes we are offering and our year long evaluation has started. One program manager can only do so much. But, I know that some of our most excited students will continue to visit our teacher Rosario, as she has offered an open invitation to visit her house and get sewing advice.

Our classes almost always include little kiddos. Here in this pic you can see Rosario's son. Sometimes (no, most of the time) the kiddos provide for a very chaotic learning environment, but at the end of the day, well the women are in class for their kids. They want to be able to make pants for their children, save money, and give them a better future. So, I figure, if the women can handle the chaos - I can handle the chaos. And it is good for the kids to see their mom's learning new things. Just can't forget the Ibuprofen at classes!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Financial crisis

So you'll have to understand that I am somewhat in tune with the news in the U.S., but not completely. I have heard the mumbling of a huge financial crisis - economy crashing, assets losing value, banks going under.... I can't say much about what that means and how horrible it may be for Americans. But, I can tell you about a financial crisis that I see everyday with my eyes here in Peru. I spoke with Sebastiana today, she has been a regular at our sewing classes.
"We missed you at sewing class this week."
"I know, I wanted to go but I couldn't. I need to get food for my sheep, help my husband (he just found a new job), and ...well, I just didn't have the 4 soles (about $1) for the co-pay for class."
"Next class. You better be there...and take care of those sheep so that you have some good looking wool this year."

Then there was another conversation I had this week...

I am coordinating our literacy test dates and materials, so once again I find myself at the Ministry of Education (this time I bring my knitting because I know I have to wait at least an hour before I actually talk to someone). As I was waiting (and knitting) I sparked up a conversation with some of the literacy teachers that were also waiting (but not knitting). They had been working for 2 months with promise and promise of a paycheck, yet nothing. They spend loads of money out of their own pocket to pay transport so that they can go out to the countryside and work with their literacy groups. These are teachers, like most Peruvians, that have little to no capital - so the money coming out of their pockets is running pretty low. But, I guess this is nothing compared to the last group of literacy teachers - they worked 6 months without pay. The pay finally came, but that is not the point. Can you imagine working 6 months without pay and being able to live off of who knows what?

I only share these experiences because they go hand in hand with all the amazing experiences I also have here. I don't know what will happen with the U.S. economy or Sebastiana or the literacy teachers. None of us live in a carefree, protected money bubble. Money is a necessity - a source of pain and happiness. We all have our good days, bad days and despair and hope. We face our bad days with the strength and faith that each of us finds somewhere deep inside and our good days is our time to rejoice. And probably what all of us want - no matter where we live - is to be able to spend more of our time rejoicing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

endless designs...and opportunities

We finished our Bakery/Cake decorating class yesterday with happy stomachs. The women got to try their cake when our class finished and there were lots of happy faces. The students in this class were one of the best groups we have had for classes. They (mostly all) came on time, were present at all of the classes and asked a lot of questions and really got into the cake making process. I think that is a reflection of their intense interest, but also having a great - and strict - teacher. Our teacher, Luisa, gave them little bakery and decorating secrets and a basic guideline about using their bakery skills as a business. The feedback was unanimous - the women want more! The majority of women want to use what they have learned in the form of a business. I give them so much credit. To be an entrepreneur is not easy. Could I start a bakery business from scratch? Probably not.

This is really Discover Hope coming alive - creating opportunities that women use to create more income. The true test will be in a month or two to see if the students have used what they have learned. Everyone wants more practice. Luisa said, "practice with your family members, save money and make your own cake for events at home and the word will pass that you make cakes and you can start small with your bakery business."

I actually arrived late to bakery class yesterday because I was out in the countryside with one of our literacy groups that is preparing for their literacy exam next month. We were all sitting in the grass, knitting, chatting, waiting for the literacy teacher. Andrea just casually says, "you know now I can write my own receipts for the milk I sell. Before this class I never even picked up a pencil and I would have to ask my kids to write the receipts. But, now I can do it myself!"

