Written by guest blogger Calina Ellwand
I’m a new volunteer with Threads of Peru and have been involved for the past month in promotions and grant-writing. I hail from Toronto, Canada but consider myself an avid traveler. Since January, I have been traveling throughout South America, beginning in Argentina, continuing on to Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and now Peru. In September, I will be back in Canada starting my Master’s in political science with a focus on women’s organizations. Threads of Peru’s work on women’s empowerment and leadership training is of a particular interest to me and my future research.
Want to Take a Trip?
I discovered Threads of Peru while surfing the web looking for volunteering opportunities in Peru. When I contacted Ariana, she suggested I visit the weavers’ villages and see first-hand how the organization is helping women improve the quality of their weavings. I jumped at the chance. As a student studying women’s organizations back in Canada, this couldn’t have sounded better.
My community visits to Chaullococha and Chupani (March 25-26) began with a spinning workshop led by Señora Augustina. The women in the communities are accustomed to sitting outside to spin wool and that is exactly where they were waiting for us. They spin alpaca and sheep’s wool using a phuska, a traditional spindle that has been perfected over 2,000 years. While Augustina told the women how to make their thread finer, I walked among the weavers and recorded attendance. This was harder than I expected. Many of the women speak very softly and have Quechua names that I had never heard before. Thank goodness for Urbano, our Quechua translator!
The cooking workshop was our opportunity to have a frank discussion with the community about hygiene, nutrition and balanced diets. Malnutrition is a serious problem; most of the children have parasites and are in a state of chronic malnutrition. By exposing the community to new and simple dishes, we hope to encourage the preparation of more varied, nutritious meals.
In Chaullacocha, our workshop was delayed by the arrival of a group of people from the municipality of Urubamba who spoke about nutrition, balanced diets and food security. This group spoke on many of the same topics we wanted to communicate. Unfortunately, because of the arrival of these speakers, Martin did not have time to get the women involved in his preparation of a veggie, potato, and barley soup. He showed them what he’d done and talked about hygiene and hand-washing. I’m still not sure how well this message was conveyed—I didn’t see any of the women wash their hands before eating.
In Chupani, the cooking workshop was a bit more successful as we had more time. Martin brought a table outside and showed the women how he was chopping up the various ingredients. Many of the women chipped in, peeling potatoes and frying onions. I helped with the potato peeling but was miserably slow compared to the women!
The food program is a joint venture between Reach Out Children’s Foundation and Threads of Peru. We are aiming to improve the nutrition of the children because currently many of them are suffering from chronic malnutrition. We delivered flour, quinoa, apples, cinnamon, yucca, milk, and sugar to both villages. My responsibilities included recording a list of the food delivered, checking the quantities with the community members and getting the person who received the food and Urbano to sign my lists. We also chose someone in each village who will be responsible for recording the quantity of food used each day so that we can adjust our deliveries accordingly.
Interacting with community members
I found it frustrating not to be able to communicate with the community members. Few of the women or children speak Spanish and they are quite shy. I was hoping to be able to have a few conversations through our translator but there was little time to coordinate this.
I had some success interacting with the kids by drawing in my notebook and getting them to guess what I was drawing. They loved this game. I drew houses in the distances, horses, the school and even tried to draw them. They found this hilarious and would run away every time I looked up to pick a new subject.
What I learned
The trip to the villages exposed me to the many challenges of doing development work in remote locations. This creates difficulties for communication, transportation of services and supplies and, generally, makes any development work more arduous and expensive. Activities that require regular and frequent community visits are impossible without considerable resources. The best solution I can think of is to ensure that all development activities and programs are self-sustainable and can continue without much participation from Threads of Peru. However, I quickly understood that getting to this point takes a long-term commitment and involvement from the organization.
Overall, the trip was a very valuable learning experience and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to do volunteer work with Threads of Peru or any other organization working in remote communities, dealing with language barriers, literacy and nutrition issues.