If You’re Going to San Francisco…

Good hygiene, diarrhea, sexual health – these are probably topics of conversation that most people would be happy to avoid. Curtis, my fellow MEJOR Communities volunteer, and I want to center at least six months of our lives around them. In Spanish. Ay ay ay….

In June of this year I will be traveling to the small town of San Francisco in northwest Peru where I will be working with MEJOR Communities to create opportunities through health. Better health creates better opportunities for everyone. But this project is especially meaningful for the youth health promoters, aged 13-18 yr, who will be students in our health classes and subsequently, leaders of a community health project. I think community involvement and the spark of possibility that we hope to encourage within the youth will make this an amazing project. Successful community development is a partnership, a work in progress and a labor of love. It’s exhilarating to be a part of this kind of project, even though all we have done so far is prepare in the US!

Most of what I imagine San Francisco will be like comes from Katie and Roberto’s stories of their experience with the Peace Corps in Cajamarca, Peru. Our training in Portland has given us an incredibly amount of preparation for this experience. Spanish practice, lesson preparation, tricks for not getting sick ourselves, even self defense!  We learned ways to present health information to youth which are understandable, dynamic, and interactive. Learning the class materials and brainstorming ways to energize the class with a passion for health was really exciting.

Completing the training in Spanish was also exciting for people with a lifelong passion for the language, although slightly daunting. I think Curtis and I both have a tiny fear that we will happily teach our lessons in our second-language Spanish only to be rendered speechless and confused once we get our first rounds of discussion going. I have faith that our love of the language, strong work ethic applied to mastering it and desire to communicate fully and fluently with our community will overcome any initial bumps in the road. Right?!

Right now I’m most excited to meet my host family and begin settling into this entirely new life. I’m excited by how many possibilities we will have to learn things which we might never otherwise learn – Peruvian weaving, gardening our own veggies, cooking typical dishes (cooking at all). I’m excited to spend more time with Curtis and Carly, my awesome MEJORC buddies who I already can’t imagine doing this trip without. I’m excited to live a simple life, to sleep and rise by the sun, to embrace the quiet of isolation. Not to say that I’m not intimidated by the idea of being a three hours drive away from the nearest Internet connection or cell phone signal.  I’m nervous about being out of communication with my family – the disaster scenarios have crossed my mind more than once. Although having a messenger literally run news to you is a strangely romantic idea, it’s not how I want to be informed of emergencies in the United States. And on a less important note, I really, really love to read the papers online in the morning. Maybe only being connected to the outside world once a month when we go into town (doesn’t that sound all Little House on the Prarie?!) will be a soothing thing.

Anyway, I expect to be challenged in lots of ways. I expect to really desperately miss modern plumbing systems and the beauty of hot, running clean water at least for the first couple of months. I expect to get sick and homesick. But I think I will find ways to stay connected to family and friends, ways to get over physical discomfort and ways to grow and adapt to this unique experience. And I know it is going to be amazing to have the opportunity to really get to know a community and to work collaboratively with the youth to explore what we can do to promote health and wellness from the ground up. Here’s to the tiny changes that change someone’s world!


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