Saturday, May 14, 2011

Youth Center? What Youth Center?

Hello everyone!  I would first like to apologize for the long time between posts.  I know many of you are interested to hear what I am doing out here and I owe it to you to post more.  Also, please forgive my lack of phone contact, my skype account ran out of credit and I cannot contact anyone by land line or cellular anymore.  However, if you wish to add me as a skype contact so we can talk for free, my username is christopher huey.  Now back to your not-so-regularly scheduled blog...

As most of you know, I have been here in Peru for almost a year now - in Cutervo for 9 months.  I feel I have had a lot of personal development; I know spanish, I have received a lot of training in various subjects, I have learned how to bake...  But one thing I feel that I have not done is contribute anything meaningful to my host community - yet.  For the last 6 months I have been working with my local counterparts to find and rent a space where we can start a youth center.  This will provide the adolescents with a safe and fun space to spend their free time and receive workshops from local professionals.  I have the support of professors, psychologists, social workers, government staff, and other NGOs and yet, we have been unable to secure such a space.  Why?

I can easily  deserve some of  the blame due to my constant trips out of site and my inability to maintain contact with all the important players in Cutervo, but there are so many more factors that contribute to our failure to get a youth center started.

1).  Local Politics - It is not uncommon to have two different counterparts tell me that the other possesses many unsavory qualities and I should, therefore not work with him/her.  I often have to tip-toe around these kinds of "gossip circles" but lately I have been more prone to being blunt about not being interested.   I have also found that I need to appeal to the vanity and ambitions of local leaders in order to get the necessary connections or resources for the youth center.  I had one director of an organization here make it perfectly clear that since I had nothing to offer him he was uninterested in the project.

2).  Social / Cultural Norms - I arrived assuming that doing business would, more or less, be the same as anywhere else I have visited and worked but this has not been the case.  There is something here called "La Hora Peruana" in which it is common, nay expected, to arrive to all meetings at least 30 minutes late.  Often times these meetings drag on hours longer than they should, making it nearly impossible to schedule  back to back events in a day.  I had to learn patience because most meetings are 80% niceties and 20% business.  For example, when someone enters a meeting late, they are expected to walk around the room and say hello to each individual and then they are rewarded their tardiness with the floor to say what they like - completely interrupting whoever was speaking before.

3).  Money - This is an obvious challenge, and one that every social program struggles with on a daily basis.  We have been offered only 150 soles (around 50 dollars) from the local government, which is not even enough to rent a space, let alone pay for utilities.  I have been trying to make it clear that without a commitment from the community there can be no commitment from foreign donors but it is hard to explain how the investment in a youth center will benefit the community when they have never offered youth services and there is a severe lack of...

4).  Statistical Data - I have lots of anecdotal evidence suggesting that teen violence, vandalism, drug and alcohol use, and adolescent prostitution are all on the rise but the police and municipality do not keep those kinds of records.  They only records I can get to show an increased risk for youth development is the rising pregnancy rates.  The municipality wants hard data to suggest why a youth center is necessary but they themselves have failed to gather that data.

Combine all this with the fact that my most active counterpart stole money from me and has fallen off the grid and one can understand my frustrations.  However, despite the odds stacking up against me I have found a new group of counterparts who have risen to the challenges and have offered to help me gather some data, write a formal request for funds, and help get the project off the ground.  I can only hope to contribute something tangible to the whole process but it has become very apparent that I do not understand how business is conducted in my region.

So, dear reader, please forgive the tone of this post but it is important that my friends and family understand that my work here is not a walk in the park... Even when working with dedicated and passionate individuals who understand the process and work very hard to achieve a sustainable social service - it is no a simple feat.  Not even to rent a room.

Your frustrated and hopeful Peace Corps volunteer,