Monday, May 17, 2010

CJL, with a side of quechwa

Home sweet home. After a week of travel, I am sitting in sleeping bag and liner (flea free after some heavy chemical application!!), wrapped in my alpaca sweater, listening to music and in bed at 8 pm (with full intention of productivity but expectation of getting sleepy and shutting my eyes early). Last Monday I traveled to Lima with a community partner for a project design workshop—a semi-frustrating, though educational, endeavor to plan, execute and evaluation health interventions—and then on Friday traveled, with two teen girls from my community, to ALMA, a very different sort of workshop, for the weekend. ALMA (Actividades de Liderazgo para Mujeres Adolescentes, leadership activities for adolescent women), is a Peace Corps project in which all the volunteers from a region bring select girls from their community to a 3 day “camp” for workshops, crafts, sex education, theater, rope courses—really, anything. Before leaving, Ellen commented that it sounded like a Peruvian CJL. That’s not far off.
As a teen girl myself, my 2 summers as a CIT (not to mention the previous years) at CJL were wonderful experiences. I made best friends, I learned about myself and how to be leader, and I will never forget them or the amazing women who taught me. The effect that this three day workshop had on our girls is similar, only maybe 1000 times more powerful. Out of the 32 teenage participants, most had never traveled without their parents. Some do not own pants or jeans and arrived in pollera and traditional quechwa costume; others live in bigger towns and arrived wearing jean shorts and sandals. Two girls are the only (and first) two students who will graduate from their village’s high school. All of these girls tie-dyed t-shirts, participated in a condom race, discussed gender stereotypes and how to help their communities, interviewed female professionals, and asked questions about sexual health.
We were lucky enough to find a small hotel nearby to host us. The family was fascinated by our strange menu requests (all vegetarian) and activities. One afternoon, I walked into the kitchen to ask for toilet paper, and ended up, first, teaching them how to make garlic bread and American-style tomato sauce, and, second, explaining why we had just had a condom race on their front lawn and what we were doing. 45 minutes later, I walked out with two new friends and fans of Peace Corps (though no toilet paper).
The weekend, and the more formal project design workshop, made me consider what success as a volunteer means, or, what it will mean for me. Before ALMA, I was skeptical about the impact a few days could have on these girls, whether the camp justified the grant a fellow volunteer received from USAID. “Wouldn’t the money be better spent on a project of latrines or improved stoves?,” I couldn’t help but think. However, latrines fill, and stoves break. These infrastructure projects are flashly and popular, but won’t really have a continuous effect. However, if you can inspire—not teach, not lecture, not convince, but inspire—the youth of a community to be better-educated, healthier and more willing to look for new ideas and opportunities—the community has it made.

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