Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Adventures in Peru

Posted by Ann Wang, Senior Writer/Communications Specialist

I think most people are probably more comfortable planning a trip to South America than to Africa...but after having traveled to and worked in Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone over the past 10 years, I was a bit at a loss as to what to expect when I was told I’d be going to Peru to support our Because I am a Girl campaign launch there.

My first mistake was to completely overpack...but in my defense, our schedule of activities called for visits to a variety of different areas and climates, field trips as well as high-level meetings, and some hiking to wrap up the week. So aside from sweaters and t-shirts, skirts and leggings, I also ended up bringing five pairs of shoes. Just for perspective, I usually only bring one pair of shoes, a skirt, three or four t-shirts, and maybe a light jacket for other trips. Switching hotels every night and taking planes, trains, buses, and automobiles with multiple backpacks and suitcases made for some good exercise and muscle-building, that’s for sure!

I also wasn’t sure what we would be seeing in terms of Plan programs in Peru. In terms of development challenges, the context in Peru is – at the outset – very different from other places I’ve been. Its economic growth and democratic progress have been impressive, and the country is largely stable now. At the same time, not all Peruvians have benefited from new economic opportunities, and income inequality continues to grow. There are still many gaps in social services, particularly among harder-to-reach populations and vulnerable groups that Plan works with in Lima, Cusco, and elsewhere.

In some ways, it’s even harder to effect behavior change in countries where progress is being made – there aren’t immediate needs that have to be fulfilled such as extreme hunger and lack of health care – and the process of working with communities to create sustainable impact can require more creativity and innovation. And what we witnessed were the vibrant community members in various villages in Peru definitely addressing their own challenges – with Plan’s support!

From training pre-school teachers to ensure children get a head start on their education, to starting enterprises such as weaving collectives and guinea-pig farming, Plan’s child-centered community development projects are having a transformative effect on children and their families. Fathers who didn’t used to be involved in child care now participate in activities at community nurseries, children are taught at an early age how to properly wash their hands and reduce the likelihood of disease, and families are able to earn extra income that can be re-invested in their children.

Aside from the amazing program visits, another trip highlight was definitely the food! From ceviche to alpaca to guinea pig...I tried it all, and it was delicious! The ceviche was delectable, with super-fresh seafood and lime juice. Alpaca is not only a source of wool in Peru, it’s also eaten in a variety of ways, from burgers to steak. Guinea pig was the biggest stretch for me, as in the U.S. we tend to think of them as elementary school pets, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to taste a Peruvian specialty...which reminded me a bit of rabbit. Other yummy treats included causas, lomo saltado, and purple corn! I’ll have to do some searching for a Peruvian restaurant in Providence soon...although don’t think it’ll really compare...

Of course, no trip to Peru would be quite complete without seeing Machu Picchu, and we were fortunate to have the time to do so at the tail end of our week there. Breathtaking views of the Andes, combined with astounding architectural and engineering skills on the part of the Inca, made the visit incredibly special – complete with a rainbow to greet us at the end of the day! Even the high altitude didn’t slow us down too much, other than some extra huffing and puffing on our way to the Inca bridge.

I can’t wait to go back and see more of Plan’s programs in Peru – and explore other parts of the country. Perhaps my next trip there should be for a month instead of just a week...

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