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a travel blog by poweroflove

I´m in Peru for the next six weeks working on an internship with an NGO in Iquitos through Nexos Voluntarios (NeVo), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides unique opportunities to make a significant contribution to the development of Peru's poorest communities by living and working as volunteers in the country. The program I will be working with is called Preparate para la vida and focuses on the prevention and rescue of children and teenagers in situations of sexual and labour exploitation.

Here´s a link to more information on the program.. though it´s in Spanish:
And here is a link to the Nexos Voluntarios website:

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My Welcome in Lima

Lima, Peru

I got to Lima last Saturday very early in the morning, and I was taken to the home I´ll be staying in for a few days until I leave for Iquitos on Wednesday. It´s a pretty amazing
house, super eclectic and beautiful, and Dr. Mariano, my host, has been nothing but helpful and nice. He lives with a lady that works for him, a maid if you like, and both of them have made me feel more and more at home. It helps that the city looks and feels a lot like my native Bogota (even the weather is the same!), but yesterday was mother´s day and I got my first bout of homesickness.
My room is pretty nice, mostly the basics
, but what I love most about the house are these cute little bits of wisdom that are spread thorughout the house.
This one on the right says "It is not he who has little that is poor, but he who desires much".
I spent my first night here with Mari, my contact here in Peru while I was still planning the trip. We mostly just walked around Miraflores, a very pretty neighborhood (foreigner´s favorite), and then met up with a couple of her friends. One of them is a historian and the other a sociologist, and the conversations we had were awesome. We went to this little bar.. it had a really cool atmosphere. Very relaxed. And we talked and talked. Here´s a picture of the group

Enough writing about Lima for today, I´m going to expereince it =)

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 12, 2008 from Lima, Peru
from the travel blog: PERU
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My first taste of reality

Lima, Peru

Today I went to the headquarters of the organization in charge of the program I will be working with in Iquitos to learn more about what I will be doing. It is called Capital Humano y Social Alternativo (CHS, or Alternative Human and Social Capital). Here is a biref description of what they do:

CHS Alternativo is a non-governmental organization whose Mission is to support and promote the continuous growth of Peru’s human and social resources through pertinent social programs .
Amongst its strategies, CHS Alternativo foresees:
Positioning itself as a strategic alternative resource that can serve as a bridge between institutions that cannot spare time from their principal activities or business, but want to support the social and human development of the society in which they operate.
To become a complementary tool, an ally who guides the strategies of institutions in order to make them more powerful, effective and efficient.
To directly support the leaders and different local actors - public and private - leading them towards an integral organization that will enable them to attain sustainable solutions and development.
For more information:

The first thing we talked about was the problem. The exploitation of minors is rampant in Peru, just as it is in many other areas of the world. In Cartagena, Colombia, for example, a beautiful city that thrives on tourism, the sexual exploitation of minors that goes on behind the scenes is truly alarming. Like I mentioned, the situation is very similar in Peru, though there is one glaring difference: whereas in other areas, like Colombia, this kind of sexual commerce is at least documented and problematized, which, sadly, does not necessarily mean it is any less widespread, Peru lacks the means of obtaining this kind of data, mostly because of how the situation is handled. Cases of sexual exploitation of minors are often documented as mere prostitution, even if minors are involved. That is the first problem, because it deviates attention from the greater issue: by treating it like prostitution, nothing is said about why these kids ended up where they are, who took them there, or the abuses they endure. Moreover, this kind of attitude towards such a prevalent problem promotes an impunity that only encourages the problem.
For these reasons, one of the approaches CHS uses to deal with the issue is working the the police to problematize the situation and encourage the prosecutions that will combat impunity. Similar methods are used to prevent the labor exploitation of minors as well.
However, the work cannot end here, for this kind of method deals with the symptoms, rather than with the root of the problem itself. I am not completely sure what I will be doing, but working with parents, teachers, and the children themselves to raise awareness and problematize the situation will be a large portion of it. As I understand, there will also be a center where we can do educational workshops that can double as tutorial sessions and some therapy work for children that have been sexually exploited.

The program is not huge, but their task is, especially in a place as forgotten by the authorities as the jungle. So my task will be to go to Iquitos an provide any kind of help that they need. The project is relatively new, and their resources are scarce, so I think any real help can make a big difference.

