Sunday, July 15, 2012

Preparing for the last combi ride

I vividly remember the emotional rush that accompanied during my very first combi ride to Poroto.  I was crammed amongst a jumble of people, excited and slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of seeing my new home for the first time.  I remember all my senses were heightened as I took in the sites of the passing pineapple fields, smelled burning sugar cane lingering in the warm air, heard cobradors shout in Spanish jabber, and felt the bumps and curves of the carretera.  Everything was new and revealing itself to me for the first time; my anxious anticipation was palpable as I anticipated the site where I’d be living for the next two years.  Now, after countless trips on that same combi, I’m called by name and greeted with smiles by fellow Porotinas as I climb aboard.  The squawking chickens, screaming children, and huge bushels of fruit that inevitably accompany me have become commonplace fellow passengers.  My two years have passed and I’ll soon be embarking on my dreaded last combi ride out of Poroto. 

As I rode that first combi with a nervous smile plastered on my face, I could’ve never anticipated the experiences that were waiting; shared laughs, frustrating challenges, and countless new opportunities.  Somehow this little town, nestled in the very base of the Andes Mountains, surrounded by vibrant green pineapple fields has stolen my heart and truly become home.  It’s been an experience far different from anything else in my life, and something that I know will affect everything that’s yet to come.  I truly thought joining Peace Corps meant leaving my life behind and starting something new.  While Peace Corps was absolutely a distinct departure from my previous lifestyle, it has in no way been a different life.  It’s amazing how we all have the ability to adapt to new situations and integrate into foreign environments.  Practices that initially seemed bizarre, illogical, or different have become “normal” and my conception of reality has surely been altered as I became comfortable with my new lifestyle. 

I’ve found that my life hasn’t been put on hold these past two years; in fact, quite the opposite has been true.  My life has continued and been enriched by a distinct set of challenges, relationships, and opportunities for growth.  Never before had I encountered moments where I felt so lonely, cynical, and frustrated, but simultaneously loved, encouraged, and inspired.  I had experiences and interactions that truly tested long-standing personal beliefs and conceptions of the way the world works and others that re-affirmed them in personal and meaningful ways.  I realized that as much as I missed my “real” friends and family, I was also capable of forming an entirely new system of support in my community and amongst fellow Peace Corps volunteers. 

Much like two years ago, I am once again faced with a myriad of emotions as I’m about to jump on this combi for the last time.  The “unknown” in my life is no longer the foreign, as it was two years ago.  Ironically enough, it’s now the “familiar” that’s become unknown.  I’ve become accustomed to 4:30am braying donkeys as my alarm clock, lazy Sundays picking pineapple, extended  lunches laughing with  my host family, children greeting my entrance with screams of “Senorita Kelsi!,” stray dogs chasing me on my afternoon runs, and long Spanish conversations with local senoras about town gossip.   I’ve embraced less than hygienic habits and integrated bizarre Peruvian jerga into my vocabulary.  Will I be ready to face the world of 9-5 jobs, punctuality, and materialism?  I have to remind myself that America also means my family and friends, dinner parties, real weekends, hot showers, the beginning of a career, and food I can choose myself.  Twenty-seven months outside the US has made me unsure of what’s waiting for me and what new adventures lies ahead.  My own beliefs and personality have undoubtedly been impacted by my time here in Peace Corps, but I have faith I’ll jump back into American life carrying with me the very best of Peruvian culture; hospitality, warmth, and taking the time to enjoy life and relationships.  I’ve said before; I’m ready to go, but I don’t want to leave.  Leaving my host family and community and boarding that combi will undoubtedly be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  As I watch the town of Poroto fade away into the green fields, my emotions will once again be heightened and my future unknown, but I now carry with me experiences that I’ll never forget and confidence gained through the struggles and successes of the last two years. 

