I have started developing two community projects along with 8 students. These 8 students are from the church of Secada-Iquitos and from the church in the city of Nauta. The theme chosen by the two groups is working towards the improvement of waste management in their neighborhoods. They have decided to works towards this issue because they are all personally affected by the poor public waste control. Each neighborhood in Iquitos has a daily scheduled time in which the garbage truck will come to pick up their trash. Citizens are expected to wait for the garbage truck 15 minutes before it arrives and hand in their garbage to sanitation personnel. The problem is that most people place their trash in street corners instead of waiting for the garbage truck everyday. Further on, since there is not an animal control department in the county streets dogs are another problem because they usually tear the garbage bags open in an effort to find food. The aftermath of it all are neighborhood with street corners filled garbage bags and street dogs.
The church of Secada has chosen to start their project in the shantytown of “Ollanta Humala”. On the other hand, the church of Nauta has chosen the shantytown “Junta Vecinal 30 de Agosto”. My hope is for the community members to become involved in the development and management of the projects. We want these developing towns to start segregating their trash between recyclable material and organic waste. The neighbors could sell the recyclable material and the organic waste could also be utilized to create fertilizers or other products. Further on, the creation of a communal garden would be an excellent way of utilizing the fertilizer produced. It would also empower communities to produce consumable goods. There are many possibilities for this project. The trash is there, all is needing is the proper organization of neighbors.
We are currently talking with the municipality of San Juan to figure out how we could work together. We have meet with “Environmental Division” twice and so far they have expressed they will support our project by providing professional advice. An agronomist and a chemist are scheduled to do a field study next Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. Additionally, we have recently found out that the “Division of Women” from the Municipality of San Juan has a program for women in which they instruct them on how to garden and provide them with the appropriate material to get started. They do this every few months. They are currently wrapping up the work they have been doing with 15 neighborhoods in Iquitos. They will be accepting new neighborhoods into their program late July. I think this would be a wonderful addition to our project.
Further on, we are researching possible recycling businesses we can sell our goods to. Today I visited three recycling businesses along with one of the students from Secada. One of them only accepts plastic bottles and white paper. Recycling business number two is currently not operating. Recycling business number three “Procesadora Plasticos del Oriente” accepts most types of plastic bottles and plastic bags. They have a factory in which they produce all types of plastic bags. I still need to find out who busy cardboard, aluminum, glass, and other recyclable materials. Lastly, we are expecting to go to “Ollanta Humala” next Thursday to inform and invite the community coordinators to become involved with our project. We need momentum for our project and this is why it is essential to get them involved.
While I have been working on this, Pedro has been busy coordinating everything for the Eagle Condor volunteers that will come next week to do community service.
The first time I learned about the microcredit concept developed by Muhammad Yunus was in the autobiography of former Mexican president Vicente Fox. In this book he talked about how this simple concept was changing the lives of thousands of families around the globe and how he was excited about running similar programs in the rural areas of Mexico. I of course, felt excited about the possibilities and since then I have been eager to be a part of this movement. I wanted to find an internship that involved working for a non-profit organization with an economic development program. This is why I decided to intern for self-reliant program offered by Eagle Condor Humanitarian.
During my time here, I wanted to learn about the impact and effectiveness of the Self Reliant Program. How many people it is actually serving? How ECH is making a difference in their lives? My desire was to obtain all of this information from the students themselves by asking them about their quality of life and their opinions about the class.
Additionally, I aspired to understand about the types and the cost of investment of the businesses students were interested in generating. Further on, being a Peruvian, I was interested in discovering the differences, similarities and the unique necessities of the population here. Since, Iquitos is secluded from the rest of the country I had the desire to live here and experience the reality of this city. My last goal was to share the adaptive leadership concepts I learned at the Westside Leadership Institute and help the population here develop community projects.
So far, I have met a great part of the students personally and learned about their lives and their business plans. For example, some of the business plans are:
- Raising chickens. During the annual Iquitos festivity of “San Juan” everybody eats “Juanes” this is a typical dish of the area that is made of rice and chicken. The demand for chicken will be high during this time and thus all the people who raise chickens are hoping on big returns for their investments.
- Mom-popshops. Every neighborhood in Iquitos has at least 4 mom-and popshops. Super markets are barely starting to emerge here; this is why most people still buy first necessity items in their neighborhood mom-popshop.
- Crafts. Iquitos is a tourist city and the business of selling hand-made crafts is still a profitable enterprise.
- Public Restrooms. The sewage and running water systems here are still lacking in the area. Most people get water in their houses for several hours during the day meaning they have to fill all their containers with the water they will use for the day. Additionally, the governor of the state of Loreto was in charge of reconstructing the sewage system of the area, this project turned into a big corruption scandal. The result of it all: a sewage constructions project that was left abandoned without being finished and millions of soles in the governor’s bank account.