That is it for today. Pictures of my city tour tomorrow.

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 13, 2008 from Lima, Peru
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I´m finally here!

Iquitos, Peru

I finally arrived in Iquitos yesterday at around 6 pm. I had not realized it, but Iquitos is actually one of the places Che Guevara stops at during his travels in the movie Motorcycle Diaries, which if you have not seen, you should. Iquitos, according to wikipedia, is one of the largest cities in the world that is not accesible by land because it is surrounded by water. People here don´t really have cars, so the primary mode of transportation on the streets, other than walking, are mototaxis, which are basically two passenger carriage things attached to the back of a motorcycle.
I am about certain that I will not have a way to upload pictures, at least not regularly, until I get back to Lima, so I´ll talk about a bunch of stuff and add pictures to the text.. eventually. Promise.

My last couple of days in Peru were very good. After going to CHS to talk about the work I would be doing here I went on a tour of the city. It was beautiful. Since I

uploaded those pictures while I was still in Lima I can show you those. Here on the right is the Bar Maury, where the Pisco Sour was invented. It is located pretty close to the plaza mayor, where a lot of the government buildings are.
We also passed by St. Francis´church, and since he is the patron saint of animals, once a year people bring their pets to the little plaza out front to be blessed.
We also went to the Parque de la muralla, which was built where a large wall used to exist to protect Lima from pirates (since it is located by the sea). In the back is one of the mountains that have slowly been populated by poor people that don´t have anywhere else to go.

We went up the mountain to a place where you can see the city, at least on a clear day, which it was not that day. The ride up was scary.. a very narrow road where only one car fits that winds around the mountain... the view was pretty though.
We also went to a place where there used to be a statue of Pizarro, the conquistador of Peru. One of the presidents decided that a man that caused so much pain to the nation should not have a statue in his honor, so it was brought down, and a fountain now stands in place. I really love that they took the statue down.
Later that day I went out to dinner with another one of the volunteers, Cathy, a super cool girl from Northwestern. We ended up going out dancing and this is me being twirled.

I already miss the place I was staying at..

But I really really miss Te. She became my little companion while I was home.

As for Iquitos, it is incredibly hot. I have not stopped sweating, and I have been covering myself in bug repellent.. The office where I work and where the kids´ workshops take place is a five minute walk from my pension, so that is nice. The pension itself is pretty nice. I have a bed, a mini fridge (bigger than the ones at school!), my own bathroom with a shower.. and there is even a place to wash my clothes right outside, though I doubt I will be washing more than just a few things myself. I even have cable, which is nice, because I have been able to follow different things in the news.
About seven blocks from my pension is the Plaza de armas, and the place I will be taking my meals is right there. I think it´s pretty ironic that the owner of the restaurant is this guy that went to UT in the 60´s and now has the whole place decked out in burnt orange and white. Even the waitresses sport the colors.

The first night I was here I took a walk with Ana Cecilia, my new boss, around the plaza, the area where most tourists are, and where most of the approaches for sexual tourism happen. It was unnerving to even see a girl waiting to find a client as we walked by. I felt helpless.. but there are processes we follow in order to gain their trust so that they actually want to come work with us. Because the approaches all happen by eye contact and other body language, I was adviced to not be too friendly, or I could be taken for one of the girls looking for a client.

Today I went with David, one of the social workers that works in the program, to do field visits. We first went to the home of a young boy, of 15, that has stopped comming to the workshops, and we wanted to find out why. Turns out his parents finally bought a mototaxi, so he has been working. Since he is a minor and can´t work legally, he has been working nights, sleeping in the mornings, and barely doing homework and going to school. He was not home though, so we couldn´t talk to him. Alll that information we got from one of his siblings.