As I began packing, I found a letter I wrote to myself almost exactly a year ago  with instructions to open during my last week at site… here’s an excerpt-

“This may not have been the easiest thing in the world, but now that it’s over I hope you continue to feel 100% certain that it was 2 years incredibly well spent.  As you continue with your life, remember the simple pleasures, the beauty of relationships, and the small things around you.  Maintain passion, enthusiasm, positivity.  Don’t ever lose faith; in yourself, in God, in others, in your own capacity.  The world awaits.  I know it’ll be hard to leave, but Peru will always be your second home.  Remember what you said when you started this adventure? You wanted a heart and home in this country; I certainly think at this point you do.  So- be fuerte, be ambitious, love life, love others, love yourself.  Embrace your last bit of time in Poroto; keep smiling, eat some pina, laugh with the fam- don’t take things too seriously and think of the many blessings you’ve had over these last years.  Take this experience back home with you and let it mold your future in the best way possible. “

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Peace Corps Highlighted in Trujillo Newspaper

The following is an article featured in the main Trujillo newspaper, La Industria.  It highlights the work of Peace Corps in the region, focusing on our recent youth camps. I translated most of the article below.
Hundreds of Youth Share a Unique Experience
Peace Corps: More than a Vocation
Organization Founded by John F Kennedy Works in 8 Provinces of La Libertad

“Don’t wait for change, be the change.” Peace Corps promotes this motto to hundreds of youth in 13 regions of Peru, one of which is La Libertad, where 25 volunteers can be found working in 8 provinces: Otuzco, Sanchez Carrion, Santiago de Chuco, VIru, Gran Chimu, Ascope, Pacasmayo, and our own city.
The story began to write itself 51 years ago when the president John F Kennedy founded Peace Corps, a development agency supported by the United States, which provides American professionals who work on social development projects in communities who solicit their support.  The members of this organization are currently working in 79 different countries.

Within Peru there is an initiative with Peace Corps volunteers working in environmental management, water and sanitation, youth development, small business development, and community health.
The regional coordinator of Peace Corps, Sandra Rivasplata, explained that there have been many years of intense work in the design and implementation of projects based on the reality of each community with a strong emphasis on community inclusion.  “Our first efforts were focused on combating chronic child malnutrition, which led us to become authorities on the theme and allowed us to expand our lines of action.”
Peace Corps works prioritizing interventions benefitting children, women and small businesses, focusing on workshops and educational sessions.  Annually, the volunteers facilitate two camps with student leaders from the region, one named ALMA (Leadership Activities for Young Women) and VALOR (Leadership Activities for Young Men).

In these camps the youth spend four days learning about diverse topics including; leadership, self esteem, youth entrepreneurship, goal setting and life planning, vocational orientation, and health (sexual/reproductive health, teen pregnancy prevention, etc.) sharing experiences with other youth from the coast and mountains from the region, converting the camps into a great space of sharing and learning amongst the youth.
This year the first camp was held with young women with the principal focus of vocational orientation, including a vocational tour where youth visited four different institutes and universities and listened to presentations about scholarship opportunities, motivating them to continue their studies for a better future for themselves and their families.

The Facts-
There are 8655 Peace Corps volunteers in the world
240 Peace Corps volunteers serve in Peru
33 Volunteers are in the La Libertad Region

Friday, June 8, 2012

Escuela de Padres

For the last two years I’ve been working extensively with the youth of Poroto on everything from health promotion to environmental education, cultivating meaningful relationships and trust between myself and the adolescents of Poroto.  However, the amount of time students spend in school or personally with me is minimal.  Our root values and beliefs stem from our families and homes.  Despite behavior-change attempts or educational programs, if we don’t reach out to families and parents we’ll be fighting a losing battle against promoting positive lifestyle habits and practices.  

The thought of working with parents seemed overwhelming at first; not only am I 24 years old with no children of my own, but I also come from a very different culture, especially when considering familial trends and parenting styles.  What did I have to offer to these parents? Furthermore, even if I did have valuable information to share, who would listen?  I had planned on doing an Escuela de Padres series in my local school since arriving, but it took several personal encounters to give me real motivation to organize the project.

