Friday, June 29, 2007

Day 290: Sending Chocolate-chip Cookies Internationally

I was recently informed of the correct way to send chocolate chip cookies through the international post. First, make sure that the package weighs less than one pound. That's right, just one pound of chocolate chip cookies folks. Actually, less than one pound, because the correct way involves placing two pita breads in the zip-lock baggie. This technique will keep the chocolate chip cookies from getting stale. While the pita will arrive dry, the cookies should arrive soft and delicious.

If anyone would be willing to try this experiment with me, I am certainly willing to check my mail box on a more regular basis. :).

So much love, Libs

An interesting article to read

Check it out... one of our PCV's sisters visited her in Peru and this is what she wrote. Always great to get another perspective.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day 288: Everybody needs to get goofy sometimes...

Have we mentioned recently that we miss you? And when we miss you we sometimes just get a little silly, lost in memories if you will...

Photos (top to bottom and left to right):
  • Inca Kola - If you are not familiar with this bright yellow, bubblegum-esque soda option, you are cordially invited to Peru to try it out.
  • Libby in the kitchen - Here I am in our little kitchen, posing with our strainer on my head. The outfit I am wearing is one of my most common, jeans and tee-shirts are my favorite base layer, over which I usually always wear my 'pollera' (or big colorful skirt, see photo bottom left), and in place of the strainer- my sombrero (please see photos below featuring Benjamin in my hat.)
  • Benjamin - If you know him, then you will probably be familiar with the goofy self-portrait series for which he is famous.
  • Benjamin at his radio program - Giving a shout out to his family on 99.5 Sabor Mix, Musho
  • Libby eating a small delicious banana - no explanation necessary.
  • Benjamin - Self-portrait take 2.
  • Benjamin and Libby - Self-portrait of the amazing duo, walking down the streets of Musho.
  • Benjamin - Self-portrait take 3.
  • Libby - Portrait taken by Benjamin of Libby with small delicious banana as moustache before consuming said banana (see center photo)

Links to Peru Peace Corps Blogs and Online Journals

Just click on the title to see a list of links to fellow Peru PCVs and read about their experiences.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Day 286: Celebrating Health on the School's Anniversary

From Monday to Friday (June 25-29, 2007), and for many weeks preceeding this special week, Mushinos focused on the celebration surrounding their school's 29th anniversary. Before the building of the Musho school (which includes kindergarten, elementary and secondary grades) students in Musho had to go down off the mountain to study in Mancos, Yungay or Caraz.

So, today, Benjamin, Nancy, Yanet, Dora, and I joined forces and headed up the hill to the school yard to host the anniversary Feria Integral de Salud, the second ever since my counterpart started working in Musho 5 years ago.

I dusted off my Mariquita Cochinita (Dirty little Mary) story to read to the little kids (last used during a handwashing campaign in April and at the World Health Day fair on April 9th). The story tells of a little girl who loves to get dirty. She doesn't wash her hands, or the fruit that she eats. She drinks water right out of the river, and poops in the fields. As a result, a terrible parasite named Valentin Matasanos (health-killer) climbs onboard her apple and enters her tummy, creating a yucky case of diarrhea. Her parents take her to the health post and she gets some medicine to make her better. She ends up learning the hard way that she should wash her hands after going to the bathroom and before eating, use a sanitary latrine, and wear shoes.
After reading the story we analyzed the cleanliness of our hands and ran off to the sinks with a bar of soap to learn a few best practices for hand washing... Sudz up, all around, clean out those fingernails, in between your grubby fingers, keep going, sing a song (pin pon :) ), and then do the air dry dance!

Nancy, our obstetrician, gathered up the adolescents and walked them through the trials and tribulations, causes and consequenses of teen-pregnancy.

Dora, a visiting nurse, played The Price is Right (kinda) with another group of students, asking them fun questions about nutrition, hygiene, mental health, and fun facts about the health post.

Yanet, the health post's technician, played a Jeapordy-type game with a bunch of students. Her categories were Diarrhea, Respiratory Infections, HIV/AIDS, Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis, and Bonus.
And Benjamin, our environmental health specialist, led the students in a game on solid waste management. In this game, students learn not only the terminology but also the importance of recycling and compost... and the dangers of burning plastics, the waste of burning crop waste, and the negative effects of throwing garbage in the river.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Day 280: Cocina Mejorada What?

Libby Skolnik
Musho, Ancash, Perú 8

The cocina mejorada (improved cook-stove) is a relatively simple idea. Using 42 adobe bricks, create a base for your new stove that is raised off the ground and includes a storage cupboard for pots, pans and other kitchen necessities. No longer will the family cook have to suffer back problems induced by stooping over the ground-level, campfire-style cooking ring. Sufficient air circulation and a brand new chimney will help to ensure that the smoke has an outlet, ideally reducing respiratory illnesses and vision problems. A metal stove top with three cooking surfaces, specifically fit to the family’s pots, helps to create a more efficient cooking system and, thus, reduces time spent cooking and the amount, and related costs, of firewood needed to cook each meal.

