Hi! So, the last two weeks have been filled with community meetings throughout the region. For once, almost everything has been running according to schedule, so we’ve really been getting a lot accomplished, which feels great. All of the meetings of the past two weeks have been in the provinces of Huancané and Ilave, mainly because after meeting with DIRESA representatives from nearly all of the regional provinces in Puno, the reps from Huancané and Ilave were the ones who followed up with us. Ilave is about an hour and a half east of Puno, and Huancané is a little over two hours to the northwest. Both areas are, on the whole, very poor and many communities, particularly the rural ones, have no access to clean drinking water.
First, I went with Laura, another Suma Marka member (Rocío was in Puerto Maldonado for the weekend on a trip with the biology department of the University of Puno), to Accaso, a community about forty minutes from Ilave. Attendance at these meetings always varies, but it’s usually around 10-20 people per meeting. When we got to the municipal building of Accaso, where the day’s meeting was to be held, we realized that nearly 200 people were already there! Since the purpose of the meetings is to get an idea of the particular water needs within the community and its receptiveness to the filters, such a large group wasn’t particularly ideal…But, it’s not as if we were going to tell people to leave, so we proceeded with our presentation and tried to ask/answer questions as best we could.
Towards the end of the meeting, someone stood up and pointed out that most people in the community were very poor, and since we were from an NGO and surely had plenty of money, couldn’t we just give a filter to each family for free? This question has come up more often than not througout the various community meetings. I think that people assume that because we’re from an NGO from Puno, and especially because I’m a foreigner, we must have lots of funding. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. So, I have to tell them that while it would be great if we could supply everyone with a filter, we simply can’t do that. At least, we’ll be installing filters in the health centers, and possibly in the schools and municipal buildings.
The next week, Rocío and I went to Huijpata, a small, isolated town that’s about an hour and a half beyond the small city/large town of Huancané. And when I say isolated, I mean REALLY isolated. When I thought that Putina, the town we went to the week before, was isolated, I didn’t realize just how far we’d be going to get to Huijipata. We went to the town in the Huancané DIRESA’s truck, and it seemed like the road we took to get there was hardly ever used by other cars. After a certain point, the road was really narrow, curvy, and rocky, and I was just glad the rainy season hadn’t started yet, because then things really could have been a mess. But, we made it to Huijipata just fine, and once we got there we met up with the local health center workers, who had set up the meeting for us. One of the nurses told us that the power there had been out for a week, but there wasn’t really anything they could do about it. Also, though the town seemed small, turns out it was rather large, at least territorially–the people who lived on the farthest outskirts of Hujipata were a 1.5 hour walk away from the health center. And, as the nurse informed us, none of these people had cars, and maybe a handful had motorcycles that they could use for transportation. So basically, imagine being sick, and having to walk an hour and a half (in a sometimes-brutally cold and windy climate) to be able to get medicine or see a doctor.
Anyway, we went to our meeting, which turned out to be scheduled with the elementary school students. Not what we were expecting, but hey, the last time we met with students (in Ticani Pampa), the meeting turned out really well. And ultimately, this time was no different. We also went to the colegio (high school) and did a small presentation there. Just like in Ticani Pampa, the students were all really attentive and seemed interested in what we had to say. We had also brought posters which we had made and printed the week before which listed various waterborne illnesses and their symptoms and explained several methods of water purification (including, but not limited to, the ceramic filter), and we gave all of the students posters to bring home to their families. After the meetings, the nurse showed us two of the community’s water sources, which were full of trash and dead insects and other nasty-looking stuff. It was pretty horrifying and I’ll try to upload a picture (although sometimes wordpress doesn’t let me, so we’ll see…).