 A little over a year ago, I was working in the health post when one of my favorite teenage boys comes in.  He was crying and inconsolable, which was extremely atypical from his usual cheery demeanor.  I spoke to him in private with the nurse and after calming down he confessed he had misplaced his phone and his mom was going to hit him again tonight if he couldn’t find it.  He expressed this happens on a regular basis and he was terrified of going home.  On the outside, this boy seems well-adjusted, happy, at the top of his class; someone who I expect to overcome many of the obstacles in his life.  However, if he’s battling continual abuse at home, what long-term effect will that have on his self-esteem, confidence, and abilities? This is just one small example, but it helped me realize that no amount of sessions or education with youth can change the way parents communicate with their children.  I couldn’t leave Poroto without trying to engage actively with parents.

After this interaction and several similar encounters, I decided to coordinate with my local school and health post to organize comprehensive parent-education workshops for parents of both elementary and high school. Peruvian schools are technically mandated to have Parent Education sessions, but like dozens of other programs, they conveniently ignored this requirement.  I started by meeting with all the teachers and principal of the school to determine relevant issues and concerns that affect parents and their relationships with their children in Poroto.  After extensive brainstorming and planning we launched our program. Working with parents and captivating their attention isn’t easy, and I’ve heard a long list of failures with parent-related activities, so I was determined to ensure parents’ attendance and participation.  I solicited the support of teachers, the principal, and the health post to encourage parents to take advantage of these workshops, and we began about this time last year. 

Working with the nurse and psychologist from my health post we’ve been able to facilitate discussions on everything from adequate disciplinary practices, talking to your children about the changes of puberty/adolescence, preventing teen pregnancy, alcoholism, promoting nutrition, and dealing with domestic abuse.   The three of us have worked really well together, complementing each other’s knowledge and skill-set.  Johan’s professional knowledge of psychology and familial relationships gives credibility to our programs while my enthusiasm and non-formal education activities help parents feel comfortable to share and express their concerns.  I also know most of their children by name, so they’re more open to comment on personal anecdotes.  I’ve found myself smack in the middle of dozens of bizarre conversations with parents, tackling taboo topics and laughing through uncomfortable situations.  Never in my life did I think I’d be in a room full of Peruvian parents facilitating a session about talking to your kids about sex, but I’ve put aside my verguenza and jumped right in.  The Escuela de Padres program has not only allowed parents to learn new parenting techniques and diffuse tough familial situations, but also provided an outlet to share experiences and advice.  This program has also served to bridge the gap between the health post, school, and families, which I hope will make families feel more comfortable to seek out professional help and assistance when necessary.

Our attendance has been consistent and participation is active after a bit of encouragement.  The opportunity to work one-on-one with over 100 parents from my town has provided insight into a whole new realm of the community and its dynamics.  I may not have children of my own, but somehow these Peruvian parents have come to trust me and together we’ve shared many memorable moments. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Facing the person in the mirror

This is exactly what I looked like when I left America, si o no?

Three months left. What an adventure these past two years has been; more highs than lows, but lots of new experiences and more than enough time spent in my own company.  When I look in the mirror, two years after setting foot in this country, I gaze back at myself and appear to be pretty much the same.  I’m a little dirtier, maybe carrying a nice little recuerdo of the rice and potatoes so generously offered in abundance.  I might have a few more wrinkles from the strong Peruvian sun and laugh lines formed from the shared experiences and ridiculous cultural exchanges, but when it comes down to it, I’m still me; still Kelsi.  After two years in Peace Corps I was subconsciously expecting a grand transformation of sorts; some revelation about my purpose in life or the hidden way the world works. 

Despite incredible new experiences, defeating challenges, emotional blows, exhilarating successes, and true fulfillment, I feel like the same person.  However, when I look in the mirror there is something different, something that’s developed over the last two years that I can’t quite put my finger on. After pondering what that that extra little something might be, I think I finally identified it: comfort.  I have spent the last two years learning to rely on myself and serving as my own personal entertainment.  Out of necessity I’ve become comfortable with myself; my quirks, my strengths, my shortcomings, and my convictions. 

