I spent a month in Lima, studying Spanish during the week and enjoying the nightlife and the occasional casino on the weekends. Unfortunately, I did not win more than $30 at the casino but hey, it's better than nothing! At the beginning of March, I headed north to Trujillo/Huanchaco to do what I always wanted to do: help an impoverished community in another country to achieve a better and more stable life. The organization I am volunteering for is called SKIP: Supporting Kids in Peru
. We work in a poor area of Trujillo called El Porvenir. Trujillo, with its approximately 800,000 inhabitants, is the third largest city in Peru. Just 20 minutes away lies the much smaller, tranquil beach town of Huanchaco. It is here in Huanchaco that I decided to call home. I am determined to learn how to surf and even bought a surfboard to provide incentive for me to keep going back into the water.
But back to SKIP: First a little background information about SKIP. First and foremost, SKIP works with kids, providing educational support and afterschool activities to the kids of El Porvenir. However, an important part of SKIP also involves empowering the parents of these kids to improve their living conditions. Part of this endeavor includes social and psychological work and the other part includes economic development. It is the latter which is the focus of my volunteer work here in Peru.
My official title is "Economic Development and Microfinance Monitor" and within that category I specifically work with microfinance and savings initiatives as well as production workshops. For example, a mother will come in an apply for a small loan. Loans range from 100 soles (~$40) to 400 soles (~$160) and are usually given for various business initiatives, such as to buy beads to make jewelry to sell
. The loans are given at just a 1% interest rate, and the best thing about these loans is the mother must make a weekly payment on the loan and must include an additional amount for her savings. When she pays off the loan, she gets back the money she has put into her savings, essentially teaching her the benefits of saving. A similar project that I am personally in charge of is helping these parents to open savings accounts at a bank. Currently I am researching local banks to find the best one for them to do this, taking into account the fees, interest rates, accessibility, etc.. I am working on a few other projects as well that are very interesting. One woman is applying for a government grant to start a business making shoes for Trujillo public schools. She came to me with her business plan, and I am helping her polish it up so that she has the best chance possible of receiving government funding. On the production workshop side, we provide mothers with raw materials to make such things as shoes, socks, clothing, and jewelry which we then sell at fairs and we also have agreements with local shops to sell our items, with the mothers obviously getting a fair cut of the profits. So these are just some of the things I am currently working on - little by little I am making a difference! Oh, and one day a week I work in the library helping kids with their homework...
On my free time I go out in Huanchaco, see live Peruvian music, and surf or hang out at the beach. It's a far cry from the madness I experienced in Southeast Asia but I am enjoying this laidback lifestyle. : )
(I cannot post pictures of the people we help at SKIP. If you want to see pictures, feel free to visit the webpage at www.skipperu.org)
First off, I would like to apologize to those devoted readers to whom I have deprived of interesting reading material for the last month and a half. Since I am now "living" and no longer "traveling", I guess I felt that my blog entries here could not live up to the type of excitement I experienced while backpacking around Asia. But then I realized I have much to say, so I will catch you up on what has been going on in Peru.