We then went to a settlement, pretty far away from Iquitos itself, to talk to the head of a gorup of workers that go to dumps to sort through trash to find material to sell. Their kids tend to work with them, even though, if you ask them, even if the kids are right by you digging through the trash, they deny it. These kids are called recycling kids.. gives it a whole new meaning, huh? Anyway, we talked to this man who organized a bunch of families that work like this. They now work for contractors that are paid by the city to clean up. The problem is that the new people they sell the trash to are not paying them anymore.. rather than giving them everything up front in exchange for the trash, they give them a little and end up owing them the rest. This is a huge problem because without that meager pay the workers have no money for transportation back home, or even to feed their own children. Moreover, this man we talked to was especially worried because his mother was having a lot of medical complications and, since hospitals are not working in protest, he has not been able to find medical care for her. Anyway, we came to try to work with him on getting the children of the families in this group to come to workshops we are setting up in the area. The good thing is that he was very willing, very interested in getting the children into these workshops that teach the children important skills, even self esteem. I think we´re meeting with the whole group next week to get the parents involved as well. After our talk we walked around the settlement. There were houses that have gone up in literally the last three months. It was a bleak sight. But I need to find beauty even in those grim circumstanes right? I thank my friend Jack for reminding me of this, because on our little walk we encountered all these children that looked so happy, just playing with each other. They could teach us so much about finding happiness in the smallest things.. Anyway, I pulled out my camera and they got super excited, asking me to take pictures of them so they could see.

Afterwards we went to a school in the middle of a red district where a lot of kids at risk for, or already involved in, sexual and labor explotation go. We met with the sub-principal (I guess that is how it translates?), who was extremely helpful. It was invigorating to find that there are allies everywhere, because he contributes a lot to the program by facilitating the follow ups on kids that don´t show up to the workshops for whatever reason. We keep him informed on what is going on so he can talk to the kids and see what´s up. While we were there we talked about a girl that stopped going to school altogether because, most likely, she makes so much money in prostitution that going to school seemed pointless. There are so many cases like that. But there are others that prove to be the motivation.. like a girl that was at risk and now, since attending the workshops, is doing much better in school, and even her family is supporting her.
A lot of the work we did today was to find out why certain kids were not coming anymore, and if possible, talk to them and get them to come back. But in the process I found out a lot more stuff. Like the fact that this school, in the mirddle of the red district, was closed today in protest. Why, you ask? Well the government has to provide contracts for the different teachers, and it has not. At this school it was something like five posts in really basic areas like math that do not actually have a paid teacher. Some teachers work elsewhere, coming in for free to make sure the kids don´t get behind, but since they don´t get paid it´s hard for them and they can´t come all the time. This place though, has come a long way. It used to be made of wood, just like the school at the settlement, which looked like it was about to fall over. It used to be in a ditch. Since it is in such a dangerous place, people would come in at night and steal things. Now they have a great looking bulilding that they are very proud of. It isn´t huge, but it is something. And it´s inspiring to think how far they´ve come.

It has been a long day, and tomorrow I will be doing my cultural activities as planned by Nexos Voluntarios. I´m excited about that, because the guy they set up for me is really cool, and he was telling me what we´ll be doing and.. let me tell you.. it will be amazing.

If you actually read this whole post, I´m flattered. Sorry it´s so long, but I had a lot to tell!

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 15, 2008 from Iquitos, Peru
from the travel blog: PERU
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The Zoo is too much fun!

Iquitos, Peru

I still can´t upload pictures, but there will be some amazing ones coming of the zoo.
I fed a pink dolphin, shook hands with a monkey, pet another one..

Oh, and the view was amazing.
That´s all for now!

This is me in my Dora the explorer outfit..

That would be my hand feeding the pink dolphin

Yeah.. I climbed on a tree..

Shaking that little monkey´s hand..

And swimming in the lake!

Almost forgot.. this is me eating some fish.. and suri.. yes, i ate silk worms

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 16, 2008 from Iquitos, Peru
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I live right by the Amazon!

Iquitos, Peru

Now that I have been here for a few days, I have been learning a lot more about the program. Yestarday I went to a workshop with Jenny, one of the psychlogists. It was a skills for life workshop, and we were working with girls from the only home for girls in the city. Most of the girls there had a past of some sort of sexual exploiation, or they had been working since they were little and had no family. I think the oldest one was 16.

The workshop I attended was one of 12 (we actually do two per session, for lack of time and funds) where we teach them about self esteem, leadership, being assertive, etc. At first they were pretty wary of me, sine they have already established relationships with the two teachers, but by the end of the almost four hours, they warmed up to me and were sharing with me as well. By the time it was time to leave they all asked if I would be coming bak next week. Of course I will.

That would be me showing them how to do one of the activities...

