Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Community Based Training

The First 3 weeks of training, in the capital, were general language, cultural assimilation, and development theory. However, soon after the last time I wrote, our large trainee group split into 2 large groups and one small group based on the sector in which we are to work. So I and 18 other environment volunteers bid farewell to our compaƱeros in the IT and Education sectors and headed off into the mountains to begin our technical training.

I feel like this is when my experience with the Peace Corps really started. The town we were in received running water once every 3 days (courtesy of a Peace Corps built aqueduct). The electricity schedule was erratic. The house I lived in had a zinc roof, so when it rained (which was frequently) the pounding resonated throughout the building—sometimes at a deafening volume. But for me, it was also much more comfortable than the capital. My family had a conuco, or a small farm to grow food for their own use. There were 4 houses of different family members on the property, so there were always people to talk to, ranging in age from over 50 to 3 years old. In addition to my don and doƱa, I had 3 older brothers, a sister in law, 2 little nephews, 3 younger cousins and an aunt to keep me company. We would sit and talk in the living room, watch novelas on TV (when the reception was clear enough), cook, eat, and walk around the town together. It is largely thanks to them that my Spanish improved in the month I spent with them, and I think that I managed to provide them with some entertainment as well.

My family was disappointed in how little time I was able to spend with them, due to the large amount of time I spent in technical and language training. That was some of the most intense learning I’ve ever had, on par with intensive lifeguard classes and such. In small groups, we did community diagnostics like the ones we are required to do individually in our permanent sites, we facilitated activities at a environmental youth conference, and gave Earth Day presentations in the schools, complete with an environmentally friendly activity. We learned about, then built a compost pile to efficiently create organic fertilizer (the Spanish word for fertilizer is abono, in case you were wondering, and compost pile is abonera); we prepared and planted a garden, including seed transplanting and rooting cuttings of oregano and rosemary; and we learned how to measure the contour of the land with an A-frame and built live and dead barriers to prevent soil erosion. We also built healthier and more fuel-efficient stoves, learned about organic pesticides, and proper trail building and maintenance. Now, incredibly, I feel far more prepared than I did a month ago to go into a community and start working on the environmental challenges there.

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