Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peru Project Oct. 2010

In October I traveled to Peru with three friends to work on an assortment of projects across the country. Our group would have an efficient mix of talents. Veronica Beagan was a retired Air Force Captain. Susan Rosenblatt was a university administrator. Suzanne Wheeler was a retired prison guard and director. They all had organizational skills to get things done. This was my twelfth trip to Peru to work on projects. I have traveled with Veronica and Susan during three other tours in Peru so they knew what to expect. We had a busy schedule that would take us places tourist don’t usually go.

Our first project was visiting the Chosica Girl’s Home. The “Home” is an orphanage located on the outskirts of Lima in the foothills of the Andes mountains. We have been supporting this Girl’s Home since our friend Aracely Jumpa moved there from the jungle in 2006. The home provides support for 15 girls ages five to fifteen years old.

We met Aracely when she was six years old. She lived with her mother and grandfather at a roadside restaurant with a thatched roof. Our bicycle tour had stopped there for lunch while riding on a tour over the mountains deep into the jungle. There were eight riders in our group and the grandfather asked us what we wanted for lunch. We will have “chicken” was the common request. The grandfather then took a section of steel pipe and started chasing and swatting at the chickens under the porch. We could hear the commotion as the chickens ran and squawked for about ten minutes as the grandfather chased them. The grandfather came upstairs empty handed and announced “No chicken today, would you like fish?”. We said “Okay we will have fish.” The grandfather then went and got his fishing pole and went down to the river to start catching fish.

During this long wait for lunch we were entertained by a charming little girl named Aracely. She brought us oranges from the tree, then she sat on our bikes and had her photos taken with the group. When our assortment of fish were finally cooked, we finished our lunch. As we were getting ready to leave the mother and grandfather asked if we could take Aracely with us because they couldn’t afford to take care of her. We couldn’t just take Aracely home but we said we would keep in touch with them. A few months later the mother wrote me a letter that she had moved to Lima to clean houses and Aracely was living at the Chosica Girl’s Home. For the past five years we have stayed in touch with Aracely and her mother. They have traveled with us each year on tours across Peru. Aracely has continued to learn more English and she is a helpful guide for our tours. Aracely is now one of the top students in her school and her favorite subjects are math and science. During her school’s recent talent contest she was voted “Miss Chosica”.

In Lima we visited her mother’s “house” located on the flat cement roof of a store front building. Her house was constructed of six pieces of plywood to make a box big enough to hold a bed, table and propane stove. One of her few possessions on the table was a thick photo album from our tours together. Aracely would like to live with her mother again someday but for now the Chosica Girl’s Home is a safer and better environment for her to live. That is why we continue to support the Chosica Girl’s Home.

During our visit to Chosica we took the 15 girls on a shopping trip to the market where they each bought a new set of clothes and shoes. Later that evening we had a nice chicken dinner together at a local restaurant. We were fortunate our visit coincided with meeting Adrian De Rijke from Holland. Adrian and his wife are the directors of the Girl’s Home and were overseeing the building of a new facility for the girls.

It was beneficial for us all to meet and spend some time talking about working together in the future. I said we would like to stay involved helping the Girl’s Home with tangible improvements such as beds and equipment. Our support of the Chosica Girl’s Home has helped the girls have a more comfortable life. Aracely’s mother said our caring for Aracely has given her a reason to do well in school because she feels responsible to succeed. The chance that Aracely can break out of the cycle of poverty in Peru is slim but she is beating the odds against her so far.

School Painting in Peru

School Painting
After spending four days in Lima and Chosica we flew over the Andes Mountains into the Amazon rain forest. Our most labor intensive Peru Project was painting the Jack Wolff School school at KM #9. The school was built in 2003 and the enrollment has continued to expand. Originally 350 kids attended the school. That number increased to 500 kids last year. This year 600 kids are attending the school with three split shifts throughout the day. The school has been well used and is starting to show the signs of wear. With the help of the local families we decided to paint the school during a four day work party.

Originally we had hoped to receive the help of ten good local workers each day along with our crew of four people from the United States. Painting the school is hot and messy work. The afternoon temperature is near 100 degrees in Iquitos. We planned to work from 7:30 AM until 12:30 PM each day before it got too hot. A lunch meal would be provided for all the workers that would be prepared by four local cooks. For the local families the offer of a hot lunch was too good to pass up. Our work force grew to 30-40 workers each day. That was great because we had lots of helping hands. We then needed to buy more paint scrapers, brushes, rollers, ladders and paint pans to keep everyone busy. Our first day working included several trips back to the hardware stores in the city to buy more supplies.

