kids fundraiser

Before the holidays (when I was too busy to post), my son’s school held a fundraiser to help support the Village Empowerment Project.  For those of you who have read this blog for a while, you will recall that I have written extensively about traveling to Peru in January of 2008 as a part of this group that works in remote villages in the Andes, installing solar-powered systems for emergency communication, medical devices, and water treatment.  Click here to read a sample entry from the trip if you want: Hog in a Fog.

Anyway, this fall my son’s teacher asked if they could do another fundraiser this year for the project even though I was not going down to Peru this time.  Of course, the answer was YES!  Last year the kids pledged to do chores to pay back money the parents loaned them to donate.  The cash bought soccer balls and volleyballs for village kids.

This year we tried something a little more ambitious.  The medical clinic in a small village, Chipre, located at about 10,000 feet elevation, had asked the project to install a vaccination refrigerator. The clinic serves several other even more remote villages, and vaccinating would mean saved lives.  The special fridges cost about $425, plus we have to buy the other parts of the system (circuit breaker, control box, etc.), though the photovoltaic panels are donated.  The goal for fundraising was $600.

Two classes participated.  The class next door to my son’s choose to create art and calendars and sell these.  Here are some samples:


They also came up with their slogan: “Pay the Price, Save a Life, Please.”  They were pretty into the whole thing, and had dozens of framed pieces for sale.  Some pretty aggressive marketing, too!  I was accosted several times by kids trying to get me to buy “to help the kids of Peru” even though I was one of the organizers. 🙂

My son’s class created textile-related pieces, including handmade fleece quilts that they raffled off (sorry, no full pictures of these–but you can catch a glimpse in the last picture below), homemade fleece hats and scarves, and yarn friendship bracelets they created while listening to lessons in the afternoons.  They must have braided over two hundred bracelets and necklaces before the sale!


The outcome…?  Well, they exceeded their goal, actually!  The kids were elated.  Chipre would have their vaccine fridge, and their hard work would help save lives.


I think today is the day that the fridge is being installed in that mountain village high in the Andes.  Good job, kids!


Bon Voyage: Another Crew Leaves for Peru

I just simply can’t believe it! Another Peru Crew is leaving this morning for Lima. How on earth the time passed so quickly since my own trip in January I can’t possibly tell you. But I wish the new crew all good luck.

Recently, when cleaning out my cell phone of old pixs, I came across this one that I took on the way down to South America:

I recall — so clearly as if it were an hour ago — the feelings of nervousness, eager anticipation, and fear that swirled inside me. I sat next to an undergrad student, K., who very kindly kept me good company on the long flight. And today I am going to K’s family’s house to celebrate her graduation. She earned the highest grade point average in civil engineering in her cadre of students and won a lovely award.

The Village Empowerment (Peru) Project seems to attract such high-quality students regularly. Perhaps being wicked smart leads one to be altruistic…. Do you think there’s any connection between intelligence and kindness? Obviously we can’t generalize too much. I’d be interested to hear what people think on this topic, though. 🙂

Counting Our Blessings

Yesterday I came upon a very fresh accident with a school bus and a munched car.  EMTs were on the scene attending to the injured (or worse).  I hurriedly told my son, who was in the back seat, to cover his eyes.  An awful sight, not for a ten-year-old.

I pass through this intersection at least four times a day.

It wasn’t me and my son in that munched car.

I had the stomach flu this week.  I rarely ever succumb to such bouts, so it is always a shock to me when I ACTUALLY throw up. (Now you know why I haven’t posted all week.)

But a person I know at church has stomach cancer and is only one step ahead of her disease, taking each new, experimental drug as it becomes available.  She’s a trail-blazer and a real trooper.

Me?  I just threw up a couple of times and then recovered a couple of days later.

Our yard is a mess and desperately needs some professional lawncare.  Spring is FINALLY here and the poor quality of our lawn is startlingly obvious as everyone else’s lawn is already getting pretty green, but ours remains patchy and gray or tan in many spots.  But we can’t afford to pay for services right now.

The village of Laguna in the Culebras Valley of Peru, though, has worse troubles.  The river flooded the whole town, wiping out not only all of the work that we did there in January (biodigestor, solar irrigation system) but also their very homes.  These people get by on less than a dollar or two a day.  They live in huts made of woven bamboo mats lashed to poles.  They have next to nothing and now they have even less.

So our lawns sucks.  Big whoop.

I’m counting my blessings today and they are abundant.

Herding Turkeys, Poultry SpeedBump, and Foul Traffic

After dropping off my son and his classmate at school today, I suddenly came upon a traffic jam on a back road. Morning traffic in New England is notoriously bad, but this particular spot puzzled me. It was well before the IRS complex and nowhere near Raytheon. What was the hold-up?