I love it - DHF creates hope and the women in return fill me with hope.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bakery chaos

We are just rockin' out with classes this month. The women ask and they receive. There has been a number of request to learn how to make cakes (finely decorated cakes for Birthdays and other celebrations). Well I found just the right teacher who is patient and explains instructions with such detail, that almost anyone could learn the cake process with her. We are holding a 3 day class this week and yesterday was the first day. Women learned how to make the flowers and petal designs that go on top of the cake when we finish it on Thursday. We had a great crowd - 16 women from various village banks. I recently started this new process where women have to register and pay for class a day ahead of time (novel idea!) and if they don't they register ahead of time they pay more the day of class. Well, some of the women didn't like this new change. I stand strong in stating that if you want to invest in yourself and your business you need to organize your time and money (ahead of time). Like any new concept, there will be some bumps along the way. I hope these bumps serve as good learning opportunities and can encourage healthy business habits too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Literacy day Celebration

We had a lovely celebration for Literacy Day this Monday. We have three village banks that are finishing their 6 month literacy classes next month and it only seemed fitting to celebrate Literacy Day on Sept. 8. I thought it was either going to be chaos in the 'campo' (countryside) or a smashing success. It was a little bit of both, but mostly a smashing success. The morning before, on Sunday, a group of 6 of us from 2 different groups went to the market to buy all the necessities to cook for almost 50 people. The women put the heavy potato bag over their shoulder with ease and were so happy and filled with energy to shop for the event.

On Monday morning I met one of the groups and we walked together to the other's groups house. Little did I know they were long lost cousins (or some other related relative), so everyone got along splendidly. They cooked the chicken, potatoes, rice (and everything else that we ate) in a smokey kitchen filled with more clay pots than I have seen in my whole life.

Laura and some Afider staff joined us for the good eats and celebration. They really put together an amazing lunch - a three course meal - more than enough for one person. We ate like queens and then started with certificates and prizes before some of the women had to go home to milk cows. After the literacy recognition part of the afternoon we played some fun games: musical chairs, balloon partner walk and the hacky sac run. The women were laughing and smiling from ear to ear. It was so fun to be able to celebrate with them and give them a break from all their hard work during classes. It was a moment of bliss to share the afternoon with them.

For Laura it was her 2nd to last event with the women. I know they loved having another gringa around, someone else who cares and is interested in their well being. Although she was only here for a short time, she will be missed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Message from Laura:

After spending a week and a half in Cajamarca working with Nora and getting to know dozens of women in many different village banks, I feel my work with the Discover Hope Fund has come full circle. I began collaborating with DHF about 9 months ago as an intern, and later as a member of the marketing team, working on the fundraising and event planning side of DHF. Then I jumped on the opportunity to make a trip to Cajamarca do some program evaluation work in the field, actually meeting and getting to know some of the women after working behind the scenes for several months.

Nora has taken me to many development classes and village bank meetings so that I can talk with the women and learn what about DHF is working and what needs changing. So far I have heard some really great suggestions for improvement, but overall the women have expressed to me how much these microloans and classes have helped their businesses, their families and themselves. Using what they have learned in the classes, the women are improving or expanding their businesses and becoming more confident in the work that they do.

I will leave Cajamarca in a few days with many new friends, a suitcase full of handmade purses and jewelry from the women, and a unique perspective on international development work.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Laura with jewelry

Laura registering women on Buying Day.
Laura modeling jewelry that Amalia made!

We had a Buying Day this Wednesday and Laura helped us out - register women and their products, select the best quality - and most importantly - she is taking it back to the U.S.! This week has been really crazy, lots of activity and Laura is in the heart of it all. She has been a big help and I think has gotten a deep, inside look into all the joys and frustrations of micro-credit.

Yesterday we tried a new activity where we gathered a group of women to all work on coin purses together and see how many we could make. It has been one of my longest activities (3 1/2 hrs.) and after all that time we had finished only 10 coin purses. We had a couple women stay and finish up, but Laura and I went home exhausted (before all 30 purse were finished). The coin purses that we finished are suppose to be U.S. bound, but our group lacks the "exportable" training to really make their products sell-able outside of the U.S. We think next time we need to have more sewing machines, bigger space, more examples of what is "exportable." DHF is trying all kinds of new things with our women and learning as we go - just like the women.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Skirts and Shirts come to an end

Our sewing class ended today. The women that came today were putting the last touches on their skirts. It turned out that the women had enough material to make more than a mini-skirt, but some women reassured me that they were still planning on making a mini skirt in the future. Gloria is here modeling her new skirt - notice her skirt passes the knees.

