Not quite goodbye, but “hasta luego”

One of our beautiful views in Shilla on the way to the worksite

One of many beautiful views we passed each morning on our way to the worksite in Shilla

Being back home for a few days has certainly allowed time to reflect on all the accomplishments and memories that have been made over the past two weeks.

When we got to the worksite on the first day, it was a plot of old, dried farming land marked by waves of ditches and mounds on a sloped landscape. Using pickaxes and shovels, we leveled and flattened out land for adobes to dry, and well as dug out a 5-meter diameter plot where the health center would stand. We gathered or created most of the building materials ourselves from the land. This included rock climbing cliffs to harvest ichu (a tall, hay-like grass) from a large field to act as the roof, carrying large stacks of bamboo and logs up to the worksite daily, gathering and layering rocks in a 40-cm deep/80-cm wide hole that we dug out to act as base of the structure, and mixing and forming adobes with barehands and muddy feet. In just ten days, with the combined efforts of our group from OSU, Katie from Peacework, Benjamin, and Celestino (as well as the frequent aid of his eldest son, Frye), we were able to complete the first phase of the building, which is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Our last night in Shilla certainly proved to be an eventful one. When our final day of work was complete, there was a celebration held on the worksite to commemorate the signing of the agreement for the health center. Cynthia read the agreement out loud, which would grant the women’s center to Killa Warmi (Quechua for “Moon Women” – the name of the women’s group in Shilla) as a safe place of gathering and learning for the women and girls of Shilla and surrounding communities. Several women and girls from Shilla were in attendance, as well as the twenty-member traditional band that Celestino is a part of, which played upbeat Andean music throughout the celebration. Everyone danced freely and happily as a group to the music, with the girls spinning around in traditional skirts that Norma had brought. Then, it was time for dinner. After two from the group had spent the day helping Norma prepare it, we all tried guinea pig for the first time, and the general verdict seemed to be “tastes like chicken.” While eating around a fire in the stark darkness of the rural area, the sky was saturated in constellations full of glittering stars. Post dinner, we resumed dancing until we were simply too exhausted to continue, after which the large group made their way down the mountain to Norma’s house, using flashlights to guide the way. And then, right before we left for our hotel in Carhuaz, as if to honor the health center, Celestino and Norma’s very pregnant cow (who had spent several days on the worksite with us) finally gave birth to a baby calf. Seeing the tiny infant nuzzle to its proud mother, as well as attempt to stand on its trembling toothpick-like legs, was a stunning sight to witness.

That night, with heavy hearts, we wished a final chau to Celestino and Norma, as well as their four exuberant and kind sons, who we had all grown very close to. They had quickly become family to us during our ten days in Shilla and, as we parted, Celestino said that we would always have a place to stay if we returned.

Many of us have agreed that this place has left an imprint on us, and we’re fortunate to have a group that worked so well together and became so close over the course of our time in Peru. Although this was the most physically exerting work that many of us had experienced, it was entirely worth it to be a part of such a sustainable and impactful project. This center will not only serve Shilla and surrounding communities, but also hopefully start a movement for Killa Warmi to spread female empowerment and traditional knowledge about women’s health practices through more Andean communities for generations to come.

This project wouldn’t have been possible without Katie Haberman from Peacework, who took care of the group with such grace and patience, and who found this incredible project, as well as organized (quite literally) everything for us, from every single potato-filled meal to every scenic car ride. It wouldn’t have been possible without the selfless vision of Cynthia and Benjamin to see the health center be built to serve the indefatigable goals of Killa Warmi. And, of course, this couldn’t have happened without the generous donations of our friends and families that went towards the health center’s construction and educational programs. We’re truly thankful for everyone who contributed to this journey, as the memories and learnings that this trip has given us will certainly last a lifetime.

We’ll be gathering trip pictures over the next few days, so check-in for a final, photo-filled post within the next week!

Aching muscles and gratitude

The first lagoon that greeted us as we entered Huascarán National Park

The first lagoon that greeted us as we entered Huascarán National Park

From attending women’s health workshops about reproductive health and empowerment, to watching an obstetrician at work at the Centro de Salud, to an intense soccer match with children at the local primary school, to finally completing the outward structure of the women’s health center, this has certainly been a week of growth and learning. We were reminded today of how far we’ve come on this journey, as Cynthia led the group in a traditional land offering ceremony. Following Andean customs, we sat is a circle on the ground of the worksite and gave thanks and prayer to Andean spirits for the land to build the women’s health center. The Elders that pass on this tradition say that there is no specific way to pray, and that the only requirement is to speak from your heart and speak your wishes out loud. Everyone took a turn express his or her gratitude, whether it was for the opportunity to work and learn, or the beautiful weather we’ve been blessed with to build the center, or the good health and food we’ve experienced, or the people we’ve met and relationships we’ve made during our time in Shilla.

Our main focus of this trip has been working tirelessly on the construction of the health center alongside Celestino and Benjamin, but we’ve also had time for various other activities this past week: We were able to take a break from work (but not from physical activity) on Monday, during which we made a 3-hour trek to the high mountain Lake 69, a surreal aquamarine lake located at 4650m above sea level. The hike wasn’t easy, but the stunning sights of the beautifully preserved Huascaran National Park easily made the trip worthwhile.

This past Wednesday, Benjamin guided the group through a lesson on the main principles of Permaculture, a sustainable way of farming by working with the land and no longer depending on pesticides and growth hormones. These are the values that will be used in educational teaching gardens around the health center.

The girls in the group were able to attend one of Cynthia’s Menstrual Education Workshops for 5th grade girls at the primary school, which she conducted in their own classroom. The main focus of the lesson was to not be ashamed of adolescent body changes, but for the girls to celebrate these changes and themselves.

