Monday, May 05, 2008

Traveling to Peru

Peru Projects: April 2008
by Lon Haldeman

I just returned from scouting our various projects in Peru. It was a quick trip with just me and one gear bag. I made the rounds to check on the progress in several areas where we have been helping during the past few years.

I arrived in Lima Monday morning after an all night flight. I found a hotel which had an empty room from the night before. I was able to get a few hours sleep before noon. Then I went to the book store to buy 110 notebooks and classroom supplies to take to Iquitos. The whole load fit into five boxes of 40 pounds each. The prices were much cheaper than buying them in the jungle but transporting the items on the airplane and to the school would be a problem.

That night I went to the town of Chosica located 40 miles from Lima. Chosica is in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and the last major town before heading into the remote 16,000 foot climbs of the mountains. Chosica is also the location of the “Girl’s Foster Home” we have helped support for the past two years. There are typically 16 or 20 girls living at the home between the ages of 7 and 15 years old.

I arrived at the home and was greeted by the Director Ricardo and his wife. They live on the premises in a separate apartment. We went on a tour of the facilities and Ricardo showed me the new layout of bedrooms, kitchen and classroom. I was impressed with how much cleaner the home looked from past years. The bedrooms and closets were more tidy and the library bookshelves were neatly arranged.

Ricardo said the building is now being used for class rooms for a sewing and weaving school. Five of the rooms are now filled with electric sewing machines and looms where the girls and local women come to learn industrial sewing techniques. A church from Germany had donated $5,000 for the sewing machines and a bunch of other equipment. The Girl’s Home had some other needs and I gave them $200 for food and paid some past due electric bills of $375. It looks like the sewing school could be a good business for the Girl’s Home in future years and they will become self sufficient to pay for their daily needs. We will keep in touch with the Girl’s Home about future needs but it was nice to see their conditions have improved.

Traveling to the KM 46 School

Traveling into the Jungle
The next day I flew to the jungle town of Iquitos located on the Amazon River. Stepping off the airplane onto the open air runway was like walking into a steaming shower room. The temperature was close to 95 degrees and the humidity left a shimmer of sweat on my forehead while walking to the airport terminal. A friend met me to pick up the boxes of books I had bought from Lima. He was going directly to the school in the morning and would take care of getting the books to the village.
My main reason for visiting Iquitos was to see the progress of the new school we are building in the jungle. The school doesn't have a name yet so we call it the rather generic name of Kilometer 46 school since it is located at highway marker 46 KM (30 miles) from the outskirts of Iquitos. The name of the village is called “New Triumph” which is located another 4 KM off the main highway.

The next day I began the long commute from downtown Iquitos to the KM 46 school. To get the full local effect I took the bus (local Combi bus) instead of renting a direct taxi. A Combi bus is similar to an old Volkswagen Bus that were available in the United States 30 years ago. Most of the Combi Buses looked 30 years old with the doors hanging from their hinges and dented fenders which were the result of jousting with other vehicles in city traffic.

I found a place to sit on the bus bench seat. There were nine seats in the bus, but we had 13 people already jammed hip to hip like a bunch of clowns in a circus car. As we drove the rural highway out of Iquitos the bus would stop for someone else waiting on the roadside. Their bundle of bananas went on the roof and the side door of the bus would slide open to squeeze in one more passenger. Just when I thought the person near the door would tumble out, we would find room for another passenger inside. This routine would be repeated over and over until every inch of space was packed with elbows into their neighbor’s armpits. The hot sun warmed the inside of the bus to a roasty 100 degrees. The only fresh air came from when we opened the side door to cram in one more rider. That old deodorant soap commercial played in my head...”Aren’t you glad you use DIAL?...Don’t you wish everybody did?”.

After an hour and a half the bus arrived at KM 46. I stumbled out of the bus and felt the contrasting cool air of the 90 degree jungle. I then started the four kilometer hike along the red clay path. The local people walking this trail had widened it to fit a small all terrain vehicle when the path was dry. Last year many of the bridges were a single telephone pole type log laid over the streams. Now many of these bridges had been replaced with cut wooden beams similar to railroad ties. These bridges were suitable for supporting a small vehicle. I counted fifteen new bridges that were built this year. Some of the areas are still very swampy and there is a need for five or ten more bridges through the marshland.

After 45 minutes of walking I finally arrived at the village of New Triumph. The area is not really a village with a cluster of houses. This region is home to 30 families who live spread out into the dense jungle. Each family settlement is self supporting and might be separated by half a mile. The new school will be a reason for 110 local kids to come together everyday.

Only three grass roof huts are visible from the clearing near the soccer field. One of the buildings is a community center with slat wood walls suitable for social gatherings. This building is where the temporary school is being held today.

I can hear the voices of the children as I walk toward the community center building. Today 56 students would be attending classes. The two teachers had divided the students into four age groups. The teachers alternated their time between the various kids. Their desks were improvised from plank boards set on bricks from the school construction site. Most of the kids and their parents have never been to school. The concept of sitting and listening to a teacher was new to them. The teachers were doing a good job of keeping everyone’s attention. The school day begins at 7:00 AM and is over by 1:00 PM. I stayed until school was dismissed. As the children left school they disappeared back to their houses in the jungle. Within ten minutes the community center was empty and the area was quiet except for the workers at the new school construction site.

