To say that life in Nor Yauyos Cochas is interesting is an understatement. From the first day I moved to this region, situated in the Andes of the department of Lima, both my professional and personal life have seen one wild ride. First, I should lay out what my role as a Peace Corps Environmental Volunteer entails. Our program has three main goals, which can be summarized as the following: Reforestation, Environmental Education, and Waste Management.
First, Trees! In a hope that our work will be sustainable, we not only organize tree plantings with saplings that are provided to our communities through governmental initiatives, but also start our own tree nurseries at the community and family level. In the case of my town, after years of bad experiences maintaining community run tree nurseries, I have shifted my focus from this level to family run. Not only is accountability higher, but also this provides me with the opportunity to work on education within each family. For example, I try to impart to them why native species are important, how planting invasive are hurting the soils, how trees help in water- shed protection, and how it helps reduce the threat of Climate Change at the local level. In conjunction with an NGO that works in our area (Valle Grande), we are trying to shift the buying of trees for forestation from larger cities to our own communities, that way bringing in income and a level of responsibility to the process.
Our second goal, and the one that I find most enjoyable, is working within the school system to raise the level of conscious concerning environmental topics. Not only do I believe working with the youth is the surest way to effect change for the future, but they keep life fun with their inquisitive attitudes and energy. Due to the fact that we live in a protected area, one of the main objectives is to instill this knowledge within the kids, as well as what it means to live in a protected area and how the ministry of environment, represented as SERNANP Park Guards, play a role in life here. Aside from my 8 hours of classes in week, I work bi-weekly with my Ecology-Club kids, working on projects such as making recycled paper, painting our environmental mural, tending our small tree nursery or having town trash cleanups. In relation to trash management of the schools, we have finally moved beyond education and have begun our own school compost, and in July will receive equipment, provided by the mine, to separate our trash, organics and recyclables on the school level.
Finally the third goal, which happens to be the one that I will probably be remembered for most: trash management. I am sure when I leave, people will say, “I wonder if Katty will return, she sure did love to carry around/sort through/talk about trash…” The big goal was first to do a study on the production and characterization of waste in our town. This was a must in order to work with SERNANP to get funding and approbation for a sanitary landfill. As of now, we hope to break ground on our landfill in July, which will not only include the land for putting trash, but also beds for making compost, storing our recyclables for selling as well as a special tank for dangerous medical waste and batteries. This work also includes planning town cleanups, educational meetings with adults about trash separation, the dangers of burning trash, and the elaboration of compost in each home.
Living in Laraos, situated within the protected area of the LandScape Reserve Nor Yauyos Cochas, also affords experiences like Alpaca shearing with my community at over 4000 meters, dancing for days in traditional garb in an adoration to water, hiking to the town’s pre-Incan citadel situated on the peaks of the Andes, and living the life of a community member in a predominantly agricultural community.
As a way to explain what set the tempo for the next two years, I would like to explain day one and how we arrived at the Reserve. With three other PC volunteers, along with our host fathers and official SERNANP counterparts, we were awaken at 5:00 in the morning, after only a couple hours into our bus ride, to shouts and weird ash coming into the window. The morning is cold and dark, being a lonely rode in the Andes, but after about 45 minutes of shouting, it is decided that we will walk the rest of the way. This “rest of the way” happens to be quite a lot of hours, along with our suitcases, and just a general awkwardness of just having met the people we are with. Putting our complete trust in them, we set off, and not many hours go by, walking along the dirt road up up up, when we realize that ash if from the burning bridges that dot the road between the coast to our sties. Little did we know, but we had walked into a multiple community protest against certain regional companies that were not only polluting the waters of this area, but also not accomplishing the promises that they had made to the communities. It took us a day longer than expected to get to our sites, but in the end, not only did we see local people taking action, but also formed a great bond with our new community partners. From then on, it has just been one experience after another.
Laraos at a bird’s eye view, with the Andes in the foreground and the lake Cochapampa in the back.
Peace Corps Volunteer, Kate Quigley