For more than six months now, I've been volunteering with a Peruvian NGO in a small village called Villa Rica in the Peruvian mountain rainforests. Today, I would like to give you an idea of what working for the Atiycuy Perú project and living there is like. First of all, I will give you a rough overview of the project. If you want to know more, you can find further information in the project description on Atiycuy Perú's homepage (http://atiycuy-peru.org). The latter, however, is quite outdated.
Atiycuy Perú consists of four programs (five if you consider the volunteers):
1) ANNA (Acompañamiento de niños, niñas y adolescentes) is a children's sponsorship project;
2) CCNN (Comunidades Nativas) is a village development project for indigenous communities;
3) COBIO (Conservación y Biodiversidad) is a nature conservation project that takes care of about 18,000 hectares of forest in the Concesción; and
4) GEA (Gestión y Educación Ambiental) is an environmental management and education project.
I work for GEA 90% of the time and will tell you more about it later in this blog.
Depending on which of the coordinators you work with, tasks as a volunteer with Atiycuy Perú will be completely different. At the moment, I am the only volunteer, so I get to help out in the other programs on a regular basis. Work for CCNN mainly entails preparing and holding meetings in the Comunidades (the indigenous village communities). The volunteer tasks for COBIO are similar, except they discuss different topics and meet in the villages around the Concesción. In the future, I expect to go into the forest to install cameras as well.
Volunteering with ANNA is a bit more varied. Each Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. children and teenagers of Villa Rica come to the Talleres. On average, 30 - 50 children and 20 - 25 teenagers turn up. About 120 kids are signed up to the program. Volunteers help prepare and conduct activities for the local children. We also translate children's biographies into German in order to find sponsors and short letters for children who already have sponsors.
ANNA also works with children in the Comunidades. They attend school during the week, so we spend a lot of our Saturdays there. We frequently end up carving bows and arrows, talking about each other's cultures and, more often than not, swim in the river.
So what do life and work in the Atiycuy Perú project look like? Since everyone lives together, the two inevitably are intertwined to some extent. Work starts at 8:30 a.m. for everyone, unless you will be traveling into the Comunidades or the Concesción for the day. In that case, your day will start at 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. Before heading off, we have breakfast, which is typically porridge or quinoa with fruit and juice. Personal food preferences are usually accommodated, if you mention what you would like to have and stay on the ball when things are forgotten. The kitchen is well-equipped, which allows us to cook for ourselves as well. Otherwise, there is a cook, who has Saturday evenings off. Lunch time is from 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Work finishes at 6:30 p.m. and is followed by dinner. At the moment, volunteers also work Saturdays, but I believe that this is going to change in the future.
Since I predominantly work for GEA, I am usually in the garden or the small piece of forest close to the project building. We are currently turning a small circular path into an educational forest trail. Last week a biologist specializing in dendrology (the study of wooded plants) visited us and classified all the different types of trees in the forest – about a hundred. One task we have left to do is to write down the scientific names for the species onto the signs we attached to the trees. I will compile a list of medicinal plants with Carlos, who is very knowledgeable due to his upbringing in an indigenous Yanesha Community. The list will include photos of the plants that I will take soon.
My other tasks include: building nest boxes and bird feeders; planting flowers; feeding the two dogs (Orran and Mayar) and letting them out; building raised beds or herb spirals; watering the plants; and anything else I might notice and suggest to be done. The ultimate goal of the work we do here is to raise awareness among the local children about the beauty and diversity of their home, so that they might learn to cherish and protect it. It’s not yet a common practice here.
Now let me tell you a bit about living in the project center, Casa Atiycuy. Almost all of the employees live here together. Some of them travel home to see their families on the weekends often and some a bit less. There are two buildings. Block A accommodates almost all of the facilities (i.e. dining rooms, offices, auditorium and some of the bedrooms). Block B is nearly finished, adding bedrooms and a common room. Each bedroom has two or three beds. The bedrooms in Block A each have their own bathrooms and Block B has one shared bathroom. There is constant work being done, so things will look different in the future. Privacy is rare in Peru, but if you want privacy, you can relax in your bedroom. There is also a sofa for lounging and a bean bag in the dining room. I have crafted a hammock for myself, which I use in the garden. The employees usually stay in the office until bedtime. There is also Wifi here – sometimes it's fast, sometimes it's slow, and sometimes it doesn't work at all.
What else can I tell you? The people in the project are all very relaxed and friendly. Villa Rica is a rather small village. There are a couple of karaoke bars and discos, one mirador (a viewpoint), two waterfalls and a relatively big lake nearby. On weekends, you can also visit the cities nearby or travel to Lima, which takes ten hours by bus overnight. If you want to know more about the area, you can ask one of your co-workers. They know people in all parts of Peru who can show you around!