Saturday, March 24, 2012

Everything is Gonna Be Alright

Yesterday I had one of the most personally important meetings of my life.  The directors, leading teachers, and student leaders of every school in Cutervo (of which there are 8) came to hear what the Kutiri youth center had to offer them and how they could help make this free community service something to be envied by all of Cutervo's neighbors.  So many people showed up that we had to find more seats.  My socios gave presentations about the recently signed contract and the risks to youth in the community and the need for the center.  I gave a presentation about the center itself, our past success, and the basic services to be provided.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and, honestly, surprised me.  Kids and teachers were asking questions, saying what an amazing idea all this was; one girl even challenged the representative from the municipality by asking why they hadn't signed the contract before now.  My heart soared as the kids crowded me at the end to ask if they could be youth leaders and what they could do for the next meeting.  The teachers literally lined up to shake my hand and offer their support.  One lady told me she would like to organize a parenting class for the rural farmers outside of the city proper.  At the end everyone signed a sheet promising what support they would bring and what the next steps would be.  Wow...

So it is with a great deal of anxiety that I leave on monday for my Masters Research Project for the University of Denver.  I hate leaving just as everyone gets this burst of shared vision and motivation but I have to fit the trip in before April 20th because volunteers are not allowed to leave their sites for the last three months of service.  Luckily my local counterparts are going to hold down the fort while I am gone, which is a great opportunity for them to take the reins.  They have promised to do at least one charla and activity a week while I am gone.  When I get back, we will form youth groups, train teachers, and create a strong 6 month work plan.  My awesome colleague living an hour away has also promised to help the new volunteer get on his/her feet.

I think everything is gonna be alright.

*Feature photo borrowed from

I'm going on a trip!

So what is this research trip all about? Being a masters
international student means that I only get me masters degree when I
have finished me service with Peace Corps and written a significant
research paper tying my degree with my experience here in Peru. As
many of you know, I have always been a staunch defender of human
rights. In fact, my international development degree has an emphasis
on them. My passion for several years has been combating
exploitation and human trafficking. As a senior associate of the
Human Trafficking Clinic I wanted to focus on that for my paper -
maybe even bring some new insight the situation in Peru if I am lucky.

I have been very fortunate to have made contact with some of the best
and brightest experts fighting trafficking here in Peru. With my friends from the IOM, USAID, US Department of State, US Department of Homeland Security, and several amazing local organizations, I have planed a research gathering trip that will cover the entire country over the course of three weeks.

I hope to specifically focus on the trafficking of minors from the jungles to the coast. Also, I hear a lot of stories about young girls in prostitution camps where there are heavy mining operations and
would like to investigate further. Don't worry though - I will be extra careful and not be going to areas considered to be dangerous.

If any of this interests you, I will blog about my experience at throughout the trip.

My Salvation: the legally binding contract

So here I am, less than four months from being home, and finally my work is taking off in more positive ways than I could imagine.  On the one hand, this means I have finally met some of my potential here in Cutervo and I can go home feeling like I actually made some meaningful change that will positively impact hundreds of people.  However, on the other hand, I can't help but think what I could do with a third or even fourth year here now that I have finally overcome so many of the initial barriers (cultural, linguistic, trust, etc...).  I have very mixed feelings about leaving.  Fortunately, the choice is already made for me because I have school debts to pay.  I will be ending my service with the Peace Corps on the 20th of July and heading home shortly thereafter.

If you would have asked me a month ago how things were going I would have stuck you as possibly the most cynical and pessimistic person you know.  All of my projects had been put on hold, none of my local counterparts were answering calls or showing up to meetings, the Kutiri youth center had been closed for over 3 months and no one was keeping up with their promises.  I was frustrated and angry and I had all but given up entirely on Kutiri.  Then march hit and school started up again.  I got one call... then two, then four.  Within the first week of March my faith had been restored and my counterparts and I were working harder than ever.  Apparently I had just not realized it is customary to just not do any serious work during school vacations.

What you see here is a bonafide contract from Cutervo, Cajamarca, PerĂº.  These five flimsy pages represent the culmination of my two years of work here.  This document officially establishes the Kutiri Youth Development Center as a locally run and supported government agency.  To ensure that the program has its best shot at sustainability the operational and provisional requirements are split up between the local Municipality (the mayor's office), the Ministry of Health (DISA), the Ministry of Education (UGEL), and whatever Peace Corps Volunteer is in Cutervo at the time (I have secured at least one more to come after me).  The contract also specifies that the community must establish a permanent space for the youth center within the next four years.  It took a tremendous amount of work and patience to get all the different actors to the table and agree to these terms but there it is.  And now that we have local funding we have been flying through meetings with school directors, kids, local professionals, and politicians to get the center to self-sustainability before I leave.

Yep. Things have certainly picked up! After I get back from my research trip I not only have the youth center to focus on but I am helping plan a regional youth camp in the south of Cajamarca (click here to learn more and donate). I also have a close of service conference in Lima and a separate trip back for medical exams. All this within four months!

I will have to write separate posts on both my research trip and the upcoming youth camp.