Regardless of a wonderful host family and a supportive community, life in Peace Corps can be lonely and I’ve learned to be able to spend time with myself.  Coming to Peace Corps fresh out of college was a dramatic transition. I spent four years living with my best friends in a beautiful college town, where I was constantly surrounded by others.  Everything I did was accompanied by other people and I thrived on the social interactions, sharing every detail of my life with those around me.  I didn’t have any need to entertain myself or contemplate on any grand level who I was or what I stood for. I’ve always been a strong person and known what I thought and believed.   However, I did not know how to “just be” and embrace time alone.
Many long nights here in Poroto have taught me the pleasure of my own company and I’ve realized that I can only make others happy if I’m happy first with myself. The time and leisure of thought and reflection afforded to me during Peace Corps has been both a blessing and a curse.  In an atmosphere conducive to emotional instability, it can be torture to be trapped in my own head.  Simultaneously, it is through those quiet times of reflection, doubt, and questioning that I’ve gained self-confidence and become truly comfortable with myself.  I may not know exactly what I want out of life or the path that I’ll take in the future, but I do know myself well enough to be confident in my ability to own my decisions and figure it out.  In America it can be far too easy to hide behind friends, a job, a lifestyle, a boyfriend, or an image, but here you have little else to rely on but yourself.  Stripped of any comfort, support, or familiarity you’re forced to embrace who you are and work with what you’ve got.  Resourcefulness and self-reliance come fast or you’ll drown.  No one is here to hold you accountable or keep you grounded; every day you have to wake up and learn to live with yourself.  I’ve learned to speak my mind, form strong opinions, and truly battle internally over what I believe and what I want out of life.

  I’ve learned to take ownership over my decisions, even if they’re hard, and I’ve come to realize that life cannot be perfectly planned.  Life is messy and emotions are fragile, but strength and confidence are born out of insecurity and struggles.  I still don’t have concrete answers, but I do know myself much better.  Every day circumstances happen that are out of our control; projects fall apart, people disappoint, plans change.   Life happens and we can’t change that, but we can change how we react, how we face obstacles, and how we respond to life’s twists and turns.  So when I look in a mirror I realize that Peace Corps hasn’t turned me into a hippi (fortunately) and I am no closer to understanding the meaning of life (unfortunately), but it has given me the time to get to know myself.  My thoughts, my beliefs, my hopes; the good, the bad, and the messy, and with this knowledge of myself I’ve learned to enjoy my own company. The luxury of alone-time has armed me with a sense of self that will help me navigate the next phase of my life, and with this self-awareness I feel ready to confront the next set of challenges and adventures that life will bring.   

Monday, March 26, 2012

Poder de la Mujer

Here in Peru it seems as though there is a festival or official day of celebration for anything. Everything from the common, like Mother’s Day, to the bizarre (or potentially invented) like Pisco Sour Day. I’ve learned to take advantage of these days to facilitate events or generate awareness about a relevant topic. March 8th was International Women’s Day, so Lindsey and I decided to plan an educational health fair for women in the district of Poroto. We began coordinating with our counterparts from the health post, soliciting support from the psychologist, nurses, and obstetrician to provide professional advice and interactive sessions. The idea was to present important health information in a fun and participatory way. The idea started small and manageable, but before long it transformed into an expansive event. We incorporated the 20 plus health promoters living throughout the rural sections of the district, my youth health promoters, and another NGO working in health activities. The municipality and police also became involved, creating a community-wide project that required seemingly endless coordination amongst all parties. Serving as the go-between between so many disparate community organizations definitely tested my patience at points, but the event came together well and ended up being a success.