There are articles and manuals, websites and testimonies, all intending to inform interested parties on the benefits and practicalities of building a cocina mejorada in the home. When an international NGO working in the area asked us to join with them in a Healthy Homes initiative, including the installation of cocinas mejoradas, we were thrilled. Planning meetings and brainstorming sessions helped our multi-sector team (Peace Corps Volunteers, NGO, and the local health post) to work out a number of kinks, decide on our initial pilot project beneficiaries, and create an ambitious work plan.

Unfortunately, the differences in our visions created a fissure in our schedule of activities.
Our (Peace Corps) end goal: Work with the local 15 health promoters, spread amongst the five communities, in transforming their homes into ‘Healthy Homes.’ Installations in the health promoters’ homes would include cocinas mejoradas, sinks and faucets connected to the chlorinated water system, connection to the sewage system or a sanitary latrine, chicken coops, and guinea pig cages, among others. A series of open-houses would then allow the health promoters’ neighbors to visit the newly improved healthy homes, learn about the project and join a large version of Healthy Homes in the next NGO fiscal year. Their (NGO and health post) end goal: Successfully spend the available project budget by the 15th of August, a goal accomplished by installing 60 cocinas mejoradas in the community. In the end our Healthy Homes project will start by fulfilling their goal. We were, however, successful in convincing our team to consider a number of nonformal education techniques in the installation and learning processes.

Into the field…

It was a sunny Tuesday morning in Musho. After days of community walks to inform the invited families of our demonstration session, we walked down the hill to the specified meeting location. There, at a curve in the dusty, dirt road, stood almost 50 local women, all of whom had arrived at least 15-30 minutes early for our noon departure. In the next hour 15 more would arrive, making our participation rate almost 100%. And so, in two combis and two taxis, our group of almost 70 barreled down off the mountain, through the valley, and back up into another canyon. Nearly two hours later we arrived at our destination – a small town located at practically the same elevation (3000+ meters), sharing many of the same living conditions and traditions with the families of Musho.

Our combi ride had been a flurry of questions and concerns, complaints and excitements. But here, in this new village to which only one of our members had ever visited, we were introduced to the ‘cocina mejorada.’ We entitled the day ‘Sesión Demostrativa de las Viviendas Saludables y Cocinas Mejoradas.’ Met by several of the town’s members, Musho’s ‘cocina mejorada’ beneficiaries were invited into the homes, presented with the verbal testimony of families who already benefited from many of the Healthy Homes installations, and allowed to observe and ask questions. Concerns ranged from ease of cooking to building specifics. It made sense. It was no longer an unimaginable combination of words. Finally, the cocina mejorada was a reality.

Two days later, our multi-sector team invited the beneficiaries to their first training on the project. Again, with nearly 100% participation, we explained the various aspects of the project and the required responsibilities for the beneficiaries. Responsibilities include 100% participation in all technical trainings, attendance at nutrition and hygiene educational sessions, a pre and post survey to measure changes in behavior, and provision of manual labor in the building of their cocinas mejoradas. Additional installations include family vegetable gardens and animal cages for their guinea pigs, rabbits, and chickens.

Our next steps include a technical training on building the cocinas mejoradas and the beginning of a series of educational health sessions. While the challenges are varied and sometimes seemingly insurmountable, we will seek to teach in a manner that will open people’s eyes to new ideas, allowing them to personally decide to improve their lifestyles by providing the technical support necessary.

This is a picture of what Mushinos are cooking on currently. As you can see, the pot is balanced precariously on the rocks and there is no chimney for the smoke to escape. The walls are black, and you can only imagine their lungs.

Another cook-stove in Musho, this time made out of adobe. Again, note the black walls. Many Mushinos, especially the women, spend most of the day in the kitchen preparing food for their families (sometime more than 15 people eat in her home for every meal). And, as the sun sets and the air gets icy, the whole family migrates to the warmth of the kitchen... and so the lungs are blackened of all.

Ahh, the cocina mejorada (or improved stove). This is the stove model that we saw on our field trip (see article above). This stove is also made out of adobe, but has been covered by plaster to help maintain a cleaner kitchen, and maintain the integrity of the stove. The cupboards below help the family keep their pots and pans off the dirt floor. Also, the height of the stove allows the cook to stand and not hurt her back by bending over a floor level firering.
Here you can see the metal surface of the stove, fit with tops that help keep the stove hotter and more efficient, as well as keep the smoke flowing toward the chimney (see back right corner of the stove.) As a part of the Healthy Homes project, families can build cages for their guinea pigs to keep their kids from playing with them, avoiding the spread of disease for both the animal and the kids.
Same thing goes for the chickens. And this way the chickens don't eat their vegetables in the garden or lay their eggs in hidden nooks and crannies. More protien (chickens and eggs), and more vitamins and minerals (veggies!).