I was impressed with how hard everyone was working scraping paint and getting everything ready for painting. Like I said, this was a hot messy job and scraping paint in the dusty classrooms wasn’t a pleasant chore. We needed to go back to the store again and buy dust masks for all the workers. Eventually we started painting the inside of the classrooms a fresh cream color with brown trim. The outside was painted a golden yellow with brown trim. It would take 176 gallons of paint to cover eleven classrooms and the exterior including a building for the bathrooms.

Near the end of each workday we needed to clean twenty paint brushes and fifteen rollers and all the paint pans. The water source at the school comes from a small well and a simple pump. We had to be careful to stockpile enough water in buckets before the well ran out of water. Buy this time the noon sun was intense and everyone was ready for break. At 12:30 lunch would be served. The cooks did a great job of making rice and pasta over an open wood fire. We ran over budget buying all the extra painting supplies and feeding 30 more people each day. However we felt is was worth while to have the extra help and get the painting done as quickly as possible. The 40 workers were not as efficient as ten experienced painters but the community pride of have everyone involved was worth the extra cost.

New School Roof Needed

Roof Repairs
While we were painting the classrooms we noticed the ceiling wood was water damaged in several areas. The problem is water leaking under the sheet metal roof panels when the wind blows the rain horizontal. We looked at several ways to fix the problem which have varying degrees of cost and effectiveness. One way to patch the roof is with a roofing tar that will seal the metal joints (cost $700). Another fix is to replace the roof panels with new interlocking sheets of fish scale type metal panels (cost $3,500). The best and most expensive fix is to change the roof pitch to a steep grade and then replace the roof panels ($10,000). If any of these outside roof repairs are made we will probably need to replace the inside ceiling plywood panels in the future for an extra cost of $2,000. The school said they would like to start the repairs in January when the school is closed for two months for vacation. Depending on how much money we can raise before January will determine the type of repair we can provide.

Peru School Number 2

Joesph Pulley School
Three years ago we built another school further in the jungle at kilometer #46. This school is in a very rural area and we had to walk the final three miles on a slippery muddy trail to get there. It is located in a jungle setting with only a few huts within one mile. Most of the kids need to walk several kilometers from all directions through the jungle to reach the clearing where the school is located.

We went to the school to see the status of the construction and school supplies. The building is in fine shape and the local residents use the building as a common meeting point. We bought a supplies of notebooks and books for the classrooms. One of the more inspirational moments of our visit came when a twelve year old girl stood up in from of the class and read a one page story. Last year she didn’t know how to read. She was a good example that the school is making a difference in the lives of kids who would not have the chance to get an education.

Race Across the Jungle

Bike Race
This is the third year we have supported the “Race Across the Jungle”. The race travels 100 kilometers on the only paved road within 300 miles. We began supporting the race when we met some serious riders in the city of Iquitos located on the banks of the Amazon River. Iquitos is almost 2,000 miles up river from the Atlantic Ocean and was a bustling river port during the rubber boom before World War I. Now Iquitos is over populated with 350,000 people and an oil drilling economy that only benefits 10% of the people. That leaves a majority of 200,000 people living at a near poverty level. To own a basic one speed bicycle is a luxury. To own a racing bike that actually shifts is as rare as owning a Rolls Royce in the United States.

There is a serious core group of about 25 road racers in Iquitos who are as enthusiastic as any Velo News readers in the United States. They are fanatics about cycling and physically talented. These are the riders we have been trying to help with equipment and race prizes during the past three years.

This year there were two stages in the race. The road race was on Saturday and on Sunday a circuit route went around a one kilometer course down town. The 100 kilometer road race was held on an out and back course. The police provided escorts to the pelaton of racers and support motorcycles. The parade of bikes and vehicles racing on the quiet jungle road must have been a unique sight for the families in grass huts along the route.

The best female rider is Alessandra Divila from Iquitos. She is 24 years old and she is the main organizer and promoter of road cycling in the jungle. Alessandra walks with the tough swagger of a high school football player. Her attitude on the bike is similar by always attacking and pushing the pace. Cycling is not considered a sport for women in Peru so Alessandra’s aggressive riding style is not always popular with the men. When she goes to the city of Lima for races they call her “Jungle Girl”. It is a nick name she is proud of now and she is always trying to get more girls involved in the unique sport of bicycle racing.

During the “Race Across the Jungle” Alessandra and her 16 year old sister Samantha were the only women entrants. They finished in the chase pack in 10th and 11th place overall. Alessandra probably could have stayed with the lead breakaway but she stayed back to make sure her sister didn’t get dropped. The men’s winner was a pencil thin rider from Lima. He was a “ringer” from out of town and a top racer in Peru. It was good the “Race Across the Jungle” attracted some more nationally recognized riders.