The day began with an opening from the mayor and local authorities, recognizing the importance of women in the community. After concluding the welcome, each authority wrote their personal reflections about women on an enormous paper mural honoring international women’s day. We continued with a cultural show of typical dances performed by community members. From there, groups of women passed through series of stations that focused on different health fields; nutrition, family planning and reproductive health, women’s rights and empowerment, and mental health. Each station included interactive sessions hosted by health professionals and Lindsey and I. We also incorporated a different game at each station to encourage participation, teamwork, and fun. The games included bobbing for apples, three-legged races, pin-the-tail on the donkey, and egg races. To our delight, the women participated with enthusiasm. Full grown women were practically swimming in the bobbing-for-apples bucket and knocking each other over in the three-legged race. My youth health promoters also worked with the kids in the community to do art and play health-related games, allowing their moms to participate fully in the health fair. In addition to playing ridiculous games, women were able to learn how to prepare healthy meals, exercise their rights to education, work, and health, access birth control and family planning, report domestic violence, and more. The entire community participated in this event honoring women and their power. I continue to believe women are the key to development. If a woman is educated and empowered they will make positive, informed decisions regarding their futures and their families. The most responsible, involved, and dedicated youth in my community are girls, and if they are given further opportunities to exercise their leadership and explore their skills, I believe the future of Poroto is in excellent hands.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Acostumbrar. If I were to simplify the entirety of my goals, hopes, and aspirations during my Peace Corps experience into one word, this simple Spanish verb would pretty much sum it up. Despite my attempts to adequately convert this into English, any translation falls short. In my eyes, acostumbrar can mean to become integrated, to get used to, to become comfortable; in essence, to become part of something. So, you may ask, after two years of new experiences, frustrating challenges, and successful projects, why is “acostumbrar-ing” still the focus of my thoughts and actions? Life in Peace Corps depends on becoming accustomed to your surroundings, understanding the dynamics of your community, and embracing a new and very distinct way of life. I strongly believe my personal happiness and sense of fulfillment stems from integrating into a new environment. In all my life I cannot remember a more overwhelming experience than when I first arrived in Poroto. As I climbed off the combi I knew this rural 1200 person Peruvian town would be home for the next two years. I was left to fend for myself: to find work, make relationships, and form a new life for myself. Knowing no one, having little guidance over my work plan, and still stumbling over Spanish, the tiny town somehow felt immense.

I refused to recognize any lingering sense of doubt, and instead decided to embrace this new adventure and jump in head first. Wasting no time, I decided I would dedicate my first months to meeting as many people as possible and gaining as many new experiences as possible. Every day was a new adventure, with new challenges to overcome and different cultural barriers to tackle. I immediately fell in love with my sunshiny new town, accepting its many glaring imperfections along with its endless possibilities. Before long, I was invited to family lunches, danced at town parties, and greeted by name as I walked down the street.

Despite my initial love for Poroto, I certainly wasn’t “acustombrar-ed” to this crazy new life. For months the early morning donkey brays startled me, the enormous portions of rice and potatoes overwhelmed me, glaring poverty disheartened me, and strange Peruvian customs besieged me. However, I slowly found myself taking part in the activities I first found so bizarre. I loved eating a huge bowl of chicken soup with chicken feet for breakfast, I found it normal to sit in the town health post with stray dogs at my side, and started to throw Peruvian slang into my Spanish vocabulary. Every conversation with a Peruvian inevitably began with, “¿estás acostumbrando?” to which I confidently responded, “¡claro que si!”

Now, over a year and a half later, as I come back from the chakra with my host family covered in dirt and carrying large sacks of fruit or enter the school to resounding shouts of “Senorita Kelsi!”, people in my community now comment with a knowing smile, “ya, estás acostumbrada.” My sense of normalcy has shifted entirely, and I’ve come to understand the deeply rooted societal customs of Poroto and Peru in general. I worry that when I go back home my less than socially acceptable Peruvian tendencies will continue, and I’ll end up sucking on chicken bones at the dinner table, bathing only a few times a week, or aggressively waving my hand to get someone’s attention. However, in all seriousness, I have been adopted by my community as a pseudo-Porotina and I consider Poroto my second home. As much as I sometimes like to think I’m Peruvian, I’ve come to realize I will never fully “acostumbrar.” My American roots run deep and I will never understand some intricacies of the Peruvian culture (for example; how an open window or a fan is a sure cause of the flu, but heavy drinking for hours out of a shared cup poses no sanitary concerns). However, the bizarre beliefs or lifestyle choices are far outweighed by the many cultural habits I’ve come to deeply appreciate. Peruvians are warm, generous people; no matter how little they may have, they share it without reservation, keeping me well fed with heaping plates of food and freshly picked fruit. All Peruvian women seem to have the incredible talent of miraculously producing ample food for anyone who may unexpectedly show up at their doorstep or arrive late to a party. I’ve learned to take myself less seriously, and come to realize there is never anything so urgent that I can’t take the time to stop for a quick chat and a good morning smile with the senoras I pass on the street. I’d like to think that in my time here in Poroto my community and I have simultaneously “acostumbrar-ed” to one another; slowly learning more about the other and becoming more comfortable as we share, laugh, and experience life together.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

