Friday, April 28, 2017

A Meeting in the Village of Cruce Sandoval

Occasionally during the school year pronoei teachers in each district will get together to talk about common interests and problems. The meeting is usually called and chaired by the district coordinator. Such a meeting took place this morning at the pronoei 'Mi Segundo Hogar' (my second home) in the village of Cruce Sandoval in the Mochumi District.

Patricia, bottom row left is the Mochumi District coordinator. Last year she was the coordinator for the Tucume District and was the primary reason we were so busy in that district. This year she has called on us to help the pronoeis in her new district. Standing next to Patricia is Carmen Salazar from the village of Carrizo Bajo. Donations for her school, and for the school of Esther Castro (bottom row extreme right) from Huaca Quemada should arrive the second week in May.

There are 13 pronoeis in the Mochumi District; a relatively small number given the many villages in the district. The other 11 teachers have invited us to visit their schools, which are scattered all over the district, and some quite a distance from the city of Mochumi. We will try to visit all of them over the next few months. It was also suggested that we meet with the mayor and his people to coordinate our efforts to help the pronoeis.

A few weeks ago we were sitting back twiddling our thumbs waiting for calls for help from the villages. Now we've already got more invitations than we can handle, and more will be coming. It happens that way every year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Estimating Promesa Peru Project Costs

We're usually close on our project cost estimates. It's not difficult to do if two key factors are up to date. We use the Excel spread sheet below to do the estimating. This example is the actual estimate for the village of Carrizo Bajo. I forgot to enter a quantity for whiteboard erasers/markers.  Click on it to enlarge.

It all starts with column B, the unit price in Peruvian soles. Those are the prices we have to constantly monitor to keep the spread sheet accurate. Notice we don't have unit prices for school supplies. That's because we haven't been asked to donate school supplies for some time, and it takes a lot of work to check all of the prices for the items that comprise school supplies, such as paper, pens. pencils, scissors, glue, erasers, etc. If we are asked for school supplies we'll have to go through that process.

The other key factor is the exchange rate in cell I1. We check that number daily. The rate has been on a downward trend ever since it reached a high of 3.535 in February 2016. As the rate drops the cost in dollars increases. For example, those same 16 chairs that cost $246.84 now, had a price of $226.63 in February last year. Applying that same percentage difference to whiteboards, shelves and transport amounts to a significant difference in the total project cost. Incidentally, the same applies to donations.

For every $50 donation, we receive $48.25. PayPal takes $1.75. But because we pay the bills in soles, we're receiving less money as the rate drops. In February last year $48.25 gave us 170.32 soles. With today's rate of 3.241 we receive 156.38 soles. Obviously we'd like to see that rate increase. Back to the spread sheet.

With both the unit prices in soles and the exchange rate up to date, all we have to do is enter quantities. The spread sheet calculates all the other numbers. We pay particular attention to the percent numbers in column G. That number tells us if we need to look for different suppliers or different modes of transportation to control costs. Notice in the spread sheet we have a quantity of 3 in transport. That's because we have to hire a motocar, not mototaxi to transport the chairs and tables from the carpenter in Tucume to the village of Carrizo Bajo, a distance of 13 very difficult miles. The further away we operate from Tucume, the more that cost is going to increase.

And speaking of transport, we've just learned that the furniture for Carrizo Bajo and Huaco Quemada will be ready for pick-up on Tuesday May 9, so we should be in those two villages shortly after that.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Good Morning in Los Bances

Parents, kids and the teacher had good reasons to celebrate this morning. Yesterday they moved into their new classroom, which is actually the village town hall but is rarely used except on weekends and some evenings. Rather than have it sitting empty the villagers decided the pronoei should use it.

Also yesterday, the new tables and chairs were delivered. everyone was happy with the quality and colors. Usually 5 tables and 20 chairs would fill the typical classroom, but here they seem lost in all the space.

This morning we gave them puzzles and books as promised. We usually tell the teacher the names of the people who donated the items, in case they want to recognize those individuals. Though they don't always get the spelling right their thanks is sincere and heartfelt. We and they thank Denny Wallette, Chris Raupe, The Alice Cool Foundation and Clif Brown for making this project possible.