Earlier, when I was driving north on Interstate 495, I saw the poor suckers creeping along in the southbound lanes for miles. I just caught the tail end of a traffic report on the new radio station I listen to when the news on NPR is unsuitable for ten year olds in the backseat — accident at the intersection of 495 and the 3, cars backed up for several miles. I breezed by, heading the other direction but noted how long the slow down continued. On the way back from school, I thought, I definitely will not take the freeway.

So…there I was a half hour later, driving on a back road through the gray and brown landscape (most of our snow melted this weekend when torrential rains from the south stomped into New England). Then we came to a dead stop.

On my side of the two-lane road, there were only maybe a dozen cars stopped ahead, and I could see flashing lights in front of that. Oh, my, another accident, I thought. The folks in the other lane were not moving at all, but my predecessors kept slipping forward and escaping from the jam, so I rolled forward every few minutes. Finally, with only six cars before me, I saw the nature of the hold up. A turkey.

Not just any turkey, mind you, but the biggest turkey I have ever, ever, ever seen in my life. This gal was as big as a Saint Bernard!! Well, maybe not that big, but it really was huge. And the animal control guy was walking along patiently behind the thing with a loose, three-feet diameter net, trying to get close enough to toss it on the bird and thus remove it from rush hour traffic.

The turkey wove in and out of the immobile cars. The uniformed officer tailed him on foot, zig-zagging in a steady and persistent fashion. Since the turkey was moving in our direction, folks in our line were one by one being released from captivity. The poor commuters in the other lane were moving forward at a turkey’s pace … which is not all that fast.

In a split second I had a decision to make. As soon as I saw what was happening, it occurred to me that someone should help the animal control guy to herd the turkey into a tight spot so she could be captured. I thought to myself, I am your gal, mister! And I began to pull over.

Then it hit me. This guy doesn’t want some lay person interfering and maybe getting run over by errant cars or worse, freaking out the turkey. My offer of help would not be appreciated … or accepted. So I straightened the car out and watched the show instead. It was quite a sight to observe this magnificent creature and her ability to stop us all in our tracks.

Two random facts spring to mind now that I am here writing about this insignificant little event. First, I am reminded of how Grandma, when she lived in Opheim, Montana, used to herd the family’s turkeys. She would sit outdoors with them and play a concertina (kinda like a little accordion) to pass the time. She said they had no grain to feed them, so the poultry ate the locusts who had devoured the remnants of their withered crops.

Second, I recall a speed-bump in a little village in Peru. We wondered why there was such a thing on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. For the chickens, said a villager. Ah. So they don’t get run over when crossing the road. In America we just send out an animal control officer in a big van with a net to stop morning traffic. While Benjamin Franklin did not succeed in his campaign to name the turkey our national bird, one would almost think it were so by all the hulabaloo!

As for the turkey, I left her in the dust. It seemed to me that the animal control officer had met his match, but then again, as I was driving away, I heard another siren behind me in the distance. Perhaps another officer was on his way to assist in the rescue operation.

Too bad Grandma wasn’t there. She’d have done the job in a jiffy.

Hog in the Fog: A Huacuy Story of a Peruvian Pig

I was sorting through pixs from my trip to Peru today and came across this picture of a little pig:

Huacuy pig

We were in Huacuy Central that day, installing a vaccine fridge and replacing a broken radio in the medical clinic. It was very foggy up there at 7,000 feet, and I was a bit bummed that I had absolutely no view — as usual — of the mountains. (Serves me right for going during the rainy season, I guess!)

Anyway, I was taking a look around the village after the first hour had passed. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much I could do to help with this technical stuff — wiring a circuit breaker isn’t exactly my forte. So I decided to try and see what I could observe in the village. I was too timid about going far from the posta, though if this had been later in the trip, I would most certainly have been walking farther afield. In any case, I ventured out and took a few photos, but mostly there wasn’t much to see with the thick mist.

Then I heard a strange noise out there in the mist. You know how sound does weird things in the fog…? Well, I hear a low sort of grunting-whining sound coming from the village. What the heck is that?!

I stood still and waited. Then, right before the creature appeared, it dawned on me. Pig. That’s what makes that sound. And there he came, waddling along, heading straight for the ambulance truck that we had ridden up to Huacuy from neighboring Quillo. Upon arrival, he set to work rubbing every part of his itchy, black body on different parts of the truck. Satisfied, at last, he walked over to the posta.