US Ambassador, Rose Likins, Visits Poroto!

US Ambassador to Peru, Rose Likins
Introducing La Embajadora to our host families

Explaining that Peace Corps exemplifies the best of the "American Spirit"

My wonderful youth leaders explaining the youth entrepreneurship and health promoter programs they've participated in with me

Poroto's Mayor welcoming the ambassador to the beautiful district of Poroto

During the celebration of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary, various Peace Corps volunteers were invited to an elegant party and reception at the residence of the US Ambassador in Lima. Donned in our finest attire, we were able to mingle with important Peruvian and American diplomats, embassy workers, and Peace Corps staff. The ambassador’s residence was quite impressive, and the event indicated the importance of the ambassador’s position in strategic Peru/US relations. The formality of the event was quite a distinct departure from our typical lives and work as Peace Corps volunteers, but a nice chance to celebrate the history of the organization.

I was recently contacted by our country director in regards to planning a special trip for the US Ambassador. She wanted to see the work of a Peace Corps volunteer first hand by visiting their site and meeting their community. My site-mate, Lindsey, is working on an extensive healthy lifestyle and “cocinas mejoradas” project and I’ve worked closely with my health post on various successful health promotion and youth focused projects. Although this trip was still only a possibility, we were both simultaneously excited and nervous at the prospect of hosting the ambassador here in our tiny Peace Corps community. We contacted community counterparts and created a tentative schedule, highlighting our projects and involvement in Poroto. After some deliberation, we were selected to host the ambassador and showcase the work of Peace Corps first hand. Wasting no time, we informed our work partners, students involved in our summer education classes, and health promoters that an important visitor from the US would be coming. Many of the participants in our projects live in far away caserios with no phone service or transportation, so informing them of this important meeting was a bit of a task. However, we managed to organize a schedule that highlighted the broad work we’ve been doing and confirm the participation of various community members.

I was recently in Lima for an advisory council meeting with office staff, when we found out the mayor of Trujillo had changed the ambassador’s meeting time only 2 days before the planned event, which required us to reprogram the ambassador’s visit for a day earlier. I rushed home from Lima and both Lindsey and I spent Tuesday running (literally) around the district of Poroto, communicating the changed schedule with the many health promoters living in isolated caserios, preparing presentations with our counterparts, and encouraging the participation of local authorities. Despite our excitement, we were nervous because of the last minute schedule change, and after a full day of planning we could do little more than go to bed and hope for the best.

We woke up early on Wednesday morning and received the full support of our health post staff, who had also arrived early to clean, set up the room, and prepare for the presentation. Before long, a caravan of large SUV security vehicles rolled up to my 1200 person town, creating quite a sensation here in Poroto. Somehow, we managed to have the entire invited audience in attendance and seated in the health post before the arrival of the ambassador and her entourage. The mayor and entire municipality, the health post staff, my youth leaders, health promoters traveling from isolated caserios, participants in our projects, and our host families; everyone was early and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the embajadora from Los Estados Unidos.

