How can it be I’ve been here a month already? The time has flown and crawled at the same time. Because my supervisor was out sick when I first started, things have moved kind of slow for me. My fourth week was no exception (my supervisor is back but we’ve been playing catch up). So I’m reading more and working on a plan of action for the school I’ll go to next week (week 5) and the garden I’m suppose to help establish there. During the week, I did have the opportunity to meet with a woman at the Instituto de Investigación Nutricional (Institute of Nutritional Investigation [a great institution in Peru doing work in indigenous communities, food security, childhood malnutrition, and more]). Hilary Creed, the woman I met with, was interesting and gave me some good leads. I shared my thesis research and questions with her about food waste and food security, the importance of working with children on this issue (as they will feel the future effects of food insecurity more than the current generation) and she found my angle interesting. The last thought is something that had not previously dawned on me, but I think it is important to consider and adds a new element to my research. I’m still working out the kinks.
However, after four weeks, I’m starting to get a little antsy. I want to go to the school. I want to start work on this garden. While I enjoy the conferences and meetings with people, I’m also ready for some action. Boy, did I get some action come week 5…
Monday morning of week 5, we finalize the arrangements to go to the school for Tuesday. The school is Instituto Educativa 6012 in Lurín (a district in the province of Lima). I didn’t know much about the school in terms of the state of the garden, number of students, and grade levels. I knew it was ‘un poco lejos’ (a little far) and in a poorer neighborhood. On Tuesday morning, I met a woman from Qali Warma (the organization that heads the Programa Nacional de Alimentación Escolar [National School Feeding Program]) and we wait for the bus to take us to IE 6012. We actually end up taking 3 busses and a mototaxi. Un poco lejos may or may not be an understatement.
Upon arrival to the school, I instantly fall in love. There is the sound of children playing and there are mountains in the background. Rosita from Qali Warma introduces me to Esmeralda, one of the teachers, and she was very welcoming and excited to have me help with the garden. The director of the school is not there on Tuesday, and I need to meet with her so I am told to return tomorrow (Wednesday). Rosita and I don’t stay at the school more than an hour and a half. I’m introduced to another teacher, I’m shown the classrooms and the garden site. The garden site is huge, 1000 square meters. There was a garden once upon a time, but it is now defunct. Obviously, this is where I come in. After being offered some popcorn with a vow to return tomorrow, Rosita and I are headed back to Lima (via a mototaxi and 3 busses).
After the school, I return to FAO and tell Fanny (my supervisor) about the day and the school and all the things that I have learned. I show her the pictures I took of the garden space and of the classrooms and she smiling the whole time. After I met with Fanny, I met with another woman in the office, Jazmine, because I have a few questions about the school and my job and such. Our meeting turns into something I was not expecting, and we have a slight change of focus for this project. It’s much bigger than I thought and much bigger then me (but we’ll get into that in a minute).
First, a little more about the school. It’s small, 28 students from first to sixth grade. There are three teachers including the director of the school. And the parents have a meeting at the school about once a week or once every other week. The school has no kitchen (this also changes things a little), but the kids bring snacks with them and the school passes out snacks, as well. The school is simple, no computers, no machines. They do have running water and electricity, but there are no bells and whistles. On the way to the school from the last bus stop, there are about 6 or 7 farms/fields that I pass. If you don’t take the mototaxi, it’s about a 15 minute walk uphill. But I think the walk is beautiful. There’s cornfields, cows, chickens, a few dogs and some restaurants. You can see people’s laundry hanging on the clothesline. And there’s mountains in the background. (Well, being from Florida, I consider them mountains, but people from Peru with the Andes in their backyard may not consider them mountains.) The point is, the area is rural.
Wednesday: believe it or not, I traveled to the school by myself. And I did not get lost. I arrived at the school and everyone was excited to see me again. The children are interested in me because I am a foreigner, which I find kind of amusing. I meet with the director of the school, Zoraida, and present my introduction letter from FAO (she has to sign it so it’s official that they accept me). She introduces me to the students and explains that I am here to help build a garden for them, and that we will have banana trees and other great things. Then I introduce myself to the students and explain that I am student just like them, that I am from the US and that I like to garden and have a garden at my house.
After this, I sit in on the class lesson and observe. And I go back to my lesson plan, because without a kitchen, things are a little different in terms of waste. After the school day, I return to FAO and meet with Jazmine again and we talk in detail about the new action plan. So back to the new plan that I think may (or may not) be too big for me. As it is now, FAO has no boots-on-the-ground projects in Lima; all the projects are elsewhere in Peru. So Jazmine and Fanny conversed and told me that this school garden could be an opportunity to build FAO’s presence in Lima. FAO already works with Qali Warma in other schools throughout Peru, so that connection is in place. However, there are other connections we can strengthen. For example, Jazmine suggested we contact the Ministerio de Agricultura (MINARGI) to request seeds and starter plants for the garden. We wrote a formal letter requesting seeds and are waiting to hear back. MINAGRI has projects relating to food security and development, and this school presents an opportunity for them to also invest in the local community. Jazmine also recommended we contact the Ministerio de Educación (for obvious reasons). And perhaps, with our powers combined, we can create a model that can be applied to other schools in the Lima area. So me and my little school in the rurals of Lima are asked to set the example to what school health can look like. Oh, and I’m suppose to have a meeting with the parents. We will need ongoing support for the garden and who better to enlist than those who can benefit the most. A new plan of action indeed. I’m only slightly overwhelmed.
On Thursday, I go back to the office to work on this new plan of action and try to take it all in. Maybe I should inform you also that I’m not fluent in Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t know any Spanish; I get by just fine. And I understand more than I can speak. I don’t find reading Spanish difficult. And it’s great with the kids because we have the same level of Spanish. But being asked to make connections with the Ministerios and have meetings with parents, I think that’s out of my league. Of course, I have the help and support from FAO. None the less, it’s a little intimidating.
Friday is a new day and I wake up feeling empowered that I can do this. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of this groundwork. I make it to the school and present this plan of action to Esmeralda and Zoraida, and of course, they are excited. The kids are happy to see me again; my exoticism hasn’t worn of yet. And today is the day we till the land, clean the weeds away, and prepare our garden area! And, Esmeralda brought banana trees for the garden. I brought some seeds that I’d been saving. (As one who likes to garden and has a habit of saving seeds, I had a small collection of fruit and vegetable seeds from my market buys; and I donated them to the school.)
The kids totally loved playing in the dirt and digging out the weeds. One of girls asked if we could have flowers in the garden also. How could you blame her; a world without flowers is just not as pretty. I don’t know if MINAGRI will donate flowers, but I think I can find a way to incorporate them into the garden somehow.
I wanted to go to Centro Historico this weekend and see the catacombs in the Cathedral de San Francisco, but with these changes in the plan, I have new work to do. I wanted action, and now my hards are full.