Will he enter the clinic…? I held my breath. I’d seen dozens of dogs, cats, and even chickens go inside medical clinics in Peru. But this little guy had other plans and continued walking along the perimeter. I heard him out there in the fog and eventually followed the sound. There he was eating grass over by the septic “system.” YUMMO.

Today’s Students and Some Reflections on Service Learning

My colleague pointed out the video below to our English department in advance of our annual retreat (devoted to discussing our dept’s recent accreditation review and our future goals). Then today another colleague, “Gandalf” from the Peru Project, in fact, just forwarded it to me as well. So I figured it was time to share it with y’all. After you watch, I have posted some thoughts below about the message of this video and the goals and benefits of service-learning (the kind of teaching and learning that went on in our trip to Peru).

One of the things that struck me so powerfully about this video is how the students seem to be begging for relevance in their education, and I think service-learning fills this need in meaningful ways for most students.

What is service-learning?

Basically, s-l occurs when the skills/knowledge that students learn in class are put to use to serve the greater good of the community (however that is defined). In our case, engineering students design engineering projects (solar powered drip irrigation systems for an arid and cold climate, cheap biodigestors to produce methane cooking gas from animal and plant waste, etc.) and then they actually SERVE the Peruvian communities with which we partner by installing these actual systems. Learn through serving. Serve through learning.

Anyway, it seems to me that part of what this video above is telling us is that students need to feel their schoolwork matters, that what they are supposed to learn is important. (Can we blame them for that?) Service-learning has a way of helping students achieve just that feeling of satisfaction (whether they are installing water systems in Peru or writing grants for a local non-profit as a student intern). I have utilized s-l in my English class for over a decade and feel convinced that s-l (though taxing for teachers who must put in a lot of extra work to make sure the s-l experience goes well) is still one of the best ways for students to achieve deep understanding.

Odds and Ends: Various Interesting Queries Leading to My Site

From time to time, I see interesting search terms that people used to find my site, and I try to provide the needed information, however belatedly, for which those folks were searching. Here are three random queries of note:

(1) “Village Empowerment Project” donation

Ah! Is this a query about HOW to donate? If so, please go to the website of the Village Empowerment Project and contact John Duffy, the Director of the program. He will let you know how to make a tax deductible donation to the Peru project. (And a worthy cause it is!) The project is run primarily through the generous donations of individuals. Talk about a big bang for the buck — about $200 buys a transceiver radio which can save dozens of lives in these rural outposts and about $300 buys a vaccine fridge that can protect hundreds of children from deadly diseases. Now that’s a bargain! 🙂

(2) Time of the day Peruvians eat breakfast

As in my post of two days ago, the answer is “depende.” Those who work in the fields or mines, eat breakfast according to the needs of their work schedule — early, undoubtedly. My impression is that they have a light breakfast of coffee and a roll before heading to work as early as 6 a.m. Then they take a longer break for lunch and enjoy a big meal (starting anywhere from noon to 3 or so and lasting at least an hour usually). We ate breakfast anywhere from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and when we ate in restaurants, there were others around at that time, though never huge crowds. But maybe there are never huge crowds in restaurants in that part of Peru anyway…? I imagine most of the working poor, though, eat early.

(3) recipe for malfattis

I mentioned a while back that my Aunt D’Vern (Grandma’s sister) used to make malfattis and bring them to family gatherings, but I did not provide the recipe at that point. These are so delicious that I must share our recipe now. Not sure how many Weight Watchers points these are (though if I were making these while on the program, I would lighten up the ingredients with low-fat ricotta, etc.) I have trouble figuring points out sometimes because so much depends on the number of servings per recipe, and family recipes do not usually include that detail…. Anyway, here is D’Vern’s malfattis recipe (and, yes, it is Italian food and she was of Scandinavian heritage):

1 pound of ricotta cheese
1 cup of french bread crumbs
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, grated fine
2 eggs
1 package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed
1 clove of garlic, minced
black pepper to taste

Drop by spoonfuls onto about 3/4 cup flour on cookie sheet and shape into little finger size rolls. Boil in salted water until they float, then drain in colander. Arrange in alternate layers in baking pan with extra thick meaty spaghetti sauce. Bake for about an hour at 350 degress (F) to mix flavors.

Looks like a simple recipe, huh? The mixing is simple, but the rolling into finger-sized bits take a while. Delicious, though. Now I may just need to make this recipe!!


On a side note, I hit a milestone of sorts for my blog this week. I have now had over 5,000 views of the site recorded since beginning on Sept 6. Not bad for a little experiment during my sabbatical. I am surprised by how much the blog has come to mean to me, though. And I suspect that I will be finding ways to use this technology when I return to teaching in Sept. of this year. Thanks to my readers for making this such a wonderful writing experience!