The ambassador arrived to the health post and was met by a standing ovation and an enthusiastic audience. We met her at the door, led her to her front-row seat, and began our presentation. In Peru, it is custom to formally address each audience member of importance personally, so my introduction was a very long-winded, “A very good day to our ambassador of the United States and her esteemed colleagues present, mayor of the district of Poroto and municipality staff, our honored doctor Luis Aponte and health post personnel, Peace Corps staff present, district health promoters, and audience in general…” I still can’t get used to these formal introductions, so after making it through that without a hitch I knew we were in for a good day. I was given the opportunity to explain Peace Corps as an organization, its role in Peru, and specifically how I’ve been active as a volunteer in Poroto.

From there, I gave a brief presentation explaining some of our most successful youth development projects here in Poroto, including our youth health promoters and teen pregnancy prevention campaigns, youth entrepreneurship and environmental programs, and parent education workshops. Diana, my loyal community counterpart/health post nurse spoke highly of her work with me and the impact of our programs, even sharing that recent data suggests that the teen pregnancy rate has dropped in the district of Poroto as a result of our work. I also invited two of my youth leaders, Karolain and Tania, to speak about what they’ve learned participating in projects with me. They were well spoken and sincere, and their kind and generous words about me and our projects made me hold back tears.

Lindsey and I continued to share pictures and details about our rural health education series we’ve been working on together in the isolated caserio of Huayabito. This caserio is 3 hours walking distance away, with little access to water, electricity, or other basic needs. We’ve traveled there consistently over the last 6 months, giving interactive nutrition and cooking classes, hygiene and disease prevention, and composting and gardening workshops. We were thrilled and surprised that the health promoter from Huayabito came rushing in during the meeting, having walked the three hours in the heat to join us. This portion of the presentation served as a transition to Lindsey’s exciting new program of healthy living and “cocinas mejoradas” she recently began in the district. Working with the 20 health promoters in various caserios in the district, they will be trained in basic health practices and then construct “cocinas mejoradas” for 70 families. Cocinas mejoradas are improved cooking stoves, which include a chimney and covered flame to drastically reduce smoke contamination and health problems as well as preserve more firewood for cooking. The health promoters each brought a rural family who will be benefitting from this new program, so it was an excellent opportunity to gain support and excitement for this upcoming opportunity.

To finish the program, I explained the importance of the cultural interchange and community integration. In order for projects to be successful, the involvement of the community is indispensable. I’ve spent a year and a half cultivating meaningful relationships within Poroto, and this event was an excellent sign of the fruits we’ve bared through our mutual collaboration. The overwhelming support and positive feedback from my community on such short notice indicated their commitment to me, Peace Corps, and the work we’ve done together.

I was also able to introduce my incredible host family, who has been a solid and constant source of encouragement, laughter, and comfort during my time here. I truly feel like I am not only Peruana, but Porotina at heart, and a member of the community and my host family. Joshy and Pascuala couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces during the entire presentation, so when I invited them to the meet the ambassador personally they were quite excited. The whole family came to the front of the room and spoke genuinely about our shared experiences and my presence in their life, and gave the ambassador hand-picked Porotina Pineapple, freshly selected from the chakra. The ambassador closed the program, thanking us for our participation and explaining that Peace Corps truly reflects the best of America; the desire to explore, to serve, to grow and make an impact on the world.

Peace Corps is something that can be explained over and over again, but without seeing it first hand, it can be difficult to truly understand. I have become extremely proud of Poroto and the people who live here, so the opportunity to show off my community, my counterparts, and my work to the US ambassador was quite a memorable experience. It seemed as though the ambassador also appreciated the opportunity to see Peace Corps first hand; in many ways, we’re doing the same kind of work. Obviously, on a much different level, but after a year and a half of life in Poroto I will be the first to advocate for small-scale diplomacy. The contributions of Peace Corps volunteers throughout the world represent an intercultural exchange and collaboration of resources and knowledge that couldn’t be replicated in any other form. In a way, we’re all ambassadors: the daily interactions, community projects and educational opportunities shared, and intertwined lives of volunteers and their community create lasting bonds of friendship and mutual understanding that promote a positive image of the US in a personal and meaningful way.