Katie has also led us through various thought provoking conversations as a part of Peacework’s Global Change Agents Curriculum. As a group, we’ve discussed what it means to be a global ally, as well as the difference between Social Service and Social Change. These discussions have helped us reflect deeper on the work we’re conducting, and the longer lasting impact that this health center will have on women and girls of Shilla and surrounding communities.

Through all these experiences, we’re so thankful for the opportunity to work alongside our various community partners in Shilla, as well as their willingness to share their homes, wisdom, and strength with us for our short time here. As Andrew put it at the land offering ceremony today, we’re happy to have “met as strangers, but to leave as friends.”

progress

300 Adobes and the of the outhouse (build from bamboo stalks and logs carried up the mountain to the work site) finished as of Sunday, June 8th

300 Adobes and the structure of the outhouse (built from bamboo stalks and logs carried up the mountain to the work site) finished as of Sunday, June 8th.

A Warm Welcoming

After a daylong plane ride from Columbus to Lima, and an 8-hour scenic bus ride through the Andes, we finally arrived safely to the small town of Carhuaz Wednesday evening. The bus ride allowed us to see the incredible variations in the landscape of the Andes, from rocky jagged mountain ranges to snow-capped peaks. Katie Haberman from Peacework International was at the airport to pick us up, and will be with us the rest of the trip as a coordinator and caretaker. She is the one who found the project in Shilla, and she has worked extensively on Peacework projects throughout Central and South America and speaks impressively fluent Spanish, meaning she will be able to navigate us around Peru safely. Once at our hotel in Carhuaz, we gathered after dinner to discuss our goals for personal growth and impact on the community, which included meeting and working alongside the Women’s Group in Shilla, learning about a new culture, as well as hopefully picking up a little Quechuan (the indigenous –yet endangered– language commonly spoken in the Central Andes) along the way.

Yesterday morning, we had the opportunity to meet Cynthia Ingar, the Peruvian anthropologist and PhD candidate that works as a Women’s Health Educator with the Andean woman group that the Women’s Health Center will serve. Over 25 women in Shilla make up the group Asociación de Mujeres Lideres de Shilla, who have organized around women’s rights and empowerment, especially in the arena of health. The group has many goals in the community and include:

  • Reaffirmation of their identity through collective organizing
  • Counseling and sharing information on prenatal health and healthy births
  • Engaging in dialogue with the local health center around culturally appropriate care
  • Strengthen knowledge of their bodies and maintain traditional health knowledge
  • Share education with the younger generation of girls and work won prevention and education around domestic violence

We also met with Benjamin Lemoine, who is the Women’s Center Field Coordinator for construction and gardens. We learned how the center was to follow the traditional building techniques and architecture that is used in the Andes, which includes being round in structure and being made from adobe brick.  After an introduction to the goals of the women’s health center and our plans for the next two weeks, we set off on a minibus ride to the rural village of Shilla, where we got our first good glimpse of Huascarán, the tallest mountain in Peru, which serves as a stunning backdrop to the village.

Once in Shilla, we visited the home of Senora Norma, who is the Leader of the Women’s Group in Shilla, and her husband Celestino, who welcomed us warmly, telling us that for our stay in Shilla, “our home is your home.”  Shortly after, we made a small trek up a hill to the site where the health center is to be built. It is located so that it will be accessible to many of the communities surrounding Shilla in order to bring women and girls from various villages together.

The first day proved to be an introduction to the great deal of work we had ahead, as we flattened plots of land in preparation of the adobe, and also carried large rocks (that would serve as the base of the building) over streams and up steep hills. The next day, Friday, we worked mostly to reach our goal of forming 180 adobes of the 600 total that is needed for the health center. This required mixing hay, dirt, and water in a large pit using shovels and barefeet, and then using a wheelbarrow to transfer the mud-like mixture to molds on the other side of the work site, and then ensuring the mixture is level and free of air bubbles before pulling the mold out to allow the adobe to dry. It was incredible to see how so much of the building materials we used –the dirt, rocks, and water– were all directly from the very sight where the health center was to be built.

At the end of the day, we were able to reach our goal of 180 adobes (no easy task) thanks to the hard work of everyone in the group. We certainly would have been lost without the guidance and landscaping skills of Celestino and Benjamin. Overall, we learned the best and most efficient methods truly did require teamwork, as we formed systems and chains of people passing large rocks or adobe dirt or buckets full of water. This is certainly a tactic that we will continue to use in the days ahead. We hope you continue to follow along on our journey to build this health center, and we can’t wait to see the product of everyone’s work at the end of our two weeks!

Introduction: GHI Peru 2014

Welcome to GHI at OSU’s International Volunteering blog! This is where you can find updates about GHI’s International Volunteering Trips to Peru, Malawi and Guatemala this Summer 2014.

This summer from June 3rd to June 17th, 10 members of the OSU Global Health Initiative will be traveling to the town of Shilla in the Ancash region of Peru. We will be volunteering our time to work with a Peruvian anthropologist and community leaders on the construction of a Women’s Health Center. This center will serve as a safe educational space for women and young girls in the community. We will also work on implementing a nutritional curriculum for local schoolchildren to learn how to stay healthy. For two weeks, we will work in conjunction both with the community, and with staff from the non-profit organization Peacework International (http://peacework.org), to build a better understanding of the critical health problems within the region and work to remediate them.

Please be sure to check back in June when we get ready to depart for Peru! We will be posting regular updates and images of our projects and experiences while in Shilla. In the meantime, we encourage you to check out the following resources that provide background information on where we will be volunteering. There you will also find an article written by Cynthia Ingar, the Peruvian anthropologist who we will be working with. Thank you so much for visiting our site, and we hope that you stop by again soon!

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