Tribute to my community

by Admin / 23. November 2009 04:47

We only have 2 weeks left here in Peru. It is a sad, scary and exciting time. I won’t try to summarize 11 months of life in Chulucanas, because that is just not possible. Probably the most important part of life here; however, has been the community. Our community of Augustinian Volunteers is really just incredible. It is hard to form a home and create a community out of a group of 4 strangers, which is what we were a year ago. But we now have a home, where we are all comfortable living and have a great time. In my volunteer experience the community has been everything and I love each one of them. Here is my tribute to community:

Kevin has been my rock of understanding. He and I both spent the months of August and September working hard on grad-school applications. I was so grateful to be able to share and exchange comments on essays, cover letters and CVs. I was often completely overwhelmed (and still am) thinking about my future, but Kevin is calm and logical. He can talk me down from a moment of crisis and doubt, reminding me of where I am now, in Chulu, and everything else can wait. He listens to me complain and list my worries for hours with extreme patience. After reading his personal statements for law school I was even more impressed and sure that he will do amazing things in his life.

Dan, also known as Danielito, goes running every morning between 5:15AM and 6AM. I attempted to join him a few times, but that is just so early! The truly amazing part of Dan’s mornings, though, is that he routinely brings fresh bread for Liz and me to eat for breakfast. On his way in from his run he goes out of his way to go to the panadería and get fresh, still hot, bread to deliver to our kitchen by 6:15 so that Liz and I can have our lazy morning sipping coffee and eating bread and jam before Liz heads to work at 7AM. Dan does not eat bread in the morning (he and Kevin eat oatmeal). Getting bread for us a selfless act, for which I am extremely grateful.

Liz = my sock. This is actually not an insult. In Spanish media naranja literally means ‘half an orange” but is also the term used for ‘soul mate.’ Media, however, has a double meaning, in addition to meaning ‘half,’ it also means ‘sock.’ So really, what I’m trying to say is that Liz is my soul mate! She and I are the perfect roommate situation. We took the sense a community to a new extreme and have a completely community closet (which works because we are the same size), where we share everything with no rules. We also enjoy waiting hours to watch the same silly television shows streaming online (Grey’s, Vampire Diaries, Buffy, Roswell, Glee – a strange but fantastic mix!). And next July I will willingly wear an orange dress as a bridesmaid in the wedding of my media to her true soul mate.

I ‘heart’ Peru Avs (this blog keeps eating my heart)

Christie Mechler
Chulucanas, Peru 2009


Internationals 2009

Apologies to Dan for piggiebacking off his idea…

by Admin / 12. October 2009 05:02

 My foot is covered in onion, tomato, and milk of magnesia.  Why?  Because I decided to knock over a hot frying pan full of oil while frying bananas.  My host family leaped into action and my burned foot is now covered in local remedies.  For a foreigner, Chulucanas is always full of little surprises.  I read Dan’s blog entry before starting to work on my own, and he really got me thinking about being caught off guard here.  It really does happen every day!  You learn to expect suprises but little things just continue to pop up and surprise you.  Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about. 