Most of the students that I talk to estimate that the initial cost of investment for their businesses will be around $2,000. I wish I had checks of $2,000 to hand out to like candy, but I don’t.
Coordinating to receive funds from the local government has been challenging for the most part since things are very bureaucratic here and time consuming. As of now, Iquitos is on election season and for the most part politicians are more interested in their campaigns and reelection. Another fact to consider is that any of the agreement developed this year would come into effect 2015.
So far, the good side about my experience here is the development of the community projects. The classes in Secada and Nauta have received the first course on adaptive leadership! Both groups decided to tackle the issues of waste management and have chosen a “secretary” for their meetings. We are all super excited about the projects and are ready to work.
I would have to say this week was my least productive week. My boss Pedro Reategui left to Lima for the whole week and left me with little instructions and money (transportation money to the the weekly visits we are supposed to do all over town). He was too busy to have a real detail chat about my specific duties for the week. He works for two non-profits and he is the bishop of an LDS church here; sometimes I feel I have to compete for his attention. The only real successes for the week were:
- The class in the church of Secada, we began discussing about the possible themes we will be tackling with our community project and discussed the adaptive leadership model. The class left strongly about doing a community project on the theme of domestic violence or sex education. Our class finished at 9:20 p.m. We were so excited about the possibilities that we lost track of time. We will continue with our discussion this week.
- On Sunday afternoon, I held a private literacy course for a sister that also comes to our self-reliant class. She is around fifty years old and is from the church of Secada. We practiced writing and readings B’s and CH’s. I visited her house and got to spend time with her. She started reading this week! Seeing her progress in our lesson is really rewarding. I am really excited about our future classes.
Further on, since I was not doing much in the mornings I decided to enroll in a college preparation course. I consulted with my boss about this and he was very encouraging about it. In Peru, state universities are the most affordable options for students since the tuition charges are low; nevertheless, getting into these universities is very competitive. Most students take at least ½ a year to prepare for the entrance exams.
In the States students compete to get high scores on the ACT; here people compete with their peers. The state university in Iquitos is the “National University of the Peruvian Amazon”, each school year there are 300 spots and around 2,000 students will compete for those spots. Only the 300 best students will be eligible to attend the university that year. The entrance exam usually tests you on: mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, ecology, literature, Peruvian history and logic.
That being said, since I will be soon taking the GRE or the GMAT, I thought that it would not be a bad idea to use my mornings and review those classes. I started my first class today and so far it went okay. Most of my classmates are about 17 years old and thus I can feel most of the students are not very focused on the course work like most teenagers; however, I spotted a few that were really trying. I will have enough time to do the prep. Course and my internship here since most of my responsibilities for ECH are on the afternoon and at night. The prep course starts at 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; hence, I have to wake up earlier now, so good night.
P.S. An Other memorable event of the week was:
- Being harassed by a Huuge toad as I was waiting for people to come to open a classroom from the church of Delfines . Me and the mototaxi driver a.k.a. as Pedro's stepfather Don Oscar were tranquilly waiting, as this toad approach and decided to sit three feet away from us. I of course started to climb the mototaxi every time it got closer. Yes, I screamed and I begged Don Oscar to either kill it or at least throw a rock at it to shooo it away. He, on the other hand, could not stop laughing as he was trying to convince me about the kindness, usefulness (it eats mosquitos) and tastiness of the subject. Yes, I am afraid of amphibians except for turtles because everybody knows they are cute.
I appreciate more than ever the involvement of citizens that are brave enough to go against the status quo and protest or display their concerns about the society they live in. With that in mind, countries like Venezuela or Brazil don’t seem so chaotic anymore, because in the midst of all that commotion the impulse that creates change is born. I now see the vitality that the work of activists, artists, students, the agitators of the masses in the process of development and consciousness. Further on, I better understand Ernesto Guevara’s reasons in choosing to fight for the Cuban revolution. During his time in Mexico City he was surrounded by many other prominent Latin-American figures that had become exiled for various reasons like fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico or being a member of the socialist party in Peru and getting into trouble with the opposition. Guevara had the opportunity to join any of these political movements but he choose the Cuban Revolution because of their strong leadership, commitment and devotion to the cause; in other words, to him this was the most serious effort to actually create a real communist change in the hemisphere and thus he joined. Not to say that we all must join serious communist groups to create change in our societies but at least have the some of the commitment this men/women had for their country. I see this as being first step in creating any meaningful transformation.