The thing with these girls is that most of them don´t actually wanna be there. One of them, for example, had left an abusive home when she was 11, and had been alone ever since. The lady she considered her best friend, the person that had "helped" her out the most, was a lady that would feed her in her restaurant in exhange for sexual favors with her customers. Because they have lived such different lives, most of them are not used to, at least at first, to the routine and duties associated with living in a home, so they someimes try running away.

In the afternoon I sat in on one of the classes we offer, a computer class, and I met some of the older kids. They were all very nice, but the class was very long and kind of tiring, despite the lively dynamic, because the students had to write down everything the teacher said (the manuals that some of the teahers made have not arrived yet). One thing I really like is that we also work with homosexual boys that don´t have many other opportunities open to them in a place that is not very accepting of their reality.

Last night I went around town, seeing the sights, and I found out that "the river" that runs like a block from the plaza I walk to every day is actually the Amazon. The Amazon! I did not even know it was so close! And it is beautiful. I also found out that the birthplace of the Amazon is acutually about two hours from here, and I was promised a visit for my birthday, which is coming up!

At first, being here by myself was pretty hard, but it gets easier every day. I just have to focus on the work, right?

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 18, 2008 from Iquitos, Peru
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A great talk and a great workshop

Iquitos, Peru

Most of the work I have been doing here, at least so far, has involved field work. Lately David, a social worker that works with the program, and I have been visiting schools with populations at risk or already involved in sexual and labor exploitation, trying to get the teachers on board. Since they are our main points of approach for the children, because of the relationships that already exists, we depend on them a lot to get to the targeted population. Usually we explain what we do, what children we can help, how, and give them these cards to fill out so we can do a follow up and start the process. But this time the teachers actually spoke up. One of them said that, yeah, they all want to eradicate child labor, but that the social realities are different, and there is so much need that kids will have to work to help either their households or themselves as long as things don´t change.
It could have been a slap to the face.. "this is pointless!" Instead it turned into something amazing. A real dialogue began about the realities that exist and what can actually be done. I increasingly believe in what we´re doing, and it´s mostly because of the workshops we do for life skills. What I love is that we´re not just closing our eyes to the fact that, whether we want to see it or not, these kids will still need the money they get from their jobs, and taking them from their jobs altogether is not gonna work. Instead, we are giving them skills that help them to cope, so that they can get out of the situation they are in. We help them build up their self esteem, we show them how to resolve conflicts and other problems that might seem insurmountable. We give them the tools and, most importantly, the ability to see that they can be protagonists of their own history, that they can better their lives, and more than just monetarily.
I´m only now beggining to delve into these workshops, but they really seem amazing. They consists of twelve modules, each with an aim and different games or activities. It is nothing like a class; the activities are very dinamic and lively, teaching the kids through activities and examples. We build uo their self esteem, teach them the advantages of learning to communicate assertively, about their rights and duties. There is a part on sexual abuse and about being sexually active, about protection.. There is even stuff about gender and sexual orientation.

Working these modules, I´m learning probably just as much as the kids. It´s so interesting, fun, and helpful. I don´t know why it´s not one of those things that are required for every child.

Pictures coming soon... promise!!

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 21, 2008 from Iquitos, Peru
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I´m learning so much..

Iquitos, Peru

Yesterday I had a really cool experience. I have probably already mentioned the fact that we are teaching the life skills workshop to teachers at a local school so they can replicate it with their students. My job there is mostly as a support for the main guy, David, getting materials ready, handing them out, etc. He has told me I can lead the activities if I like, but since I´m not too familiar with it, and the teachers have to really learn it so they can do it themselves, I have been hanging back a lot. It´s cool anyway because I´m learning so much, and the teachers really act like little kids, they get so into the activities.

Anyway, one of the dynamics teaches kids to express their emotions and let other people know when they have appreciated something or when they disliked something as a part of exercising assertive forms of communication. In this dynamic one person would sit in a chair facing another (who could sit in for other people not present, like parents, friends, etc.), and then they would express what they felt and why. It was pretty cool to see teachers opening up to each other. A lot of tensions have been released in their work spaces though the workshops we have been playing.