For example- how many of you have actually heard a donkey bray?  I myself had only read about in childrens books before. “The donkey says hee-haw.”  Okay, well that’s not exactly how it goes.  Did you know that the -hee- is a high-pitched intense sucking in of air in order to let out a resounding, almost blood curdling - HAAAWWWW!!!-?  It just about knocks you over the first time you hear it.  Ever seen a guy balancing a propane tank while riding a bicycle?  Watched a dog lift a leg on a bag of oranges for sale on the side of the road?  Seen kids bring in beer and machetes to school for a class project?  It’s those random things that have really kept me on my toes here in Chulucanas. 
While I could spend hours listing off the things that have caught me off guard in Peru this year, I thought it might be better to show you a few examples.   Let’s start with mangos.
Mangos (7).JPG
 Nothing like seeing your other community members in aprons and caps.  We stayed with host families in February, and several of the families are involved in a business cooperative that makes products out of mangos.  The mangos here are absolutely to die for.  Anyway the families involved invited some of us to go out to the chakra (farm) to see the work they are doing.  This is Kevin with his host mother. 
 Tamales (4).JPG
When we arrived, our house wasn’t ready to live in yet.  February was spent helping the work crew get our house ready, and on March 1st, we moved in.  When we got there, our backyard was full of corn.  It turns out that one of the Augustinians had planted it for us.  Our backyard turned into a jungle as the corn grew and we had to figure out to do with all of it.  At the time, Christie was taking a cooking class so she came home and announced that we were going to make tamales.  So we did.
We moved in to discover that there is a huge family of iguanas living in our backyard.  There are at least 7 of them for sure.  They hang out on our roof and on the walls surrounding our garden.  They creep up to the house to eat our grass and take off running at lightning speed if they see us.  One actually got into our house and pooped on our floor.  Twice.  One of the best lies that Peruvian parents tell their children?  “Don’t touch that or an iguana will bite you!”
Flashback to my first teacher meeting:
-Liz, have you had your uniform made yet? 
-Me: What uniform?
It turns out that all Peruvian teachers wear uniforms, and quite proudly I may add.  They all fussed over me when I first showed up wearing it (que liiinda, que flaquiiita, que fresquiiiita…), although the disapproval of me wearing Chaco sandals with my uniform to school the first day was unavoidable…
I saved the best for last.  Flaming cattle.
When Dan and I went to Pacaipampa (up in the Andes), they did the famous “vaca loca” (crazy cow.)  Basically they make this cow and put it on a frame (with a real tail, mind you) and then a guy holds it up while another guy douses the horns with kerosene and lights them on fire… and then the “vaca loca” chases people around the plaza.  I mean he runs full speed into the crowd and everybody takes off running.  Small children, old people, everybody!  He actually caught one of the sisters on fire who didn’t get out of the way!  He had to pat out the flames on her back! This is one of the favorite local traditions. 
At any rate, some of the surprising moments have been my best experiences here.  When you look at the big picture, almost everything I experience in Peru comes down to community.  Neighbors take care of each other, families are very tight, neigborhoods rally when a child gets sick or a woman gives birth… and boy do they celebrate together!  There are many hardships, but the people in Chulucanas as well as in the rest of Peru really know how to grateful for what they have and just enjoy spending time with one another.  I have learned about this from my host family, from the teachers at school, from my students, from my neighbors, from the members of the parish, and even from the local shopkeepers.  Many Americans I know should really open their doors more and plant for each other, celebrate with one another, and build stronger communities in their neighborhoods.  If that doesn’t work, there are always cows to be set on fire ;-)
Liz Farrey
Chulucanas, Peru 2009


Internationals 2009

Dealing with the Unexpected

by Admin / 8. August 2009 05:07

How often do surprises or the unexpected find you every day??  Once? Twice? Not at all?  For me in Chulucanas, Peru, the unexpected finds me multiple times a day:  when I am at work and a half a dozen people show up at the Heath Office to get more medicine or help with a treatment or when I am out in Chulucanas running errands and stop to talk to the friends I see for a while.  While this doesn’t seem very different than interruptions in the States, the main difference is how important personal interactions are to Peruvians.  This mentality makes it difficult to ignore these surprise interruptions because they view interpersonal relationships as more important than productivity.  As I ask people who come to the Health Office of the Diocese of Chulucanas what they need, I am interrupted from the work I planned to do that day to deal with problems and help people.

When I began working at the Health Office, I always planned what I needed to get done for the day but I noticed that these things usually didn´t get done.  I thought this was terribly annoying, but after watching the people I work with deal with these surprises, I learned that it is more important how I deal with the person who interrupts me than if I am successful at completing the tasks I planned to do, something we forget about in the States.  In the States, finishing our tasks and jobs are the most important part of our jobs.  This has made me change my mentality on what successful and productive mean.

Before I came to Peru, I worked in a biology lab, and to be successful in my experiments and jobs in the lab, I had to plan out my days a few days and sometimes weeks in advance.  This meant that every day I went to work, I knew exactly what I was going to do that day, and interruptions, which were few, where dealt with after I finished what I have planned.  Taking this mentality to Peru meant that I was never being productive because I measured productivity on how much I completed the things I needed to do.  This was tough because the rules I played by were suddenly changed.  No longer was a successful day a productive one, but a successful day is being able to catch up with a friend or my host family or being able to help someone that comes into the Health Office even though it takes all morning or afternoon.   