The cost for this project was:
5 tables & 20 chairs - $447.08
Puzzles & books - 45.38
Transport - $15.41
Total - $507.87

As we were leaving with beans, chicha, and a turkey they had given us, the teacher Martha (wearing the apron) asked us for a chocolatada next December. She said she was asking now because she wanted to be sure they were first on our list. On a devilish impulse Maribel told her she was third. She looked crestfallen.

During the mototaxi ride back to Tucume our driver stopped to help a fellow driver. His moto had broken down. We towed his moto several miles to a small village where a repair shop was located. No payment was offered nor did our driver expect it. The reason I mention this is because it's funny how a minor incident like this can trigger long forgotten memories.

Many years ago on a rainy spring day in Wisconsin I was driving into town when I saw a woman parked on the shoulder helplessly staring at a flat tire. I had time and didn't mind getting wet so I stopped and changed tires for her. When I was finished she offered $5 to me. I told her to forget it...that maybe someday her husband would change a tire for my wife. She looked at me with a puzzled expression and then asked, "But how will he know who she is"?

We had to wait about 20 minutes for passengers at the Tucume combi station, so to use the time Maribel got a good start on shuckin' beans. Fortunately the turkey had already been killed and cleaned when given to us. It was a good morning. We were back in Chiclayo by noon.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Village of Huaca Quemada

Huaca Quemada is a small village located two miles west of the city of Mochumi. The closest we can come to an English translation is 'burnt-out mountain or hill'. Like the village of Carrizo Bajo that we visited on the same morning, the village homes are scattered over a wide area. We were there to see the pronoei Pequeños Exploradores...'Little Explorers'. We like that name.

This is without a doubt the best physical facility we've seen for a pronoei. The brick school was intentionally built 12 years ago as a pronoei, which is very unusual. When local authorities build a pronoei it is usually modular. The building is sturdy and reasonably well maintained. The concrete column with four holes held a plaque probably placed there during the building's inauguration. It was probably metal so suffered the same fate of nearly all metal plaques in Peru; it was stolen and sold. Most commemorative plaques these days are made of plastic. They don't normally get stolen.

It's a relatively large building with lots of interior space and includes a restroom, also very uncommon. The classroom was not used for the last two years. The reason for that was simply because there were no kids in the 3 to 5 age range. This school term 6 kids registered, and first-year teacher Esther Castro knew there were more so she went knocking on doors to find them. She now has 16 students enrolled.

Esther is the sort of teacher we like to see. She's vibrant; a natural leader and very good with the kids. She has already earned the respect of the parents association. She has asked for 2 storage shelves, 4 tables and 16 chairs. We were told that the plastic chairs and two wood tables that were in the school prior to its closing last year had been returned to the owners. She doesn't want a whiteboard, saying that the old plaster chalkboard is perfectly serviceable.

The carpenter we use in Tucume has increased the price of tables to $27.75 from $24.69 last year, but has held the cost of chairs to $15.42. His prices are still the least expensive of other carpenters we've checked.

The tables, chairs and storage shelves will cost $407.03. We'd like to add some teaching aids...puzzles, books etc for another $50. Transport will bring the total to $500. After the Carrizo Bajo expenses have been paid Promesa Peru will be broke so we have no money for this project. If you can help us please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

### Update on other projects ###

The furniture has been delivered to Los Bances. We will be there Tuesday to deliver teaching aids and take photos.

We received the money to finance the Carrizo Bajo project. Thank you. The furniture order has been placed. We still need to buy the storage shelves. Hopefully we can return to the village with everything in place the first week of May.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Something You Have Never Seen Before

Do you have any idea what you're looking at in the following photos? What you're not looking at is the work of Picasso or any other modern artist. Nor are you looking through a microscope or telescope. And while I would love to tell you that Maribel and I discovered wall art in a secret cave, that's not the case either.

Take a moment to sit back and study the photos. Be sure to click to enlarge them. If you're of a certain temperament maybe the photos will speak to you, perhaps tell you of the history of the planet or universe, or maybe even the meaning of life.

