Despite Peru being one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, I am not here to just travel around for two years, but rather work. There are a lot of stereotypes about people who join the Peace Corps. Free spirits, hippies, tree huggers, etc. The reality is that our Peace Corps friends are probably one of the most diverse group of friends we will ever have in our lives. The US Government pulled 40 strangers from almost every state in the US, from various careers, across economic classes, across social classes, to come to Peru because we all have the desire to share our knowledge, while remaining students ourselves as we continue to learn.
In Peace Corps Peru, there are currently 5 technical sectors. These include Community Economic Development, Youth Development, Environment, Health, and Water & Sanitation. Unfortunately, Peru will not be replacing the Environment volunteers after the current volunteers leave, so we will soon have 4. Regardless of our technical sector or host country, all Peace Corps Volunteers share 3 primary goals:
Goal 1:To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
Goal 2: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
Goal 3: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
So what the heck do 175+ Volunteers do in Peru for two years?! Well, I can’t speak to the other sectors’ goals, but I can give you some insight into the work of a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Peru (aka my work for the next two years). Our sector has three primary goals that each volunteer is expected to work on for the next two years.
Goal 1: Business Development
1.1 Business Management
1.2 Product & Marketing Development
Goal 2: Economic Opportunities
2.1 Youth Entrepreneurship
2.2 Income Generating Activities (with a focus on IGAs for women)
Goal 3: Personal Money Management
3.1 Financial Literacy
3.2 Savings-led Microfinance (also known as Community Banks)
Depending on several factors, including the level of development in the volunteer’s site, the community’s interests, and resources available, all determine what projects are completed in site. For example, some communities may have a strong education system for youth, but may lack financial resources for adults, so that volunteer may focus on Goal 3 more than Goal 2. I’m still exploring the community, but I am hoping to work a lot on Goal 1 and Goal 3. Of course Goal 2 will be worked in there somewhere, but I have a stronger interest in the other two.
When a volunteer arrives in site, they are given a list of potential counterparts (aka socios) to work with in the community. There will always be at least one socio from the local government because they are the ones that send the request for a volunteer. An important factor to note about the Peace Corps is that we only work in countries that formally request a volunteer from the Peace Corps. Therefore, if a community request a volunteer, this means there is at least one person that wants to work with us (well, in theory). Some volunteers choose to work with these Peace Corps given socios, while others search for their own. There is no right or wrong way to go about this process, but it is very helpful to have some contacts going into site. My socios (at this moment) are as follows:
Economic Development Office of Santiago de Chuco (In theory,could apply to all 3 goals)
Two local artisan groups (In theory, could apply to all 3 goals)
Two high schools and a few primary schools (Goal 2& 3)
SERNANP, the environmental organization of Peru (Tourism – Primarily Goal 1 & 2)
The School Board of the province I live in (Goal 2 & 3)
Local Businesses ( Goal 1)
Our first three months in site we work on a community diagnostic. This report allows us to assess the needs, interests, and desires of our community before we start our projects. This time also allows us to meet more members of the community and potentially find other socios to work with. After this diagnostic is complete, we will then formally begin our projects, not to say we can’t start earlier, but the Peace Corps recommends using these first three months to adjust to our new home, meet community members/leaders, and really get to know our community. After all, we have two years here.
Aside from completing our technical goals, an important factor to our work is that it is sustainable. The idea is that when a volunteer returns to the United States, their projects will continue on without the assistance of the Peace Corps. It’s very obvious to me that my community is quickly developing and without a doubt there are several strong leaders in the community, but it seems as the idea of sustainable development is still a thought vs. an action, but to be fair, I think this is true in various countries throughout the world at this moment. As the old phrase goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In all seriousness, today the local government handed out fish to everyone in town.
Just like anything in life, this will be a process and after being a PCV for exactly two months, I am beginning to understand the Peace Corps phrase, “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.” 5 months down, 22 months to go. ¡Vamos!