Adapting to this change was tough because it goes against everything I know but was key to learning how to live in Peru.  While I don’t think I have mastered this yet, I have come to accept that the only way to be successful is to redefine it not in the tasks completed but how many people and personal interactions I have encountered.

Daniel Irwin

Chulucanas, Peru 2009



Internationals 2009

Remember to Dance

by Admin / 24. May 2009 05:40

One of the last pieces of advice I received before boarding our South African Airways flight was in the form of a text message from someone that I love very much.  It read, “Remember to dance.”

Dance?  Everyone knows that I, Katie Porter, do not dance.  So why would a year in KZN, South Africa change that?  I’m here to serve, to teach, to learn.  But certainly not to dance.  Dancing makes me uncomfortable – it involves emotion, courage, being free in spirit, outwardly showing happiness.  However, a lesson that I am still learning through my years of service is that the only way to grow is to become uncomfortable.  I guess if I can serve here, I can try to dance.

Rhythmically usually to music, using prescribed or improvised steps and gestures.

At St. Leo Primary School in Molweni, each morning begins with prayer in the form of singing and dancing.  The entire school lines up under the morning sun in their teal uniforms, ready to praise.  Most are sung in Zulu – but there is one in both Zulu and English. They sing, “Come down my Lord, Come Down my Lord, my Lord is coming all the time.”  They move effortlessly to the rhythm – in sync with one another.  Grades R (kindergarten) through 7 join in with bright smiles and deep faith.  In class sometimes a learner catches me humming the morning’s tune and laughs.  Humming may be the first step toward dancing.


To engage in or perform (a dance).

We were invited to family day at St. Theresa’s Home for Boys.  It was a tricky concept to me because I was unsure of each boy’s situation – who exactly were their families?  Were their parents alive?  If so why were they not living with them?

At St. Theresa’s, dancing on stage is a way in which the boys show off their talent when family members come to visit.  It is how they relax in the afternoons, display a natural talent, express themselves without judgement.

One thing that is essential is to engage with these boys in our afternoons at St. Theresa’s.  I have Cottage 1 and 2 – the oldest boys at the home, anywhere from 12 to 18.  There are two brothers there that I have befriended – Sifiso and Manqoba. At family day they, along with their brother Siyabonga, introduced me to their Auntie.  Manqoba told her I needed a Zulu name.  She looked at me intently and said “Thandeka” – meaning lovable.  Now that I am Thandeka, maybe I can eventually dance like a real Zulu.


A series of motions.  Jumps, balances, and turns

Currently Alex and I are teaching verbs to grade 5.  I ask the learners to list action words on the board: run, jump, cook, make, wash, clean, do, and always dance.  To add some fun to the lesson we ask everyone to stand up and one by one shout out the verbs so that they can act them out.

Minds don’t always dance in the library at St Leo’s.   The language barrier makes the simplest tasks difficult.  Sometimes I am not sure if anything is being learned or accomplished. Other times I am pleasantly surprised.  No matter what - if I say “dansa!” my learners know exactly what I mean and how to put their bodies in motion.

My learners have to balance many struggles in daily life as well as face unsettling turns.  I never know what goes on when they leave St. Leo’s.  Some will not eat again until they get to school the next morning.  Many are orphaned or sick themselves.  My life-loving children have to grow up too fast.  In the midst of great sadness, they manage to dance without hesitation.


Tradition, performed at a range of social and religious occasions

Funerals are what people in townships do on the weekends.  HIV/AIDS has completely ravaged these Zulu communities – taking away pivotal members of every generation.  So far I have attended two funerals – Bhekemuzi (46) and Nonduduzo (25).  There, the community celebrates life through dance.  Dancing and singing at a funeral is both a cry for help to God and a chance to celebrate the life of the deceased.

I have always felt awkward surrounded by a crowds of dancing people.  Being the only white people at a funeral or a Zulu mass puts extra pressure on you when everyone is dancing.  I am forced to push through my awkwardness and embrace the movement.  Dancing eases the devastating reality of the situation.  I don’t totally let loose, but clapping and swaying must be a step in the right direction.


