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March 30, 2011

Service in Arequipa

In 1540 Spanish conquistadors in southern Peru settled in a mostly sunny spot—shaded at times by the nearby volcano, El Misti—that, for centuries before their arrival, was home to indigenous Aymara people. Today that settlement is Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, with nearly 850,000 residents and a strong tourist industry that features nearby snowcapped mountains, deep canyons, and rivers, as well as impressive colonial architecture that led UNESCO to designate Arequipa as a World Heritage Site. For six weeks Zach and Nick are teaching English at two schools in addition to serving at San Luis Gonzaga, a government-run residential care…

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March 16, 2011

Service in Ayacucho

Tucked away in the Andes of south-central Peru, the city of Ayacucho has the distinction of being one of the country’s most historically significant places. The first signs of human settlements in Peru are nearby—archeologists date them to over 15,000 years ago. Fast forward several centuries to the 6th century A.D., when the Wari civilization that ruled much of Peru had its capital just outside of what is now Ayacucho. Twelve hundred years later, Peru’s struggle for independence from Spain was finalized with the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824. And it was here in the late 1970s that the revolutionary…

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March 14, 2011

Service in Chimbote

Most travel guidebooks give minimal attention to Chimbote, highlighting the north-coastal town´s ever present fish smell. ¨This roguish port town is not a tourist destination, and there´s little to do,¨ is Lonely Planet´s assessment. It´s true that much of the reality here is bleak. According to the Pan American Health Organization, at least 45 percent of Chimbote’s residents live in conditions of extreme poverty. The international aid organization CARE reports that the average Chimbotano earns only around $300 each year, and the Worldwatch Institute reports that life expectancy in Chimbote is 10 years lower than Peru’s national average.  But more…

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February 28, 2011

Ready for service

On Wednesday of our last week in Lima, we had our own version of Match Day, when each SSTer learned where they would be going for service, what they would be doing, and who their new host family would be. The energy level was high as each opened an envelope revealing information about their next six weeks. Three days later 10 students met at the Cruz del Sur bus station to depart for their new cities. Ashley, Ben, Hannah, Nick, and Tim headed south about 550 miles to Arequipa, while Becca, Chelsea, Jessie, Lauren, and Marita drove southeast about 250…

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February 27, 2011

To mark the special occasion of our despedida—our host family thank you and service sendoff party—Lima was graced with a few unusual raindrops and, more significantly, a beautiful rainbow that seemed to end right at the Good Shepherd Cathedral hall, where we gathered Friday night to celebrate with our host families, language professors, coordinators, and other friends of the program. The students put together an impressive evening of entertainment, including music (both singing and a drumming performance on the Peruvian cajón), dance, a juggling act, and an individual speech (in Spanish!) from each student to their host family. They also…

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February 22, 2011

Our travels around Lima took us to three interesting places in the last week: La Inmaculada is a primary and secondary school run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order. The school has two distinctive facilities on campus: a zoo (which helps protect endangered species from Peru) and its own water treatment facility. The water treatment facility began almost 20 years ago; it takes advantage of one of the city’s major sewage pipes that runs nearby and eventually drains into the ocean. The school siphons sewage from the pipe and sends it through a series of filtering pools. The end…

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February 21, 2011

Our week began with two lectures focusing on the indigenous peoples of Peru. First we heard from Mennonite Pastor Jose Manuel Prada Bernal on how the oppression of indigenous peoples continues to this day, as many have been forced off of their land to make way for commercial enterprises such as logging, mineral acquisition, and oil excavation. Next we heard from Catholic priest and professor of indigenous studies Jaimie Regan about the lives of indigenous peoples in the Amazonas region, and how their environment affects their daily life. On Thursday, we continued our study of native cultures by visiting the…

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February 19, 2011

One of Lima’s more impressive features is the city’s extensive park system. After a morning of delivering water to households that lack plumbing in Villa El Salvador, we visited the nearby Parque Huascar. This beautiful park is situated in one of the poorer communities in Lima. With its ample green spaces, big pond, sports facilities, pool, and zoo, it truly is an oasis. Admission of 1.5 soles (about 50 cents) per adult and just half a sol for students makes an occasional visit in reach for most residents. It exists in large part thanks to the perseverance of former mayor…

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February 19, 2011

Just 50 years ago, Lima’s population was close to 1 million. Today the greater metro area is approximately 8.5 million, or nearly one in three Peruvians. The stories behind that spectacular growth are sometimes tragic: earthquakes and floods that decimated communities drove people into Lima, as did the terrorism perpetrated by the Shining Path and other radical groups in smaller cities and villages in the 1980s and ‘90s. But many migration stories are hopeful: People move from the countryside to Lima in pursuit of education, employment, and a better life. Unfortunately, that pursuit is typically difficult and dangerous. One of…

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February 15, 2011

The Urubamaba Valley is just to the north of Cusco, and it’s perhaps better known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We spent several days visiting the towns and archeological sites in this area. First up was the small town of Chinchero, which boasts a colorful traditional market on Sunday mornings. We did a bit of shopping there and also attended a textile demonstration where several local residents showed us how they spin, weave, and dye wool with natural materials. After that it was off to Moray, a fascinating site of concentric circle terraces that descend about 100 feet…

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