The general feedback from the women was that they loved the class (but then again I have yet to hear back from women that they don't love the classes we hold). Women talked about making more skirts and shirts for their family members - but also use this new skill as another business opportunity. A skill that pays. The women continued to tell me they need more practice, practice, practice so that they can become really good sewers. This month there will be more opportunity to practice as we've decided to offer a Pants class. From the planning side I know we have definitely learned some things through this class. In the future we will stray away from a month long class as we tend to lose participants that have a hard time with the time commitment. More sewing machines and less screaming kids are also in the future sewing class agenda.

This week is special for DHF - we have a fabulous volunteer working with us here in the field. Laura arrived yesterday and has already visited 4 different groups. Nothing like throwing her into the fire. She has been such a great trooper; very open and talkative with the women and a huge heart that shows she is interested in getting some good feedback for Discover Hope to use in the future. Hope to have some of her thoughts in the next posting.....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Our blouse model

Our women have finished phase one of our almost month long sewing class - the blouse. Ismeralda, the daughter of one of the students, was kind enough to model for us. Now the women are working on their skirts. We had enough material that each women is making a skirt for herself. They will be modeling them next week - however some of the women are joking that they are making mini skirts (because the material they have isn't enough to go past their knees). You have to tune in next week to find out!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Family Planning in the countryside

Fishing game for Family Planning information

The famous banana - condom demostration

The kids were learning along with the adults - how does the pill work?

We held our last health session in the countryside this past Saturday. Our last topic was Family Planning and it was a hit. We actually held two sessions on Family Planning since there wasn't enough time in one afternoon to talk about all the methods that partners can use. Women had questions, were laughing and hopefully walked away with some more knowledge. At most of our sessions it wasn't so much just adult sessions; the kiddos were there with us listening, playing games and answering questions. In Peruvian culture kids are always included. They are exposed at such a young age to real life things that adults would never dream of in the U.S.

I hope that the new health information is truly used. I am finding more and more through my conversation with women that with their partners women have very little power or say in decisions. Often times they have to ask their partner for permission to go somewhere or do something. So I wonder how this translates to health decisions and how much power women can exercise. We didn't address this topic in our class, but with more informed women I can only hope for some type of shift in power. I also realize this doesn't happen overnight, so in the meantime we have got to support women in any and all ways possible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sewing away


The beginning s of a blouse....Upon the ladies request we have embraced and created sewing classes. From what I was hearing from women, I thought they all knew how to sew. I was wrong. Last month we had a sewing purses class, this month we are "making our own clothes." In our purses classes everyone finished their purse and left the class with a smile of satisfaction. This clothes making class got the women a little more frustrated. They were measuring, making lines, cuts, things that were way more advanced than our purses. The month long class of clothes making will prove a test of math and patience for some of our women.

An another unrelated note our Artesian Fair ended. The women that participated were so content with the outcome and asking me, "when is the next Fair?" We'll see. I am on Fair recovery mode right now. It was a lot of work and to put together another Fair we need to be a little bit better organized. The outcome was between 10 women we sold 462 soles worth of earrings, ponchos and purses. That translates to about $165. This doesn't include the food that was sold, so I would round it up to more than 500 soles - almost $200. The women say it was worth it!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

For Sale!

We are in the heart of our 2nd Artesian Fair. I thought the first one was a lot of work - this one is 5x the energy. (It's also a lot longer - an entire week of selling). We are on Day 5 and have sold some things here and there, but not as much as I was hoping for. Many people have passed by our stand, interested, asking, commenting, "how beautiful"...but not buying. One of our groups worked really, really hard to make ponchos for this fair, and as of today still haven't sold anything. Breaks my heart. For me it is so eye-opening to be on the selling side. Even just selling one little thing - an earring for less than a dollar, brings hope to a women struggling to get by. I have often been on the buying side, "too much money," "not interested right now...." or whatever other excuse there might be. That buy that I almost made, or make in the future, that is hope for someone on the other side. Reassurance. Support. Got to keep our head up - the big buy is coming soon....