Flexibility, strength, endurance, co-ordination, dexterity

The view from our balcony is breathtaking – overlooking the Valley of a Thousand hills sprinkled with the roads and huts of Embo (66%  HIV positive).  The truth that it displays is heartbreaking and aggravating.  South Africa contains two worlds – poor black and wealthy white.  The people I serve have to be strong and flexible in order to make a life out of this injustice.

I personally feel weak and inflexible trying to find my place in this confusing existence. The beauty and tragedy of South Africa makes my mind continuously twirl, listening for some kind of harmony.  When it comes to the post Apartheid history and the socio-economic realities of this country – I am merely stretching, hardly ready to dance.


Dancing implies a restlessness of the body

A restless body also means possessing a restless mind and a restless heart.  As a second year Augustinian Volunteer – I am constantly realizing why I ended up here.  Restlessness is what drives me to make myself uncomfortable.  Most of my restlessness is in my heart and my mind at the moment – but all the beautiful music and voices of South Africa may allow it to travel to my feet.

Maybe the person who gave me that advice knew something about this experience that I did not; knew something that lies within me that I am not fully aware of.  Dancing is freedom and life which is too often lost here in South Africa.  Even on days where nothing else makes sense, dancing always does.

I have until December to get used to the idea of letting go of my fear of dancing.  I won’t be Zulu kicking anytime soon.  But I will certainly try to find joy in movement and power in my emotions.  Come December when I leave, I won’t have to tell the people of South Africa to “khumbula ukudansa.”  They already know.

Katie Porter

South Africa 2009



Internationals 2009


by Admin / 5. May 2009 05:43

South Africa is a place of extremes. Extreme poverty. Pervasive sickness. High crime rates. High unemployment. Despair and sadness are constant companions. They lie in wait, always lurking, waiting for the moment when tragedy strikes or when things go wrong.

But beyond the despair and the tragedy, always present, always strong, fierce, and beautiful, is love. Love is what sustains those whose suffer. Love is what gives people the will to live, to fight. Love keeps despair at bay, and hope alive.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Never before has this verse from Corinthians resonated so much but here and now, as I am in the middle of a second year volunteering in South Africa. Love, in its infinite forms, is all around, always.

Love is patient for those who lie in beds day after day in the respite unit at the Hillcrest Aids Centre. As they fight off disease and infection, separated from their love ones. As they wait in endless queues in overcrowded hospitals and clinics in order to see a doctor, or collect a prescription. As they take medication with such severe side effects that they will feel sicker for months before they start to heal. This is patience. The will to stay alive, to battle for life, for those you love, and a life you love.

Love is kind when these patients receive treatment and compassion from the respite’s hardworking and vivacious care workers. They alleviate aches and pains. They listen to stories, and ease fears. They comfort and console -their kindness is endless. They treat their patients with respect and love: laugh with them, cry with them, touch them and hold them when others are afraid to. They heal bodies and souls.

Love does not boast or envy for the teachers at St. Leo Primary School. Teachers like Mrs. Themba, Mrs. Maduna, and Miss Mthethwa always go above and beyond for their students. Inquiring about issues at homes, making sure they are healthy and taken care of. They do all this without incentive, without being asked, or paid overtime. They take time away from their own children and families to ensure that their students have what they need. They are loving, caring teachers, who do far more that what their jobs require, and ask for little in return – simply that their students grow up to be healthy and happy.

Love is not rude or self seeking when living in a supportive community. As Augustinian volunteers,  Jenn, Katie, and I are committed to living in community. We must always live and make decisions with one another in mind. We share with each other our thoughts, feelings, happy and sad moments alike. We invest in one another and care for one another. We try our best not to be selfish, but to be open and present. When we succeed in doing so, we better understand our experiences here, and become more valuable to the people we serve.

Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs for the South African citizens who have embraced equality and shunned discrimination in order to work towards a peaceful and united future. Times may be tense and tumultuous now and again, but progress is made everyday. There are many who were once victimized but refuse to be weighed down with anger and resentment. Instead, they embrace positive change and live with hope for tomorrow.

