Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cheesy Independence Day Occurrences

Just as you all were celebrating Independence Day earlier this month, it was our turn in Peru. However, unlike in the U.S. where we take one day (or a long weekend if you are lucky), in Peru you take the whole week. This month has just been one long-hard-to-get-women-to-class month. The transportation strikes didn't help. The week long holiday didn't help either.

Monday we held our last class of the month and made plastic swans. Attendance was low, due to the Independence Day festivities. But, the women that came had a great time. Plastic swans, I know, it sounds a little cheesy. Cheesy sells here in Peru. These swans are a hit at parties. I had a number of women tell me that they are going to make more for their friends and families, including for a wedding coming up in August.

On the topic of cheesy (sorry, I get this humor from my Dad) and Independence Day (on a more personal note), my sweetheart Hugo and I went to the 'country' fair yesterday. Hugo was participating in a cheese sculpture contest, the first of it's kind in Cajamarca. It reminded me of summer Minnesota state fair days when you go into the dairy barn and see butter sculptures of the Dairy Queens. So on that note I wish you all reminders of wonderful memories where ever your summer days make take you, however cheesy they may be.

Paz, Nora

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Class, New Cut

Just a little peek into a new class that DiscoverHope offered yesterday: Cosmetology. I never would have thought in my life that I would organize cosmetology classes. Women asked for it and they got it. This month was the trial run for cosmetology course - starting with Hair Cuts - the most basic and the most difficult. Rosa, a loan recipient from the village bank Virgen de Guadalupe, was our teacher and had told me that most people have a fear of putting scissors to another person's hair. That was not the case yesterday. Our women were cutting away, laughing and examining one another's cuts. The motive for a lot of women to come to this course is based on the idea of saving money. "Instead of having someone else cut my daughter's hair or style it for a special event in school (which happens frequently here in Peru), I want to learn and save money."
We will have another Hair cutting course the first week in August, where we will all squeeze into Rosa's little salon again and practice, practice, practice the details of the cut. After that, the sky is the limit. Colors, waves, hair do's, nails. I'll keep you posted on the new styles to come.
Paz ~ Nora

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scarves not Strikes

The transportation strike update is good. The strike is over. It ended on Tuesday night (earlier than what the rumors indicated) - which means we have been able to continue with life as normal. That means having a full class yesterday. Here you can see I am modeling the scarf that our class participants learned how to crochet yesterday. It was a popular design that our women seemed to fall in love with right away. Our teacher Carmen suggested selling the scarf for 20 soles(= $7) together with a hat. Our women seemed to think this was a lot of money; but Carmen reminded them a lot of work goes into this model. Plus, it is a unique model to Cajamarca. I tried my hands at the crochet techinque and failed miserably. But, since I now know 17 women that can make the same model for me I can just buy a beautiful scarf from one of them.

Paz ~ Nora

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Transportation Strike

Work just got more difficult this week. There is a national transportation strike that is rumored to go on all week. Yesterday and today there was no public transportation. That is how our women get everywhere; that is how I get everywhere. The prices of taxis have gone sky high and make it close to impossible for some of our women to come to classes. I happened to plan 4 classes this week, one of which was cancelled yesterday. How convenient! Amazingly, 8 women and their kids came to our chocolate making class today. They came from far and wide.

Tomorrow when I look out my window and see no minivans or combis and only mototaxis the rumor will come true of the extended strike. It has been like a pilgrimage everyday. I see groups of women, men, children walking down the highway because there is no transportation. From the little bit I understand the strike is going on because of changes in the law that do not favor folks that live off of public transportation (for example, a new law states that you can not have standing passengers in your bus or combi, which is an everyday phenomenon here). Will keep you posted, that is after I make my pilgrimage to the office tomorrow.

Paz ~ Nora

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Education behind the Project

On Friday I went out with Tula to visit her and one of our groups during one of their educational sessions. The four groups that are participating in this health initiative gather every other week to learn about a new health topic related to improvements that each family can make in their houses to ultimately better their health. The educational session this past week was on Respiratory Infections - how to prevent and cure them - and one of the main elements helping the family do exactly this is the construction of better mud stoves to eliminate smoke in the kitchen. The session was held in Santos' house. The group of about 10 mother's and daughters gathered in her dark living room while Tula prepared a 'movie' that was broadcast through her laptop. Tula was very interactive and informative with our women. They asked questions, responded to her answers and in the end learned a thing or two about respiratory infections. Each family made a promise to work on 1 specific action to prevent infections in their family members; for example, provide more ventilation in their house to air out their "germs and bacterias" or to cover their mouth with their arm and not their hand. Simple things.

About mid way through the session the women had a difficult time hearing Tula speak because the construction workers entered into Santo's kitchen to work on her stove. It was great that they were there to make some progress, it just happened to be bad timing for the educational session. Regardless, everyone walked away from the session with their health homework and new information about the health of their family members.

Santos is pictured here in her kitchen while the construction workers make some advances on her stove.