We brought an assortment of prizes for the riders. The prizes had been donated by dozens of riders across the United States during the past year. We were limited by how much weight we were able to bring on the airlines with our group of four people coming to Iquitos. We were overloaded with about 100 pounds per person. We brought five bicycles, 120 jerseys and shorts, 30 saddles, 20 derailleurs, 10 pairs of shoes with matching pedals, 20 pumps and a whole bunch of other parts. All together we brought over 330 items for prizes valued at $7,000 (for used equipment). PAC Tour also gave $1,000 in cash to the top riders. The prizes for most races in Iquitos are usually points to be applied toward a trophy at the end of the year. The prize list for the “Race Across the Jungle” was very special for the riders. We had enough prizes so everyone who entered in the race received a goody bag full of useful equipment and clothing.

The racers were very thankful for the prizes and support they received this year. They want to say thank you to everyone who donated equipment. They are in need of so many basic cycling items we take for granted. One thing I would like to organize is a bike repair station with good bike tools for working a Shimano and Campagnolo type bike parts. The bike shops in Iquitos are basically blacksmith shops who hammer everything together. The riders with better equipment need specific tools to adjust and repair their bottom brackets, cassettes, headsets and cranks. I am working with Alessandra to make a repair shop at her house where riders with good bikes can make repairs.

We will continue to collect clothing and bike parts for next year. We still have five more bicycles that were donated last summer to be used as prizes in Peru. Our goal is to overhaul these bikes this winter. Some of the bikes need new shifting systems. Next October we will have riders from the United States take the bikes to Iquitos to use on the tour and then donate them to the prize list.

Equipment Donations can be sent to:

PAC Tour - Peru Fund
P.O. Box 303
202 Prairie Pedal Lane
Sharon, WI 53585

The plan for next year is to make the “Race Across the Jungle” bigger with more good riders from Columbia and Brazil. I met with the Director of the Sports Council in Iquitos who is the most politically influential person in Iquitos for promoting sporting events. He was very happy for the support the “Race Across the Jungle” received this year. He wants to be personally involved next year to make the race popular with riders from all of South America. Wouldn’t it be great to have a bunch of riders from the United States go to the Amazon to race and make a one week tour of the sights in the rain forest?

Peru Cycling Championship

Update: Peru National Cycling Championship
Two weeks after the “Race Across the Jungle” Peru held its National Championships in Lima. Alessandra and Samantha went to compete. Alessandra won the 80 kilometer road race and beat the reigning Peru champion who has won the past 10 years. Samantha won the Junior Women’s title. The fact that riders came from the jungle and won the races made national news. “The Jungle Girls” would like to thank all the people who helped them this year with equipment and encouragement.

Peru Dinners for Street Kids

Street Kid Dinners
One of the first things you notice about Iquitos is the large number of kids begging on the street. Some of the kids are sent into town to panhandle for their parents. Most of the kids are very poor and are looking for food. During the evening we were able to walk the streets in Iquitos. Our hotel was located in the center of downtown and close to the local action. During our stay in Iquitos we organized several dinners for the kids who live on the streets. We would make arrangements with a local restaurant that served plates of chicken and french fries. We then walked the streets and gave special kids an invitation to the secret restaurant at a specific time. We usually invited 12-15 kids so the food was prepared and ready at the arranged time. For some of the kids it was their first time eating in a restaurant. Sometimes we bought new t-shirts and clothes for the kids. We usually had a birthday cake for desert. These dinner parties were easy to organize when we had free time in the evenings. They are always the best way to meet local kids and some of the most memorable evenings of the tour.

Peru Projects Business Report

Business Report
During these past Projects in Peru we spent $6,000. We still have $4,000 in the bank for the “Christ Lutheran Church Peru Fund”. We want to maintain some cash for projects in the next few months. The next expense will be a graduation ceremony at the Jack Wolff School for the oldest high school students and the students graduating from junior high to high school. The village has requested $500 for awards, diplomas and a graduation lunch for about 200 students.

We spent $1,500 on a generator for the Joesph Pulley school to pump a water well. We still need to complete the water tower storage tank that will hold 500 gallons up on the roof. I expect the water tower will cost about $1,500 more.
The Chosica Girls Home is moving to a new building. They could use some better kitchen appliances. We are waiting for specific needs. They need better food besides powdered milk and rice. The Girls Home will need about $2,000 in improvements for the coming year. The roof for the Jack Wolff School should be repaired soon. This project will cost a minimum of $700 for a quick fix to $10,000 to replace the roof.

Altogether our goal is to raise $8,000 to $10,000 for these projects during the next year.

Tax deductible checks should be payable to:
Christ Lutheran Church Peru Fund

Thank you for all your help this past year.