What is the Peace Corps and what does it mean to volunteer?
>>Updates in blue, October 15, 2018
The Peace Corps is a U.S. Government agency started in 1961 by John F. Kennedy to promote peace and friendship through worldwide volunteer service. I applied in April 2017 for a specific job posting for Business Development in Peru both for the nature of the work and the location.
Our “cohort” of 48 volunteers is named “Peru 31” (#31 Class) and we are a combination of CED (Community Economic Development) and WASH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) volunteers.
>>By the end of PST in June 2018, Peru 31 was a group of 43. One trainee had a medical separation and four trainees left after Site Exploration or before swearing-in. As of month seven, we are now a group of 41.
How long are you volunteering?
It is a 27-month volunteer position; three months of training and two years of service in a specific region where the Peace Corps team places us.
Where are you now?
For the three months of PST (Pre-Service Training) I am in Chaclacayo, Perú. This is a smaller community (approximately 40K) about an hour from Lima, capital of Perú. My host family’s home is closer to the town of Chosica than Chaclacayo.
>> The training center, a former residence and campus, is in Chaclacayo, Lima. This is about an hour from Lima center. This is to provide volunteer hopefuls with a better community immersion environment and allow them to focus on training. The group of trainees are individually placed with host families ranging one half-hour by combi east and west of the training center.
What will you be doing? Where are you going?
My sector is CED, or Community Economic Development. This is essentially being available in our community as a resource for 1) business opportunities 2) women and youth business education (think business plans) and 3) micro-loans and micro-financing.
Examples of types of CED work: producer associations, eco-tourism, business plans, strategic plans, organizational & youth/teacher education & entrepreneurship, and women and economic empowerment / micro-businesses. E.g. How to start a community bank and get access to micro-finance and credit and more importantly… why.
The first three months of Pre-Service Training is preparation for living remotely, often far from comforts and amenities and/or other PC volunteers, and being ready to self-direct and immerse into a new community and figure out where / how best to serve.
At Week Five of PST will be be assessed for our skill base, training performance, language skills, and regional preferences and matched to a specific community and region for two years of service.
>>I was matched with Oxapampa, Pasco (a state (departmento) I didn’t know we even had served in) for my background and interest in eco-tourism.
Wait –what- you don’t know where you’re going to be for the next two years yet?
Here’s what I have sleuthed:
>> Peace Corps Lesson #183783: Nothing you sleuth at Month One is going to hold up at Month Two. And so on. Enjoy.
Currently PC Peru operates in a variety of towns in la sierra (highlands), la selva (jungle), and la costa (coast) in Northern Peru.
The five regions (departmentos) where 22 “fresca and crispy” (Peru 31) CED volunteers will be placed are: Amazonas, Ancash, Cajamarca, Junín, and La Libertad.
>>And Pasco. But Pasco gets snuck under the Junín region in Peace Corps product because of some legalmarole I don’t understand.
For the 22 new aspirante CED volunteers there are
- 12 sites in the highlands
- 5 sites in the coast
- 5 sites in the jungle
The size of communities vary from 2000-50,000 in population.
What is the living situation?
For the first three months (PST) we live with a host family. These families are in a 30-minute radius of the training center. I live closest to a small city named Chosica.
For my two years of service I will be placed with a second host family in my assigned community. I will live with them at least for the required six months (for safety, security, and community integration. 90% of volunteers choose to live with their host families for their entire service.)
Host families are paid a weekly rent by the volunteers, from a modest stipend provided by the Peace Corps. It includes a private room (often the nicest in the home) and three meals a day. We need to take care of our own toilet paper, towels, laundry, and other incidentals.
What sort of food are you eating?
I am eating rice on potatoes on additional starches covered in oil and butter with the rare event of a fresh salad and vegetable. It is DELICIOUS. Basically, if I were made out of food, it would be RICE and potatoes. So we are all good here. And no, there is not a gym nearby.
What does a typical day look like for you during training?
Training is five to six days a week, from 8am-5pm, with a one-hour break for lunch. We need to catch a combi around 7:15am to arrive at el Centro by 8am during commuter rush hour. Three days a week I have extra Spanish tutoring sessions after training from 5-6pm. I get back home around 7pm, eat a small dinner, do some homework and head to bed around 9-10pm.
Anything else? Leave me a comment.
>>EDIT: Leave me two comments and I will actually get back to you. (Sorry Eli.)
How is the beer?
It exists. And Oxapampa, being a percipient Austro-German colony, has (at least) two German microbreweries. I don’t love beer, so I am going to bring in an expert to let you know. Stay tuned.
Are there lots of dogs?
There is an ample amount of dogs. Spay/neutering procedures are not common practice. Dogs are also not treated like kids-we-love and it is a cultural adjustment for many. Some dogs are kept on roofs (think: the uppermost level of a parking garage) to be kept “safe.” Some areas there are very aggressive and violent dogs – and it is dangerous to bike or run. Volunteers are given rabies vaccinations – there are about 10 bites a year for PCVs in Peru. Some volunteers elect to “adopt” a dog at site, so we have someplace to give and feel love. It is often a risk for a very harsh outcome.
What is the weather like? Is it humid?
The weather in the Lima area was a gray mule (largely from pollution), hot, sticky, and I surrendered having any hope for my curly hair lasting being straightened.
The weather in Oxapampa (high-altitude jungle) is like Port Townsend, Washington weather. But closer to a cloud rainforest than the ocean. I wear jeans, boots and sweater to work – and then sweat horribly on my way back from from lunch. Then it gets nice and cool again when the sun sets behind the hills around 5pm. In La Merced, the same climate zone, it is often the exact same weather corridor, but twenty degrees warmer. Yes, humid, but not New Hampshire in August humid. A dry humid? Bwahahaha.
Are you the oldest volunteer in South America?
Great question! Yes. I feel like it. Someone just asked if I had grandchildren yet.
But no. I am not the oldest PCV in Peru 31, or Peace Corps Peru. In our cohort (class) of Peru 31, there are (currently) 41 volunteers. One volunteer graduated to his 50th birthday, two of us in their 40’s, two 31-year-olds, and the remainder are between ages 22-29.
I know it took me five months, but I loved answering these questions! Keep them coming!