Two days later, Rocío and I went to Tiqui Tiqui, another community in the Huancané area. Tiqui Tiqui is located on the same road that leads to Huijipata, but is only about forty minutes from Huancané. This time, though, we weren’t able to use the DIRESA truck, so we had to take a public combi, or a 10-15 person van. But first, we had to take a combi from Puno to Juliaca (about an hour), then another combi from Juliaca to Huancané (about an hour and a half), and THEN once we found the combi that went from Huancané to Tiqui Tiqui, we had to wait for it to fill up before we could leave, which took well over an hour. Eventually, we arrived to Tiqui Tiqui, and luckily, the womens’ group who we were to have the meeting with was running behind schedule, and so we got there just in time. Rocío explained to me that the group was part of Programa Juntos, a national government program that provides monetary assistance to very poor families, particularly rural families who live mainly off the land. The assistance is minimal (200 soles, or about $75, a month), but at least it’s something.
Anyway, we held our meeting, and the women were very interested in the filters and in having one for their own families. In Tiqui Tiqui, as in many rural communities in Puno, people get their water primarily from wells, which are often built in a way that allows the water to easily become contaminated, and there is no system to treat the water. In Tiqui Tiqui along with several of the other communities that we had visited prior to the Tiqui Tiqui meeting and several that we’ve visited since, many people acknowledge that the water they drink is contaminated, and admit that they know they should boil the water before drinking it, but due to convenience (and also because boiling water can give it an unpleasant taste, and well water, though it may be contaminated, often tastes fine), oftentimes they drink the water straight from the well. So, there is a definite appeal in the ceramic filters, which don’t require boiling or chlorination and are really easy to use.
So, we were wrapping the meeting up and answering a few final questions about the filter when one of the health center workers came through and told us that the last car to Huancané for the day had just passed through. Um…uh oh? Huancané was nearly a 3 hour walk away from Tiqui Tiqui and it was starting to rain. But before long, one of the other health center workers assured us that because it was Wednesday, there would be more cars passing through that afternoon (I guess Wednesday is the day of the week that cars go to and from these towns, in case anyone wants or needs to leave?). And, sure enough, within a half hour, a bus came through, and we got on, feeling pretty relieved. The walls of the bus were almost rusted through, and parts of the ceiling were duct taped together, but hey, we were just happy to have a ride.
This past week, Rocío and I went to two more communities in the Ilave area for meetings. In one of the communities, the regular meeting had been cancelled, so we gave a presentation at the local high school. As always, I really enjoyed talking to the students, and didn’t feel that anything had been lost by talking to them instead of the adults. In the other community, Cachipucara, we went to two separate meetings in different parts of the community. In both meetings, the people in attendance were so nice and seemed very amused to have me, a foreigner, there.
At any rate, in all of the community meetings we’ve held, there’s been a definite interest in the filters, and nearly everyone wants a filter for their household. The need is definitely there, too–most of the communities we’ve visited are pretty isolated and have no system for water treatment. One thing I worry about, though, is that although the people in these communities are among those who could most benefit from the filters, they’re also among those who are least likely to be able to afford them, even if they are sold at a lower price than the filters from the Urubamba factory (say, 45 soles instead of 85). Many of these families have very little cash income and live mainly off the land and animal husbandry. Hopefully, if a solid middle-class customer base can be established, then perhaps the filters can be sold to poorer communities at a subsidized rate.
So…that’s where I am with my project right now. Next week, we are going to the communities where we’ve done workshops to install the pilot filters, and on Thursday Rocío and I will go to Pucará to speak with community members and a potters’ collective and wrap things up there. I can’t believe I’m almost done with everything–the time has gone so fast!
In other news, this past week was All Saints Day and Day of the Dead in Peru (November 1 and November 2), and everyone had those days off. Day of the Dead celebrations in Peru are somewhat similar to Mexican Day of the Dead Celebrations–families build altars honoring their deceased loved ones with photos of the person and things they enjoyed in life (particularly favorite foods and drinks), and spend time remembering their lives and praying for their spirits. There are also large celebrations in the cemeteries, with prayer, song, and lots of flowers. On Friday, I went to Juli, a city about two hours from Puno (towards Bolivia), with Javier and his family to participate in the celebrations. Javier’s mom is from Juli and several of their relatives are buried in the cemetery there. I had a great time seeing and participating in all of the local traditions.
Tomorrow (November 4) is the anniversary of Puno, and there are going to be a lot of festivities for that, too. So, it’s been a big weekend for Puno!
I’ll write again next week after the filters are installed in the communities!