In this particular exercise, I really wanted to participate, so I did. I asked David to sit with me, and I thanked him. I have been here for a little over a week, and it has not always been easy. There have been days I feel really lonely, in a strange place, with no friends or family. But even then, when I go with David on those field visits, he always makes me feel so comfortable to ask questions, give my opinions.. he is the person I am closest to here, and not just because of how much time we spend together. He is awesome and I wanted to let him know. I don´t know why, though, I started crying (actually, for those of you who know me best, you probably think that is not too far from my usual self..). It was a good cry though. I am in a strange place but there are all these amazing people around me, teahcing me so much, and I´m relaizing that slowly.
I still don´t know how to turn pictures, but I really like this one I took. The card says something like, "Kids need more role models than critics". It was for one of the activities..

And for some really exciting news, my boss informed me today that I am going to be creating my own workshop for the kids! It will be about their rights, about an hour long, and the program will be using it even after I leave!!!
Ahh! I´m so excited.
Ideas? It´s not gonna be easy, but I´m up for a challenge =)

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 22, 2008 from Iquitos, Peru
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My second day as a tourist!

Iquitos, Peru

Before I talk about my day, everyone should know my younger brother performed CPR for the first time, officially, at the hospital he does clinical rotations at. He´s gonna be an amazing doctor!

Today was pretty amazing. Even though I got about 5 hours of sleep.
In the morning we went to Belen, which is a really poor neighborhhod, famous because of its floating houses. Some are on stilts, but other do float, because the river rises. There were kids running around, and I guess my obviously touristy outift called them over, so we took some pictures together =)

Afterward we got on a boat.. This is me, about to go an quite the journey.

Floating down the river was breathtaking.. The green, the water, the sky.. It was all incredibly beautiful. I couldn´t believe what an amazing planet we have, or how carelessly some people can destroy it. The boat ride alone was awesome.

We were actually on our way to the Mariposario, a kind of zoo where they have animals loose everywhere (all but the leopard)

and an amazing butterfly sanctruary of sorts.
Thisw would be me petting an anteater..

And the highlight of my day.. a monkey picking thorugh my hair! You can tell he was a little rough..

The butterflies were gorgeous..

This little monkey kept playing with his fish and my shoe.. though you cant see my shoe in the picture

This guy played with the tangerine.. he was pretty skillful

Then we left.. and I had to do another Dora the explorer picture..

And more awesome time on the river..

We went to visit a native tribe... the Boras. The girl that greeted us guessed my age exactly right.. she´s been the first one to do it this entire trip.

So I bought a few things from them.. and they gave me a discount because they want to send their kids to the center I work at for free computer classes..

Then we danced..

After we left, the boat took us to the amazon.. You can tell where it is because the water is a lot lighter..

And this is the little port we finally went back to.. it was amaizing!!

I miss everyone, and I hope at least some of you could have shared all this with me!

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 23, 2008 from Iquitos, Peru
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A quick brainstorm..

Iquitos, Peru

Today I had a pretty long talk with my boss about what I´ve been learning here, and I figured out what I really want to do once I get back to school in the fall..

From the moment I got here I realized the need for the type of work CHS is doing here is huge. There is so much we could do to help these kids in diverse ways.. but there is only so much we can do. CHS is filled with so many caring people that are very well trained to do their job.. but the funds are not always there. When I got here, for example, they didn´t even have a good record of their activities because they don´t have a camera, and the pictures they did have were taken on phones and such. The "library" they have for their kids has like 10 books.. and even that took them forever to put together. For the computer classes, the teachers came up with manuals to ease the process along, but there are no funds to print them. Some of these kids don´t even have notebooks.. they sometimes show up to school with a few sheets of paper, because that is all they can afford.
Last semester my Paideia group at school put together a fundraiser to benefit the GISD´s Migrant Program Scholarship fund, and I think something like that could be really helpful here.. Everyone, please let me know if you guys would be interested in helping.

Another thing I discussed with my boss was the Life Skills workshops. I really love them. It´s not always easy staying until after 10pm training teachers on them, but I learn so much.. I really think they should be a part of the required curriculum at every school, everywhere, because every child should have those basic tools.. So I´m thinking of starting an effort to replicate these workshops back in Georgetown at some point.. I think they would be really helpful to the kids that can attend them.

So far, all of this is just brainstorming, but I would really love to take this further..
Ideas? Comments?

permalink written by  poweroflove on May 27, 2008 from Iquitos, Peru
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