When I ask people here what they think it’s the biggest issue in Iquitos? They tell me, it’s the overspread conformity with mediocrity. They tell me the majority of people here are used and desire for the good things in life to be handed to them. Starting with the government to the educational system, people are employed but are not concerned with their role in society or the effectiveness and the quality of their work. They are more interested in earning their living by bribing their way to the top or doing the minimal work required to cash their next paycheck.
One problem that is sinking this town for example is drug trafficking. People talk about the money-laundering web of the “Colombianos” businessmen/criminals that lure small business by giving them loans as capital for their business. One the students told me the other day:
“I realized that at the end of the day I was only working to pay them back. I decided to think about other options and that is why I am here taking this class.”
Ronald Heifetz writes about The illusion of the broken system, “the reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way. In that sense, on the whole, on balance, the system is working fine, even though it may appear to be ‘dysfunctional’ in some respects to some members and outside observers, and even though it faces danger just over the horizon . . . There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization, because every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets . . . Enough important people like the situation exactly as it is, whatever that may say about it, or it would not be the way it is”.
The first time I read this quote, I immediately thought of Latin- American political systems, the racist ideologies of colonization that are still felt in the hemisphere and the foreign companies with their legacy of making bank by exploiting the natural resources and the cheap workforce of this continent. I thought, "it is to their benefit for the situation to be the way it is". But I never thought about the people themselves contributing to a system of corruption, underdevelopment and lack of future. It is disheartening and painful to hear over and over again that the very same people you are trying to help support the current status of things with their behavior or lack there of. I don’t want to think this way, but it is hard not to if you hear this from most people you come in contact with.
Is education the solution? More help from non-profits? How could you help someone that does not want to be helped? Are people satisfied with their current situation? Are they truly satisfied? If this is the only reality most people know. How to reach the ones that really deserve an opportunity? I guess these are the big questions I will aim to respond during my time here. Further on, the only other thing I see myself doing is continuing to work with EHC and not let the previous commentaries about the nature of people here skew my relationship with my students. I need to give people the benefit of the doubt for things to start well.
Iquitos (Spanish pronunciation: [iˈkitos]) is the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest with a population of 406,340. Located on the Amazon River, it is only 106 m above sea level. Iquitos is the largest city in the world that can only be reached by airplane or boat.
My internship in Iquitos consists in helping Pedro Reategui with the self reliant program he directs in different LDS churches in Iquitos and the city of Nauta.
Project Focus: Business and Career Development/Micro-Enterprise. Specifically, Eagle Condor is working with self-reliant associations to inspire and create the framework for more entrepreneurial opportunities and end generational poverty. The course focuses on teaching basic principles to manage businesses like accounting, promotion and production. Further on, it aims to empower people to develop plans to better their quality of life and conduct community projects.
My responsibilities are to help Pedro with:
- The self reliant courses. We teach a total of 5 classes.
- The visits he makes to the students to follow up on them and their businesses.
- The community action part of the course by incorporating lessons learned from the Westside Leadership Institute.
- An English course he would like for me to teach students from another Non-profit organization he is involved with.
- A Literacy class he would like for me to teach a couple of members from the church.
I’ve been for six days and I feel that I have learned so much already, that I don’t know where to start. I am currently stationed in Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is the largest city from the Amazonian territory in Peru. This is my first time in visiting and experiencing the reality of this part of the country. Even though, I am a Peruvian Iquitos was still foreign to me in my mind. Before this trip, I though of Iquitos as a unique and exotic place filled with color, biodiversity, exuberant people and lots of cumbia. These couple days have taught me that Iquitos is all of that and much more, living with my host family and interacting with my boss and his family is allowing me to understand their views about living here. They tell me for example that eating vegetables is a luxury here because of their high price, ohh how they talk about the pricy cost of living is in these areas. They say that Iquitos is like an island since is so far away from the rest of the country and that the prices of things are high because of the cost of transportation. It is the most expensive city in Peru! They tell me. "Great, I wish I would of known that before doing my budget ".
When people here ask me, what do you think of Iquitos so far?
I tell them: "It' s similar to Lima, it's just hotter and you guys are more adventurous with your food".
They look at me somewhat offended and humored by my simplistic comparison.
"How can you say that? Iquitos is a beautiful place and the people are much nicer here. Lima is horrible! it's filled with selfish people and crooks! They brag.
They might have a point about the high crime rate in Lima, but I still don't see such a Major difference. This might be, because Lima is the biggest city I have seen in Latin-America and I end up comparing every city to it. I need to travel more.
Besides this, I learned that motorcycles rule here, the ownership of motorcycles is almost equivalent to the ownership of cars in the states. It’s not an extravagance it’s a necessity. The amusing aspect is that the majority of people also work doing mototaxi services to earn extra cash. It tell myself, if am I ever going to learn how to drive a motorcycle it will be now.