Hello all. Whelp. In exactly one month I will be leaving Laraos and setting off for the next adventure. I could probably right an entire entry speculating what that might be so I’m going to put it off for next time. I would rather tell you about my last big project that I had in the works for Laraos that we just finished this past weekend: “Vizcollo Forestation.”
As you might be able to tell by the title, this project involved planting trees in an area of Laraos known as Vizcollo. It sounds simple, right? Wrong. This project has probably caused me more stress and headaches than all other projects combined. If you read my last post, you’ll remember how proud and impressed how everyone came together to put on a successful event. Where everyone cooperated during the camp, it seems that no one worked together for this project. Still, the results are in and there are now 440 quiñual saplings growing in the safety of protective fences in Vizcollo.
So the idea for this project originated last year when I became aware of a government organization’s plan to plant 11,000 saplings in our town’s alpaca and sheep grazing lands, Vizcollo. They had everything in order except for a way in which to protect the fragile trees from the avid foraging livestock. I decided to throw in with them, offering to acquire a budget and plan to protect the 11,000 (which is a hefty number) trees. Working with this organization and the community board, the project everything it needed to aid the community in a sustainable way.
Then the problems started cropping up…
I encountered a working-relationship problem with my primary partner on the project (what alliteration!) and had to spend a few weeks in Lima for medical issues during the key working month of the project. The result? The government’s project went on without my input and they planted some 5000 trees at the end of rainy season without any protection. What is the result of that? Just six months later, all 5000 of those trees had been eaten or dried out and died.
But that only accounts for half of the trees, what happened to the other 6000 saplings? They waited in town and up at the farm for people to plant them. Those people never got there due to lack of interest, lack of funds and lack of access. The road to the farm became inaccessible several times over the course of the project. Still, the government organization, having fulfilled their part of the deal – to deliver 11,000 plants to the community – left and was not available to help the project any further than that.
So my part in the project completely changed from complement to primary when I was asked to provide more trees now to replace the vast quantity that had failed the previous rainy season. The scale immediately shrank because we no longer had the budget or the time to plant and protect so many trees. We settled on some 450 plants to be planted one weekend by the high school graduating class, where they would earn an alpaca for their effort.
The Friday before we were to leave, I was busy running around, securing a car to go pick up the trees, an errand that took all day. When I (and a few friends) returned and was loading the trees on to the truck that would take us the next morning, the driver of that car informed us that the car would not be going to Vizcollo but somewhere else and “what were we doing loading trees on to the truck?” Confused, we sought out the president who told us the ranching president was in charge of that weekend’s work. When we asked where we could find him, we were dismayed to find out that he was drunk and in no state to clarify this confusion of trip goals. To make matters worse, when I called to have a meeting with my student volunteers, only two valiant boys showed up. Without manpower to plant and without confirmation that we were even going, I canceled the weekend just 6 hours before we were supposed to be leaving and spent the weekend explaining to everybody why I was in town and not up with the alpacas. After calling the authorities out for letting me down for that weekend, they promised that the following weekend, everything would be in order for us to go up and work.
I spent the next week ensuring that I had the participation of at least 12 students, not just from the graduating class but really, anyone who wanted to go. I played on their desire to have a weekend away with friends getting to know another area of Laraos. Interestingly, although it pertains to Laraos, few students have visited this region because it is fairly inaccessible and not the most pleasant (high altitude, cold, rainy/snowy, no electricity, no running water, definitely no internet). I had about 15 students who were ready to go when on Thursday, the teachers announced that pending parent approval (again with the alliteration!) there would be classes on Saturday to make up for days missed during the teachers’ strike.
Sidebar: there was a teachers’ strike. I didn’t post about it because I didn’t have much to say on the matter. It lasted about one month and I’m not sure the teachers achieved their goals because the government declared the strike illegal and said that if they weren’t back in class by Oct. 9, they weren’t getting paid. So, they returned to classed and had a lot of hours to make up.
Upset by yet another obstacle to the weekend of work, I prepared myself for the worst: that the project would not happen because there would be no one to work on any of the remaining weekends of my service. But I went that night to the PTA-comparable meeting, ready to defend keeping this Saturday class-free. To my joy, the parents rejected the request for Saturday classes and our weekend was free for a field trip to Vizcollo.
The Friday before we were to leave, we had a meeting after school with all of those interested in going and I was encouraged to see 19 students and 6 adults show up. The next day, 13 students and 5 adults (two Peace Corps volunteers) climbed in to the truck at 4:00 am to make the 3 hour drive up to the altitude. I settled in, content that we were now on our way. But the weekend/project wasn’t over yet. When we arrived, I was dismayed to see that despite my insistence in the morning and everyone’s assent, those responsible for loading the materials had only loaded half of the fencing required to protect our precious saplings. I was upset at the fact that once again, I had not been listened to.
But we were there and we had half the materials so we were going to work. And work we did. Once I got over that little road bump of not having everything at hand, I was pleased with the job that my volunteers did and ran around taking pictures and video when I wasn’t working myself. We had a quick demonstration on how to assemble and place the fences and then the kids were off to work.
We spent some time putting the fences together altogether.
Then carried them off to the planting site.
And dug holes, planted trees and placed fences…
So that each tree looked like this:
In just one exhausting day of work, I was pleased to see that we had planted all of the trees we had brought and placed fences to protect half of them. The kids took the remaining time to relax, go for a walk and play some soccer. With sundown around 7:00 and no electricity, we climbed in to bed (sleeping bags on mattresses on dirt floors) at 7:30 and did our best to sleep until morning.
The next day, we helped with some of the ranching jobs before heading back down to Laraos. The students hand-picked their well-earned alpaca and we loaded everything on to the truck, exhausted and satisfied.
So my last large project is finished. It didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned it to but as the title of this post puts it, the trees are in the ground and that is important to me. It seemed like nothing came together but after all the headaches, at the end of the day, the weekend can be considered a success. The students and adults who participated are trained in the correct techniques and have now seen how very possible it is to plant and care for a large amount of trees. They have the materials to hold another campaign with what is left over from this project and I hope that they do so. The trees (and ideas) are in good soil. It is just a matter of letting them grow.