And finally... The latrine. Crucial. For all of the reasons you can think of and more.

Here one of our participants takes notes on the engineer's description of how to build the stove.
The day ended with one final question and answer session in which our Musho Moms got really excited to start up the project in Musho!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Day 274: Tres Leches - Wednesday Evenings from 6-8 on 99.5 Sabor Mix Musho

Saturday, June 09, 2007

No day specifically

Here is an adorable picture of the Libster in her midget days. This is a shout out to Keelin and Mark, the Bixby/Kane padres who raised this little short-haired nugget into the great Peace Corps volunteering Libby we know and love today.

What a lil chunker.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Day 266: A visit to Campo Santo

Monday, June 04, 2007

Day 265: June email update


Wow, it's been forever since we've been in touch and I just wanted to send out a quick hello to you all to tell you how much I love you and think about you. I write to you from a dark, humming Internet cafe, hidden back in somebody's house and identified from the main street of Yungay by a red and white cocacola style painted sign 'INTERNET.' Ahh, you gotta love the obvious, but not-so-obvious things in life, eh?

Benjamin and I are moving along with our Peace Corps Service... hard to believe that we've been in Musho for just over 6 months now, and in Peru 9 months already. Today we had a great meeting with an international NGO working in the area, World Vision International, to present our Community Baseline Study. We've spent the past couple of months working hard to complete a series of family interviews and surveys, asking questions, and investigating life in Musho. The result was a 45 page document reporting on 'life in Musho' - topics include stats on frequent illnesses (the majority of which are preventable with a few key behavior changes like boiling your water, washing your hands, cooking on a stove with a chimney so that the smoke isn't causing respiratory illnesses, etc), trash management (they don't...people burn their plastics and throw the rest of the non-burnable trash in the rock fences around their fields or in the forest or river), sources of income (mostly agricultural, with a few miners and taxi drivers), religion (mostly catholic, some evangelicals and one israelite family), access to safe water (lots are connected to the water system, but lots don't boil their water and drink right out of the irrigation ditches), presence of a bathroom or connection to the sewage system (most aren't connected and many people don't even have a letrine and just poop in their fields), use of medicinal herbs (wow... lots, and mostly for stomach pain and diarreahs...), what they plant in their fields (corn and potatoes... just add rice and you've got a peruvian's favorite dish). And some other stuff, all leading to our conclusion that what is most needed in Musho is a change in behavior based in the home and hence a national program called 'Viviendas Saludables' or 'Healthy Homes.' We've convinced World Vision and the local health post to jump on board the implementation of the program and will start with informational sessions this week. We plan to work with a pilot community of 24 families, and then also work with 5-10 families in each of the other 4 neighborhoods to create what we will call 'show homes/casas de muestra.' Our first phase will focus on improved nutrition practices through a series of educational and demonstrative sessions, and will include building a 'cocina mejorada/improved stove' in each home. The key to the improved stove is that it has a chimney and holes appropriately sized for the pots used in the family's cooking, thus helping to eliminate smoke in the kitchen and ideally repiratory illnesses. The stove is also built off the ground so that the cook can stand in front of the stove, eliminating back problems created by stooping over a smokey fire all day long. The end result will be improved health, better eyesight, improved nutrition, and a host of other benefits. Other aspects of the project will include family gardens, cages for guinnea pigs and chickens, and sinks connected to the safe water system.

Benj also plans to start a radio program in the next week entitled 'Tres Leches' - named for the famous peruvian dessert and insinuating three languages... Quechua, English, and Spanish.

Libby will start a program called 'Como Planear mi Vida' - a six-month course on life-skills, she'll work with a small group of adolescents on life planning, thinking about the future, sex-ed, self-esteem, family values, communication skills, among many others.

We had a great 2 week vacation with Steve and Lola Skolnik... Our explorations led us from Huaraz to Musho, north to Caraz and up into the Cordillera Negra to see the huge 'puya raimondi' flowering pineapple plant. From there we headed off to the Santa Cruz Trek and spent 3 nights and 4 days of high-altitude hiking in the beautiful Cordillera Blanca. Good and tired after the trek, we headed up to a hostal above Huaraz to spend the last few nights... enjoying day hikes and treating ourselves to massages, cribbage and wine. Our days were mostly clear, cloudless and splendidly beautiful, affording constant views of the snow-capped peaks.

Ok, Please keep in touch, thanks for all the recent emails and snail-mails. We love the contact.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Day 263: On the importance of clean and accessible water