Improving Water in Peru
After graduating, I signed for the Peace Corps and was selected for a 27 month assignment in Peru. I live in the Andes Mountains in the provincial capital of Cajabamba, located in north central Perú. The city sits on the side of a mountain range at 9000 ft. elevation with the mountains stretching up to 15,000 ft. The terrain is extremely steep and almost no roads exist besides the main carretera that runs in and out of the city. In the dry season, we’re very limited on water. However, during the rainy season there’s more water than we can handle; it rains more than I can even describe in words. I can be trapped in my house for hours because the roads outside can have a foot of water running down them. It’s not uncommon to be stuck when traveling due to the high likelihood of landslides occurring or rivers flooding.
I work within the program of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene. We have two principle goals each with 3 or 4 objectives. The first goal is to improve water quality, sanitation, and hygiene at the micro level within households and families. The second goal is the same but on the macro level such as the water system itself. Right now I am supervising and coordinating a district wide campaign to improve water systems and subsequently the water quality by making repairs to systems along with the installation of new chlorination systems. Along with this, we are training the water system operators and administration on management of their systems. Also, with the help of health officials we are educating the rural area on safe water practices and how they can make simple fixes to help themselves prevent water-borne illnesses. Shown in the picture is a project I’m overseeing where we are creating a bypass from a new reservoir to the old one. Some of the communities we visit are a 3-hour walk, one way, and then their water systems are yet still another 1 – 2 hours above. Every community I have visited has been welcoming and receptive to the gringo engineer. I’m not a tall person at 5’10”, but I’m at least a full foot above most of the people here so I feel like a giant walking into these areas. I’m almost always the first white person any of the rural population has ever seen so everybody comes out to see me walk through the area. Because of this popularity, everybody and their great grandparents want to take me into their house and feed me a mountain of white rice, potatoes, and a large cuy – delicious!
The people here are very loving and accepting and daily life is extremely easy going. I am going to have a very hard time breaking the habit of my 2 hour siesta after lunch when I return to the states. I live in a nice house with a host mom and dad in their late 50’s, a host sister and 2 granddaughters. My host mom treats me like her own son and we have great conversations when I help her in the kitchen or just chat over some coffee. The greatest highlight of my day though is playing with the youngest granddaughter. I’ve been here since she was just 4 months old and have been able to see her grow and crawl. I bought her a squishy ball from the market for her 1st birthday and we play with that together most evenings before dinner. I talk to her in English hoping that when she starts to speak maybe it’ll be a word I taught her. To keep busy in my free time I’ve been working out in the local gym (with home-made equipment) and running now that the weather is better – but that’s a whole new ball game at this elevation. I read and watch tv shows, and have started self-teaching myself Italian just for the fun of it. It’s very similar to Spanish so not that hard once you learn the basic conjugations. Who knows, maybe my next stop will be Italy?