In the meantime we are holding mini classes in our stand to attract more customers. This afternoon it was sewing with ribbon. At one point we had a crowd of more than 20 people checking us out. It is good propaganda for Discover Hope and a huge self esteem boost (or embarrassing moment) for our women. But, after today we may have recruited a whole new bank of women, who knows?

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Exhausted...nice title, huh? There is really no other word to describe how I feel. This has been the fullest, most stressful week of my Discover Hope life in Peru - new banks, classes, Strategic Planning meetings, disagreements with co-works, somewhat normal things that just seem to pile up one on top of another. Oh, and our Artesian Fair started yesterday. I was expecting about 20 plus women to participate with their goods, and as of yet we have less than half of that. Everyone backed out on me in the last minute - no time, can't do it, we don't have enough things to sell. We are making the most of it and gonna sell what the women have - which is beautiful stuff. I just think we might run out of stuff in the next couple of days and then we will be left with an empty stand. Hoping we are left with an empty stand because that means that people will have sold things! That is the point.

I was planning on leaving the women in charge of the stand to sell, but being that this is our 2nd Feria we are a little low on the experience side. So I am spending more time in our stand than I had planned - working overtime, but since my brother is coming soon, I will reclaim my free time to entertain.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Walk, Walk

I desperately have been wanting to walk out in the countryside - go for a day hike up one of the gorgeous mountains surrounding Cajamarca. This past month I begged my friends. No one would go, or they stayed out too late at the disco to get up early, or I canceled because I was sick.
Finally yesterday my walking wish came true. Hugo and I walked up to a laguna about 2 hours straight up from Cajamarca. There were no towns, no traffic, no music. Just some donkeys, wood gatherers, birds and scattered adobe houses spread throughout the countryside. It was lovely to be near an aparently clean lake, especially with my as of late wave of homesick for midwest summer activities. We rested under the bright sun with the peace that only a countryside hike brings.
We returned to Cajamarca with tired legs and happy hearts. I entered work today with the confidence and peace of mastering an enormous mountain only yesterday. Part of my work day consisted of going out with one of our loan recipients this afternoon to visit women interested in our rural health sessions - recruiting the troops for a better turnout this coming Saturday. I walked around with Juana in the countryside to visit women, interview them about their families, kids, and favorite health topics. We stayed close by her house and actually didn't walk that much; which my legs were grateful. We started to finish up at 6:30, because the last public transport minivan/combi leaves at 7pm. I played the waiting, waiting, waiting for the combi game. Juana, her friend and I watched the sunset while we waited and I finally realized that the combi might not come.

Let's start walking...

Juana's friend and I began our countryside hike back to Banos de Inca, a town which most definitely has combi's at night. My legs began to ask me, Why? I had no good answer, except that we couldn't stay out in the countryside waiting for a minivan that might never stop by. After a nice conversation about loans, loan sharks and families with my new friend - and 40 minutes later - we arrived in Banos de Inca, just in time to catch the combi arriving from the countryside from our departing spot.

Walking when you want it is thrilling, filling, and peaceful. Walking for necessity doesn't hold the same emotions. Walking to get to the breathtaking view that awaits ontop of the mountain inspires awe. Walking in order to get back to house is tiring, long, and sometimes painful. I got to experience both within 24 hours. Who knows what walk awaits me tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Run around

I just need to vent....AAAAUUUUGGGHHH! I can't believe I spent all morning yesterday going around inviting and convincing women to come to a Business/Money management workshop today only to find out in the last minute this morning that our contracted accountant is home sick. After a morning in the countryside yesterday eating crackers, corn and fried pork with women while talking about how great this business workshop is going to be - I had to spend the same amount of time in the phone booth making calls to tell them not to come. I know people get sick- I was just there so I completely understand - but it is just is so much more difficult in this country to organize, cancel and then reschedule. One more shout for venting purposes...AAAAAAUUUUGGGHHHHH!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

House Call

My health is getting closer and closer to normal. It feels so wonderful to have my body back. I have to share some of my weekend health experiences because they are just so not U.S. like (at least not what I remember). On Saturday I just couldn't handle my throat pain anymore so I ventured out to visit the visiting Medical Mission of U.S. doctors at the local hospital. To my disappointment the U.S. doctors finished their work on Friday, so that was a no go. Since I wasn't going back to the clinic that I went to last time, I decided to visit the Centro Medico Padre Luis Tezza where we worked with our women for health trainings a couple of months ago. The nuns there know how to run the show, treat people with love and respect and although the door was closed because they were getting ready for a special mass - they let me in and got me in with a Doc right away. Special, red carpet treatment. Because of my strep throat I had to receive a shot right smack dab in my bottom. Again, my Doc gave me his personal cell phone number so that his wife could stop by my house today to give me my second shot.

