Friday, 28 October 2011

Karno's Experience: My Happy Volunteer Experience in Sícchezpampa

This is the storytelling homework that was done by the nine-year old girl of my host family. Aha! We had known each other just for a few days and this was her first impression of me!
Every morning I was woken up by these turkeys. They cackled like machine guns.   What a strange sound!

After having breakfast which was usually a large plate of rice with banana and beans (my favourite) or sometimes tuna or beef, we had sufficient energy to do farm work.
Coffee-bean-harvesting is the most important farm work in July to August.  By looking at and smelling this red, cherry-like fruit, it is hard to believe that they are coffee beans.

Now these dried coffee beans turn black. However they still do not have the smell of coffee.
I only believed that it was coffee when we roasted the black beans. The smell was very strong and smelt so good! Notice that the stove was built by one volunteer organization. With this design, the mother could stand to cook whereas previously she squatted to cook. The design also eliminated the smoke. Moreover, this stove used less wood. What a GREAT and INNOVATIVE design!
Harvesting coffee beans was the main work. Other duties at Sícchezpampa included picking corn for the poultry and us (roast corn and tamale are my favourite), going to the local school to cook lunch for children and finally picking up cow and donkey dung for compost.

I had 2 objectives in coming to Sícchezpampa:
1.         To do physical labour each day.
2.         To develop my Spanish.
This was my fourth time doing volunteer work in a Spanish speaking country and it was the happiest one because all my objectives were fulfilled!

I will never forget the happy experience in Sícchezpampa. The people there are so friendly and nice. The air is so fresh and clean. The life in general is so quiet, calm and peaceful. Thank you to my host family, Sícchezpampa and last but not least Otra Cosa Network!  You all gave me lots of unforgettable moments. ¡MUCHAS GRACIAS!

By Karno Yan from Hong Kong (Sícchezpampa Coffee and Sugar Cane Farm, July - August 2011)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Louise's Experience: How volunteering for OCN lead me to drill a screw into a piece of wood for the very first time in my life

Let's face it, I am definitely not the female equivalent of Bob the Builder. Never in my life have I driven a nail into a wall or changed a light bulb, and even building an IKEA shelf remained a mystery to me.
So, I arrived in Huanchaco, full of good intentions, and started working for Un Lugar Skate Ramp in El Cerrito de la Virgen, a poor, desert area where most of its inhabitants moved after the giant and devastating El Niño disaster of 1998. When Najin, OCN's manager, told me about this project a couple of months ago, I had found the idea amazing. What could be better than a skate ramp in this helpless area to give some dream and ambition to the children, and take them out of the streets for a couple of hours a day? I signed up immediately.
On my first day at the ramp, I did not really know what to expect. We were walking up the sandy pathway from Huanchaco's church to El Cerrito, and Jan, the volunteer in charge of the project at the time, was trying to explain to me the situation and describe the place. Honestly, I could not picture anything in my head. A little after, we were finally at the blue door of the ramp. Jan opened it, and here it was, this wooden dark blue skate ramp, surrounded by sand and rocks. He showed me the dusty office, in which were stocked few hula-hoops, a couple of frisbees, knee protections, helmets, and the three beloved skateboards. We took all the material out, and very soon, the place was full of children. Two of them jumped on the knee protections, grabbed a helmet, and within two minutes of entering the skate park, they were already focused, practicing hard on the ramp. The rest of the children were doing hula-hoop competitions, hanging around the monkey bars, or simply watching these two boys show off with their skateboarding skills. I was amazed to see all these girls and boys from 3 to 16 years old playing all together, sharing the skateboards and the time on the ramp. They were all really curious, asking me where I was from, if I could speak English or Spanish, and especially if I could skateboard. I was completely honest with them. My only skateboarding experience was watching The Lords of Dogtown and Paranoid Park, not enough to deal with a mini half pipe ramp without killing myself. But it did not really matter to them. There were plenty other things to do anyway.
Once the excitement of the first time at El Cerrito passed, I started observing the place, and the ramp. It was pretty obvious that a lot could be done to make it nicer. But, what got my attention was the ramp. The two middle parts were already quite damaged. It did not take long for the external parts to present the same defects. After I had been there a month, Jan left Huanchaco, and I ended up in charge of the project, with a lot to do. I decided to work by progressive steps. First, make the place nicer, by painting the grey and dirty walls, and cleaning up the skate park. I organized a painting/cleaning party at the ramp on a Saturday afternoon, with a “wear your dirtiest clothes” dress-code. A lot of volunteers showed up, and it made the garbage pick up much nicer! A good amount of children from El Cerrito also came as they saw the doors open, and their help was really useful. Once the work was done, we all – children and volunteers alike – shared an ice cream sitting on the benches, admiring our work, tired and dirty. We ended the day watching the sunset from the hill next to the skate ramp. It was a really nice and efficient day. The children enjoyed it and were looking forward to the next painting party!
But this was only the step one! Then, came the important part: changing the first layer of the ramp, as it was clear that the ramp would not be skatable in a couple of months. It appeared to be a bit of a challenge for me. Construction work is not my strong point. Neither is the skateboarding environment. So, I cried for help to Najin. She put me in contact with Oliver and Hannes, the two volunteers who built the ramp in the first place. Right away, these two answered my email, sent me the plans of the ramp, and a detailed explanation of how to change the top layer. It was perfect. I just had to prepare a budget, have the agreement of Najin, Juany and Peter, and find strong and competent men to help me do the job.
But, in the end it was not so easy. The main issue was that we needed to plug-in the drill and it is quite hard to find a power point in El Cerrito de la Virgen, where the majority of inhabitants have no access to electricity. We had to use three different extensions and ask the neighbor if we could use the plug in her kitchen. Luckily, the people of El Cerrito are extremely nice, and helped us with everything, especially providing us with construction material such as saws and drill keys. With these technical details solved, everything went quite fast. The guys were really efficient on drilling, and an hour later the ramp was already looking better.
Leaving El Cerrito that day, I had three satisfactions. Firstly, I knew the children would now be able to skate on a nice, freshly painted ramp, practice hard, and enjoy their time at the skate park. I also knew that I would look less stupid the next time I face an IKEA shelf. But, finally and most importantly, getting involved in this project and fixing this ramp made me realize that you do not need much to give a couple of hours of happiness and amusement to children who have nothing.

Louise Vieussens from France (Un Lugar Skate Ramp, Las Lomas and OCN Office: March - July 2011)