Love always trusts, hopes, and preserves for the children of St. Leo’s and the boys of St. Theresa’s home. They are young and innocent. That is not to say that their lives have not been touched by tragedy, because most of them have endured unimaginable hardships already. The physical and emotional toll is heavy, yet they are still eager, spirited children. Many are able to laugh and play despite their struggles. They are sweet and affectionate; they crave love and attention more that anything, and for that reason, I have a real purpose here. They have hopes and dreams: to be a nurse, a social worker, a businessman, a solider, and a pilot. They are hopeful, energetic, and inspiring individuals.

Thus, although a year of volunteer work in South Africa will inevitably be marked by moments of sadness and despair, what truly shines through is the love and the hope that surfaces in spite of it all.

Alex Levy
South Africa 2009



Internationals 2009


by Admin / 30. April 2009 10:29

Huancabamba is one of the most fun words to say that I have ever encountered. It’s actually a Quechua word (the language of the Incas) which means “moving earth” on account of its propensity for mudslides. Pronounced something like Juan-ca-BOMB-a, it’s a village in the Peruvian sierra with about 20,000 people. It’s mostly an agricultural area, but lately a lot of mineral concessions have been granted to large foreign mining companies. I made the trip last Thursday along with one of my comrades from the Office of Justice and Peace. As you can see from the first picture, the ride was phenomenal. You wind through mountain roads and go as high as 3000 meters, then descend to about 1800 and Huancabamba sits in the valley.

Our mission was to attend a meeting at city hall that included the mayor of Huancabamba, the mayor of Carmen de la Frontera (another village affected by the mining) local government officials, and several representatives from groups of Campesinos (essentially farmers, villagers) that live out in the mountains. These representatives are part of groups called Rondas Campesinas, and they’re essentially autonomous law-making and law-enforcing bodies that govern their small communities. Since they live too far from any state police, someone has to keep the peace and make decisions. So in the whole mining deal you essentially have six positions - 1) The villagers who are 99% opposed to mining and are scared to death that the government is just going to give their land away to the mining companies who exploit it and then leave it contaminated (happens quite often); 2) The mining companies and big business men and women of the town who are obviously in favor; 3)Those who are out of work and welcome the mines as a job opportunity; 4) Local government officials who are either in favor or not, depending on their alliances; 5) Federal government officials and police officers who are almost always in favor of the mining, and 6) You have us. We just try to encourage dialogue and keep the peace between groups of people who quite frankly, are up to their ears in fear. The Rondas Campesinas fear the villagers who are in favor of the mining as well as the police, and the government officials on all levels fear an uprising from the Rondas Campesinas. There has been violence between the groups in the past, so often the fear is justified.  Nobody trusts anybody outside their small group, really.

What ensued was a three hour meeting that was called to determine whether this group would meet the following day with Yahude Simon, the President of the Counsel of Ministers (essentially the 2nd most powerful man in the Peruvian gov). The meeting was mostly unproductive as everyone followed the general rule of “he who shouts the loudest will be heard”. Finally, two hours into the meeting, my teammate was able to convince everyone that they should attend the meeting, and he presented a format that they could follow. 1) Give the general history of Huancabamba, 2) Present a plan for development based on agriculture, 3) Explain the threats posed by the mining. For a moment everyone put aside their fear and mistrust. At 9pm, they faxed a message to Simon’s office in Lima saying that they’ll be there tomorrow for the 9:30am meeting (a solid 12 hours notice…).

In the morning, we all gathered in the plaza to get ready to drive to the meeting site.  Sadly, the whole thing fell apart. Simon’s reps decided not to come because they weren’t given enough notice and rejected several demands that had been made. Each side blamed the other for the failure to meet, and in the end this weekend did little to ease the tension.

Overall, the trip was a great opportunity for me to see the reality of the mining situation. Clearly, agreements and resolutions will not come easy, and like everything here, it’s going to take time, but I feel comfortable with the church’s approach: Encourage dialogue about peaceful solutions, educate about human rights, and most importantly, focus on building community.  Our successes this year will undoubtedly seem small and will not be very measurable, which is likely to frustrate me quite a bit.  However, as Oscar Romero notes in ”Sowers of Hope”, the kingdom lies far beyond us and it’s important to have faith in the fact that our small successes, combined with those of others, do in fact make a world of difference.

Kevin Krainz

Chulucanas, Peru 2009



Internationals 2009

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