Yesterday after my shot I headed out to my rural health education session with our spectacular new nurse, Yardeni. We had a successful first session two weeks ago, but this time around we had 2 returning participants. 2 out of 8 ain't bad, but it ain't great either. There was a total of 6 women, so we got started, learned about what I was just sick with and had an active afternoon. Although it was a great session, I was still disappointed with our turnout. Yardeni and I have to do some serious brainstorming before our next session about increasing participation.

This morning I woke up feeling lots better and calling my Doc's wife about my follow up medical shot. They said they would be right over. A lovely couple (both Doctors) that have actually worked in the countryside before and understood my frustrations with working with low turnout 'campo' groups and the turn from interested to no-show groups. After my shot, we chatted. The couple not only offered their services for our women's groups, but also invited me to a weekend in their country home at the end of the month, complete with B.day party and bullfighting. I thanked them with a bag of U.S. fruit flavored tea (compliments to mom), which made me feel like I was living in bartering time; a sack of potatoes for health care, coconuts for rice, and in this case tea for a medical shot. Without saying, my mood changed drastically from yesterday's disappointing and frustrating health session experience to hopeful and happy in spirit after my house call. I need to go to Centro Medico more often, visit my Doctor to brainstorm how to improve services with Discover Hope and also increase my social life travel options.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Despite the circumstances...

It has been a hard week. Not work wise, but health wise. The past two weeks my stomach hasn't been quite right. I went to the doctor (3x in one day) to see the Doc. He thought it was Giardia and "you need to give samples." Well that took more days of uncomfort before I could take some meds. Turns out it isn't Giardia, but another parasite, and my Doc gave me the wrong prescription. So I am on the second dose of meds which seems to be cleaning out something. Funny thing when I called the Doc last night he told me - "come to the clinic and knock on my door on the 3rd floor." I don't get it, it took me forever to get an appointment with him, but after I saw him once he give me his personal cell phone and says, "call anytime." I guess I can't be too mad at getting the wrong meds, since he is at my fingertips. Well as I am trying to purge myself, I started getting another bug. Some kind of chill, cold, fever bug. I hope this isn't a side affect of the meds and will pass quicker than the parasites. It definitely isn't all glamorous here in the Development work world.

Although it was a difficult health week, I was still in the countryside and chatting it up with women groups. I visited the literacy group Jehova and things kinda fall into perspective. One of the grandson of the house had lost 2 of his fingers in a work accident while another family member was taken away by Police because of some car dispute. But the women were still working hard at their literacy class, despite the circumstances. That is what it is all about, despite whatever is out there, as human beings we just got to pick ourselves up and deal, work, live, and love it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rural Health Start

We started our first rural health session this weekend. We had a decent turnout - 8 women. The hope was to start at 3:00, but it turned out to be closer to Peruvian time, 4:30pm. The topic was respiratory infections, a hot topic now a days that the weather has cooled down quite a bit at night and all the kiddos are coming down with these dangerous coughs and colds. I was very impressed with our nurse, Yardeni, who was very patience and composed during the whole session, despite the late start and different levels of interest among the women. We set up a 2 month trial period to test our rural health education sessions - so will still have two more months to go to see if we can rally more women and interest and education.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Everyone has a story. A heartache. A survivor of something. A secret that comes out when it needs to or when it finds a door to leave. This week I had very touching conversations with two of our loan recipients. Two women that have been working really hard these past couple of months, coming to our classes and making a go of their businesses. Two women, that from a casual conversation, you would never guess their heartache and struggle. Both of these women are older, retired, but are still working in order to support their families. Common threads they share and may not even know it. They both have husbands that haven't contributed to the family needs, money that goes to alcohol, absence that pains beyond the lack of material needs. Tears that needed to come out. Picking up bottles to make extra money. Businesses destroyed. Entrepreneurs by necessity. Possessing internal Power and Light beyond their own knowledge.