Next to the community center the new school was being built into the hillside. I was hoping the new school would have been more finished when I arrived. I had heard reports about how the rains and flooding has made moving materials from the main road impossible. After walking the jungle path and seeing the remote conditions I could understand the obstacles of working in the jungle. All the work was being done by hand. The school foundation had been cut into the hillside which meant moving hundreds of wheelbarrows of dirt from the area. Then the bricks had to be carried from the main road along with many bags of cement and buckets of white sand.

The brick walls of the school were being built layer by layer. The school would have eight rooms of about 20 foot by 20 foot. There would be a perimeter sidewalk and an overhanging roof. I could imagine how the school will look when it is finished after June 1st.

The village is home to many woodcutters who work for a Canadian company selecting exotic hardwood trees from the jungle. They know how to cut wood. For the school they are cutting cedar rafters and making roof trusses. The buzz of chain saws could be heard in the distance. I would follow the men into the jungle to a remote sawmill where a guy was cutting boards freehand with a chain saw. I was really impressed with how flat and straight the boards were being sliced. The path to the sawmill was an obstacle course of stream crossings and ankle grabbing vines. The path had been cleared of saplings with a machete that left many six inch stumpy spikes on the walkway. Stepping on one of the spikes could easily go through the sole of a sturdy hiking boot.

At the sawmill we each picked up a fresh cut board and began walking back to the school. The planks were wet and heavy. I estimate a 12 foot board weighed 75 pounds. I had a hard enough time before walking through the jungle without carrying a board. Now I was trying to balance a board on my shoulder, jump a stream, keep from tripping on vines and not fall on stomach piercing spikes. I was the last one in the convoy of board carriers. I hoped no one saw how I was struggling. Everyone else was walking at a steady trot. I was trying to stay within eyesight and not get left in the jungle. When we returned to the school we needed to stack our board on the vertical drying rack. I could barely lift my board into the rack. My arms and shoulders were aching. Before I had time to recover our convoy of workers was returning to the sawmill. We would make five more trips back and forth moving boards. At home I had moved lots of lumber from Home Depot but carrying boards in the jungle was at least three times as hard. I have to give those workers a lot of credit for moving all those boards everyday by hand.

Peru Finance Report

Business Report
There are seven full time workers who are professional masons and carpenters. They come from a different village and are living in the New Triumph community house now. The village is providing them with meals and a place to sleep. They also receive $10 per day for their labor. Their agreement is to build the school in 80 days for $70 per day or $5,600 total in labor. At first I didn’t think we could afford the labor costs. After seeing how hard they are working in the jungle conditions I think paying their labor is a bargain.

The school budget is on schedule to complete the school for $55,000. The main variable is the slipping value of the dollar which has dropped 10% since January. After the main classrooms are built, the school budget allows for separate bathrooms and a living hut for the teachers. The bathrooms and teachers hut might have to wait until we get more money in the future. After the school is completed it will have 200 students arriving from rural jungle homes.

New Teachers in Peru

New Teachers Arriving
Sybil Copp and Joe Murphy are English teachers from Boston. They are finishing college and wanted to teach at the new school in Peru. On May 25th they will be traveling to the KM 46 school to live in the village. This is a great opportunity for the children at the school to learn English from real teachers who speak the language. I have to give Sybil and Joe a lot of credit for wanting to live in the village. There are no bathrooms, showers or drinking water. We have offered them an allotment of $100 per week to buy drinking water, some packaged food and a cheap motel room in Iquitos to take a hot shower one night per week. They will also be writing a weekly Blog they can post on the Internet from Iquitos each week. These reports will be listed on the PAC Tour website starting June 1st. I am sure they will have many unique stories to share.

First Peru School Project

Jack Wolff School Update
The Jack Wolff School was built in the Village of the Dolphins in 2004. This was our first major building project in Peru. I stopped to see the repairs we made during the past year. We installed electric lights, new doors, new desks and a fresh coat of paint for an overall cost of about $10,000. The school has continued to grow each year. Last November there were 15 teachers and 500 students. In April there are now 22 teachers and 700 students. The government has now recognized the Jack Wolff School as an important part of their community. They are helping fund and organize more improvements for the school. We should be proud this school is being well managed and maintained by the local people and teachers.

Cycling Clothing Donations

Cycling Clothing Donations Useful
For the past three years PAC Tour riders have donated over 500 jerseys, shorts and pieces of equipment which have been sent to cycling clubs in Africa and Peru. Recently I was able to attend a bike race in Iquitos. There were four races for different age groups. I recognized an assortment of donated jerseys and shorts that we had sent. The riders are very grateful to receive the cycling clothing and parts.

On November 16th, 2008 the local clubs are organizing a 60 mile road race on the only paved road in the area. Over 100 racers are expected to attend. There will be police motorcycle escorts and a big finish line stage in the center of Iquitos. Each racer who finishes the event will have their choice of a donated cycling jersey we will bring to Peru. The national television station in Peru has already aired a story about the Americans coming to race in this event. This will be a fun event for them and the riders on our tour.

All these Peru Project are going well. The people of Peru want to send you a big thank for your donations of money and equipment to make these projects possible.