Paz ~ Nora

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lizeth update

So a little update on Lizeth. She went to the high school and had little luck. She was able to sell enough for her transportation costs, but didn't hit a jackpot with the students. She wants to try a different high school, but will have to wait until August. Schools in Cajamarca have closed because of the swine flu scare, until August, after Peruvian Independence Day celebrations at the end of the month. But Lizeth's spirits are still high; she came to sewing with ribbon class this week and learned a new skill. Now she has double market duty, as she has to find a market for her ribbon towel design.

Paz, Nora

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Meet Lizeth

Lizeth is part of the village bank San Juanito. She is one of our very active loan recipients; she comes to every class she can and actually puts into practice what she learns. For example last year when we offered a mermelade class she put a sign up on her little store 'tienda' that she sells mermelade, even before she learned how to make it. Lizeth has two little kids, one who always comes and runs around during classes asking me for cookies. Lizeth's husband is a truck driver and any extra income Lizeth can make helps increase the family income. Lizeth has been coming to all of our jewelry classes and yesterday she came to class with her 'Jewelry Cloth' full. After class she is planning on going to the high school near her house to offer her earrings to the girls. Lizeth told me that in her tienda she sells very little jewelry because her neighbors don't have the money or aren't interested in jewelry. So the high school is her new market. When she comes to class again tomorrow I'll ask her how her sales increased at the high school.

Paz ~ Nora

Friday, July 10, 2009

Welcome to my world

...come on in!It has been a rollercoaster this week, last week. The ups and downs of development work definitely feel like a rollercoaster sometimes. DOWN. One of our classes has to be re-scheduled because our teacher's daughter got sick and she couldn't leave her at home or bring her with as she lives more than an hour and a half out of town, up the mountain. UP. We celebrated with one of our literacy groups, for finishing their 3 month classes and improving on their exams, with a very, very big lunch. DOWN. Another class was (not so strategically) planned on the same day there was a transportation strike and we had few participants come and make jewelry. UP. Tula and I found a new, motivated family to replace a family that dropped out of the health project due to lack of motivation and family initiative.

I am ready for a roller coaster break this weekend. Some time to be still and not move in one direction or the other.

Paz ~ Nora

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Health Steps 2

This is one of 15 houses I visited yesterday. As I went to bed last night I couldn't help but think about the bedrooms of our families; some of them with wooden walls, some with tin scraps, some with plastic so that the wind doesn't enter. Humbling and inspiring that change can happen in these little places.

Paz ~ Nora

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Health Steps

The stove bed, ready for the construction of mud stove.
Santos is pictured here with two of her children in front of her humble house - She has made many improvements; including separating her children's bedroom space with a simple curtain and preparing her stove bed.
Tula is motivating one of our families by examinig their house homework list.

Health and Hope do mix. Today I spent the day with Tula, our amazing health promoter with GyC, who took me on an all day tour of 1/2 of our families in the health project to see our progress and some roadblocks. It was a very eye opening experience and at the end of the day, although my shoulders and feet hurt, I was deeply grateful to be surrounded by Tula's positive energy and encouragement and be witness to our families small and big advances.

Our 30 families have been preparing for the big day on Sunday - when they receive their materials for the mud stoves. Each family had to prepare the "bed" of the stove by placing mud bricks strategically in the appropriate corner of their kitchens. Some of our families have very humble kitchens, made out of wood pieces and covered in plastic, which made the construction of their bed a bit difficult. However, despite the humblest conditions, the families have prepared their kitchen walls for paint, evened-out floors, created new doorways into their kitchens and most importantly prepared their stove bed.

Granted, there are a couple of families that are a little behind on their homework. Some of our families have husbands that can only work on their stoves on Sundays, their one day off. This makes it difficult to advance with the family promise to complete their part of the house homework as part of the project. Some of the men in our families have problems with alcohol and on their day off they aren't present to help. There are economic roadblocks - the money to buy a $1 plastic curtain to separate the parents and children bedroom space isn't readily available; sometimes there isn't even money for the kids to take the bus to school activities. Situations that would pain your heart and put tears in your eyes.

One of the families that is participating in the project is a family of 9 that lives in one very small bedroom and cooks in a small, dark kitchen. But let me tell you this family has already made their "hygiene" corner and cleaned up all their books and clothes that used to be all over the floor and have now found their own clean place in the bedroom they all share. These are topics that Tula hasn't covered yet in her health sessions, but one of the family members that went on our Health field trip earlier this month was inspired to start working on improvements on their house. I saw these type of improvements in the humblest of houses; small houses with wooden walls with spaces in between, but order and cleanliness take top priority.

Situations are difficult. There are excuses. There isn't money. There isn't time. But, there are also improvements. And in the eyes on the little kiddos I saw today I know that this project, our support, and all of Tula's endless work weeks has a grand purpose. We are taking little steps towards better health. Better health doesn't happen overnight, in one month or even in two. In happens through relationships, confidence, learning, and small steps. And I can reassure you that we are on the road to better health.

Paz and Salud ~ Nora