In listening to their stories and providing the small words of comfort and strength I could find, I can only wonder, what are the stories behind all the other women? Do they all share a similar pain? A similar light? The beautiful thing about these two women is that they show up. They are taking advantage of opportunities. They are why Discover Hope is here right now. They are going door to door to sell jewelry - jewelry that they learned how to make only a couple of months ago. They have strength. They have beauty. They have light.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Proud of my Macrame-er's

I went to pick up my Dad in Lima and life as I know it continued in Cajamarca. I left Cajamarca with one Macrame (knotting art) class under our belt. We had 10 women start a month long Macrame course (once a week) and what I witnessed the first class was the women learning their first knot and making bracelets. I missed their 2nd class, but when I returned to Cajamarca with my Dad for their 3rd class some of the women were working on their second belt! I was so proud. We have one more class to go next week and I have a feeling we may have to offer another month of class come July.

It is exciting that my Dad gets to witness all this cool stuff happening with our women. He is taking Spanish classes in the mornings and visiting my groups with me in the afternoon. Starting tomorrow we are going to start to squeeze in some touristy kinda stuff, like thermal baths and waterfall and window mountain hiking. My Dad has been a trooper as we both got some kinda of crazy stomach bug, but both got up in the morning and tackled the day, bugs and all. We are feeling better now and are packing in activities with the days that remain of his visit.

The women really enjoy meeting my Dad. Coming to Peru alone and living and working alone is a bit strange for people that come from a very family focused culture. They love not only meeting my "young" Dad, but I think also seeing another part of me. Just waiting for more visitors to come so that my women can put together all the pieces of my family.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Wool Dying Teach and Learn

Cleaning wool with boiling water....
Taking out yarn from our "coloring" pot.
If you remember a blog from a couple of months ago - there are members of one of our village banks that were learning how to dye wool with natural plants. Those same members were teaching others this afternoon how to dye wool. Teaching is the greatest learning process in my book, because of the transfer of knowledge that the teacher passes on reinforces the knowledge that one holds in their head. Priscilla and Andrea did a great job. They had this group of 6 women wrapped around their fingers. We cleaned their wool and yarn with boiling water, boiled the plants in a big pot, and added the wool for 1/2 hour to "cook" and absorb the color. We were hoping for a green, but got yellow yarn. The general consensus was,"not bad for our first time." The group learned that they need to gather more plants if they want to have a stronger color, their wool needs to be clean (no grease or poop), and they can easily dye wool naturally instead of using chemicals (which is how all of the women currently dye their yarn). I told the group that they need to try it again - see how it goes - and if they need help, we'll call the experts and get Priscilla and Andrea back in action.
Rinsing finished yarn/wool in canal next to house.
All finished, let it dry in the sun.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Taking out the Air

Last night I had a new, surprising cultural experience. Things still shock me after 6 months. I took some folks out to dinner that have been helping Discover Hope in various different ways, a Thank You chicken and French fries dinner of sorts. Dinner was great, we had great laughs and the mayo/ketchup combo for our fries was perfect. I was having a little headache at the end of dinner and everyone seemed to know exactly why. "Because of the air, we need to take some out..." I was skeptical, but everyone was in complete unison agreement, so I thought, "Why not, take my air out." Nidia then grabbed some of my hair on the top on my head and tried to pull it out. It didn't come. She tried again and again. Nothing. My friend Paola also had air, so Nidia did the same thing with her, but this time it worked. She pulled a very small bundle of hair out of the top of her head and there was a popping sound. Paola smiled with relief. Well it just so happened that everyone had air in their head and Nidia took care of it, everyone except for me. She said I was too nervous that is why she couldn't help me. You tell me, how would you feel if someone tried to take hair out of the top of your head?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cooking with octopus

