A little over one month in my site and I feel like I have learned a lot…and still have a lot to learn! Through my conversations and observations, I already have many ideas for projects and also have some pressure to start certain projects ASAP, and in some respect quicker than I feel prepared for.
With Peace Corps, all volunteers are required to conduct a Community Diagnostic during the first 3 months of our service before diving into projects. This includes a thorough investigation of the important community organizations and leaders, current situation in relation to our program goals (for Community Based Environmental Management: environmental awareness, solid waste management and views on forestation), community map with resources and important landmarks, among other diagnostic tools. The Community Diagnostic provides a way for us to integrate and get to know our community – something that it is important to our approach of volunteering in international development. Getting to know the community first is crucial – you build relationships and trust within the community as well as take the time to observe the current situation from an outsider’s perspective while also listening to the community’s desires and views on their own development. That way the projects I work on are the projects they are interested in and with their trust I will hopefully get the support I need to successfully facilitate sustainable development projects.
That being said, it is hard to wait 3 months to begin tangible volunteer work. Even though I have 2 full years for my projects, it is difficult to feel like I am not officially starting any projects and the pressure from the community (and SERNANP) adds to that feeling that “I am not doing anything.” But it is challenging to begin projects, or fully articulate what I am currently doing for that matter, when my language skills are still slowly improving. For example, as much as I inform my community that my program goals are environmental projects, I will forever be approached to teach English. After visiting the schools, many children come up to me and ask when I am coming back to teach English. The other day, I was talking to one of the PCVs who also works in Junín and he told me he met someone in my community when he was taking the bus who informed him that I was going to be teaching English here…
On the other positive side, I also have pressures to start environmentally orientated projects. My community has its own greenhouse where one of the women grows vegetables and herbs to sell in the community and use the earnings to support the main livestock/farm work. They are eager for me to come and make suggestions for types of vegetables, collection of seeds and advice on organization and possible expansion of the greenhouse harvest. That is a very exciting project, because I view it as an opportunity to encourage nutrition in the community as well as support the business aspect. I spoke with the mayor of my community who is very supportive and understanding of my aims as an Environmental PCV. He is excited to start a recycling campaign having already researched a place in which we can sell recycled items and informed me that the community already formed a “Plan de Desarrollo Integral” (Development Plan) which he would like assistance in updating for the next 10 years…perfect considering I will be working on something similar for my Community Diagnostic! It also provides me a great basis for developing household surveys as data collection included a very thorough social-economic household survey along with community maps and brainstorm of identified current community problems…well as current as 2001. The park guards from SERNANP are also pushing forward Peace Corps’ suggestion of organizing “vacaciones útiles” (summer school) as a way to jump into the environmental education goal even though the school year finishes in December.
Now time to concentrate on meeting and learning more about my community. “Vamos a ver” what that will bring….