priya and bread baby

The highs and lows of volunteering abroad: EWB-UK volunteer Priya in Peru

In her latest blog post, EWB-UK volunteer Priya discusses her struggles at work and experiencing some of the more traditional aspects of Peruvian life.

Work-wise, this month has been both rewarding and frustrating. It has been rewarding because I can finally see some of the results of my efforts through increased production and larger proportions of filters exiting both the drying and firing processes successfully in the Urubamba site.

But I’ve been frustrated because I have been unable to make as much progress as I would have liked on planning operations for the new larger production site in Cusco.

As with many things in this sector, funds have been hindering progress: ProWorld has not yet raised sufficient money to construct the kiln or the factory in Cusco, and it is unlikely that it will do so in the near future.

Investment issues

Additionally, initial investments focused on the design of the more efficient larger kiln rather than the factory as a whole, but to increase production, the bottleneck or limiting factor is not the firing process, but rather a combination of labour time, space and machinery.

Unfortunately, because the initial plans were made without much thought for the factory, the space dedicated to production is very small. So I’ve been drawing up new plans, and explaining current and potential capacities to my colleagues, which are much lower than previously thought. I’ve also met with the engineer who drew up the initial plans, and I hope to work with him in future, combining his experienced mind with my understanding of filter production.

My work has seen rewards!

Despite these issues, production in Urubamba has significantly increased thanks mainly to decreasing the proportion of filters that crack during drying from around 60 per cent to less than five per cent. This has allowed us to accelerate production, and this week we will see our third firing process, allowing us to determine whether further hypotheses are correct.

I’ve recommended several improvements that could be made to the site in Urubamba to increase production further, and now I will focus the remaining two months of my time on planning for the new site.

Although any construction will not begin before I leave, ProWorld still hopes to produce both water filters and cooking stove-tops there in the future, so my next step will be to visit the stove-top production site and find out more about this production process.

Peruvians know how to party!

One of the most rewarding parts of my placement has been living with my host family, and through them, gaining the ‘real’ Peruvian experience, learning about culture, tradition and parties. Much of my free time is spent with my host family, whether it is talking about our days, learning how to knit, going to church, or attending a family baptism.  

Peruvians love to party, and the many public and regional holidays allow them to do so on a regular basis. It turns out that the first party I attended  - that I had written about in my second blog  - was actually rather tame, and most parties tend to start at midday, and finish when everyone is passed out, normally around ten hours later. The drink of choice here is rum and coke – which they drink at everything from baptisms to funerals.

Traditions

Last week, I experienced some of the more traditional aspects of Peruvian life, as I was presented with a ‘bread baby’ for the Day of the Living. As they have done for many years, Peruvians gift their kids with babies (for girls) and horses (for boys) made from bread.  

This was followed immediately by the Day of the Dead, so I waited until then to eat my bread baby. This day is predominantly for remembering loved ones who passed away, and most families go to the graveyards and pay respects to their late relatives and friends. This also generally involves drinking rum and coke in the cemetery, as well as eating the type of food that the respective loved ones would have liked.

Wildlife

Another exciting part of living in the Andes is seeing the llamas and alpacas on the mountains. These creatures are very different to most others – the alpacas have unique walks and appear as if they are awkwardly jumping from their front legs to their back legs, a bit like a rocking horse with legs. The llamas look quite similar but are generally more slender and have super-spitting abilities, which I am told involve a large amount of green gunk - luckily I have yet to experience this.

Near where I live a couple own a hotel called Llama Pack. Here they train llamas to become accustomed to humans so that tourists can have a unique cultural experience, walking with the llamas. In the gardens of their hotel, they have an excitable llama named Apu, who I have come to know well.  

I was fortunate enough to take part in one of their treks, where we hiked to the llamas’ home of Cancha Cancha, a remote Andean village. There we were greeted by the llamas’ owners and given a lunch of potatoes cooked by burying them in the ground with hot rocks that had been heated on an open fire – the traditional cooking method in many Andean villages.

Another trek to the nearby village of Yucay, allowed me to learn about sustainable agriculture, as well as getting the opportunity to feed a llama.  

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