There are some personal benefits to the activities I organize with my women groups. I get to try new foods (that I might not otherwise try). One of the village banks requested a cooking class - a loan recipient in this group opened a small restaurant and wants to learn more recipes so she can add a variety of plates to her menu. So I found the teacher, bought the pork and seafood (including octopus) this morning, the other ladies went to the market to get the other ingredients and we starting cooking away. Our teacher was fabulous, giving little tips here and there to help the women save money, invest better and produce a better quality plate at the end of the morning. We started cooking at 9:30 and an hour later we ate our first plate - seafood ceviche with sweet potato and yuca. It was delicious. Our class didn't end there. We were also cooking another famous Lima pork dish - Carapulca. For not liking pork, I have to tell you all it was also delicious. I ate two plates worth. I felt like I was in the presence of a growing business. Vanessa, the restaurant owner, claimed that she will make the new dish Carapulca on Monday and see how her customers like it. You can't get any more "putting into practice learning" than this.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More Ribbon, More Money

I think we got another good one. Jewelry was a hit with our ladies and now we have gathered more energy around ribbon. I never would have planned this, but then again when you let development work happen through the voice of the women, they are the ones that create their opportunities. In the next couple of months we are going to let women go wild with jewelry and we are going to hold some new workshops - one which has already started. Sewing with Ribbon. We are making some headway. One of the women that came to the workshop has already used her sewing skills and was contracted to sew flowers on 5 pairs of pants for 5 soles each - Total: 25 soles = $9.25 more money than she had before.

I am finding through my interactions with women that our educational opportunities provide an alternative income for our women. Often times the women learn a new skill that they can use to provide additional income, not much, but something more than they had before. Also, it brings women together. Anytime you bring women together in a country where women have a small voice, it creates more power, confidence, and positive energy. I was reminded of this when I was out in the countryside and one of our small, humble banks gathered and told me, "Nora, we are making more ponchos. We want to participate in the next Artesian Fair and we want to have lots of products to sell since we didn't get to sell last time."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Showing off

We held our fourth jewelry workshop (and last one, at least for a bit). Our jewelry workshop facilitator has a passion for teaching sewing, so the hope is to attract new faces to a different workshop next month. We had 11 women come on Saturday and instead of making necklaces and bracelets, we made rings. I even made one (mine was a little loose and the process convinced me that I won't be opening a jewelry business anytime soon). However since many of the women sew, and we had to sew the pearls onto the ring base, they found the process easy. The women pictured here have finished with their rings and are showing them off.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Marmalade, Finally!

One of the village banks has been asking me for the past 2 months to set up a marmalade class. One of the women in their group sells in the market - so the group wants to use her position in the market to generate more income for the entire group. Well, we found a women that makes delicious marmalade and is willing to teach, so we set up the class this week. After all the asking and trying coordinate - it happened, with 2 women. I am not disappointed, at least the 2 women came. I have tried to organize classes where less than 2 women were present. Besides the 2 women from the village bank, there were two other women from different banks present - so we actually had a nice little crowd. We made the marmalade from the fruit tomatillo and it turned out to be pretty tasty. During the class the women were writing down the recipe and asking questions. I told them at their next group meeting they should make marmalade so we can see if they learned the recipe. They laughed and nodded.

Although there wasn't a big fair or mother's day event this week, my days were still full of surprises and headaches. On Monday there was a transportation strike, so I was stuck with all the plastic chairs from our event on Friday and no way to get them back to the office. It was actually probably the first time I was scared for my safety here in Peru. The strikers were throwing rocks and pinching tires of other taxi drivers that weren't honoring the strike. A friend of a loan recipient saved the day and the chairs and I got back to the office in one piece.
I also went to visit one of the literacy groups this week - and to celebrate Mother's Day (and their 2 month mark) they were having a little bar-b-que. I actually couldn't stay for the meat because I had another group, but it was a nice surprise to see this group coming together after their class in celebration.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ponchos in the Making

I am so proud of this group. Last month the village bank Triunfo met their literacy/knitting/crochet teacher and started classes the same week. On Saturday the group invited my co-workers and I out to eat lunch with them, for Mother's day. It was a delicious meal (thank goodness no guinea pig this time). Before the meal they all brought out their ponchos. One woman has finished and is planning on selling it for 20 soles ($7) and is already planning on buying more yarn so she can make another one. The group also showed us their literacy notebooks. Nelly has really got this group united and excited about learning. Lorenza, the president, was disappointed that they couldn't participate in the Fair that we held last week, but told us on Sat., "now we know how to make something and we can participate in the next Artesian Fair."