Beautiful, aren't they? What you're looking at is the surface of two stones, each no more than two inches in length. We found them on a shoreline of the Chinchipe River in the village of Zapotal in the Jaen province of Peru. We have a collection of stones from all over Peru. We pick them up and keep them because of an odd shape, unusual color or blend of colors but never have we seen stones with this kind of detail. The lines and shapes are so intricate and graceful and seem to complement each other. It's therapeutic just to look at them.

We have no idea how these stones were formed. If there is a geologist reading this we'd appreciate any insight you can give us.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Village of Carrizo Bajo

Carrizo Bajo is the first village we have visited in the Mochumi District. We actually visited two pronoeis this morning, the second being in the village of Huaca Quemada. Both are on the Mochumi District map. We need to get a little more information about Huaca Quemada before agreeing to try to help them, but Carrizo Bajo in our view certainly qualifies as a Promesa Peru project.

In English carrizo means reed. In Peru these reeds are very thick, up to one inch in diameter and when peeled and dried are used to construct fences and as interior support for mud walls. Bajo means below which implies that there should be a village named Carrizo Alto (above) but if so it is not on the map.

Carrizo Bajo is one of those villages where the houses are widely scattered, making it impossible to take a photo of the village. There are about 200 people living here. The economic base is a repeat of all other villages in northern and often women working in farm fields for absentee landlords.

The pronoei 'Corazon De Maria' (Mary's heart) is a modular building constructed by the district government over four years ago. It is in surprisingly good condition for that age (these pre-fabs are flimsy and without constant attention don't last long), which usually indicates an active parents's association. It also indicates a strong lobbying effort to get it constructed in the first place.

Carmen Salazar has fifteen students though only eleven were present today. Carmen is young but has four years of experience teaching at pronoeis. This is her first year at Corazon De Maria. She has an easy going personality and seems to have a good rapport with the kids who are also quiet, perhaps having taken on their teachers personality.

That the classroom has needs is obvious. We feel that a whiteboard ($53), two storage shelves ($50), four tables ($111) and sixteen chairs ($247) would furnish this classroom nicely. Another $40 for transportation brings the total to $501.

Maria in the turquoise blouse is the village president, and is also president of the vaso de leche (glass of milk) program. She says she knows a carpenter who may be able to make the furniture for less money. We will wait to hear from her before placing an order. The woman in the pink blouse is Maribel's sister Magaly,  who sometimes helps us with projects.

When the Los Bances project is completed (the furniture is supposed to be ready April 21) we will have approximately $200 remaining to use for the Carrizo Bajo project. We're going to need another $300 to finish it. If you can help us please visit the Promesa Peru webpage to donate. Thank you.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Peruvians Love Inaugurations!

In the western world when the word inauguration is used it usually means a formal ceremony with dignitaries to mark the beginning of something grand; a new president, the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the London Tower, etc. Peru does that too, inaugurating new schools, hospitals, parks and the like, but inaugurations are not held only for big ticket events. It is customary to have a formal ceremony for the opening of a new bakery, pharmacy, private office and such. A new house, apartment or condo also qualifies for inauguration.

Being a predominantly Catholic country the ceremony usually involves a priest walking from room to room, sprinkling holy water and blessing the enterprise. If a priest is not available any lay-person can do it. Maribel has often drenched people with holy water while blessing a new dwelling. She laughs while doing it. That doesn't seem very solemn to me. After the object has been blessed, token (teeny weeny) drinks and sandwiches are given to the invited guests. These kinds of ceremonies usually last from 30 to 45 minutes.

The vast majority of inaugurations are held for small-scale neighborhood events. Marie planted a new shrub? Pablo got a new tire for his tico taxi? Juan and Esmeralda have a new front door? Hey!....let's inaugurate!! Nobody is going to convince me that these so called ceremonies are anything more than an excuse for a party. Last night in Las Muses park an inauguration took place to commemorate the grand opening of Carlos' food truck.

It was coincidental that last week I read an article about food trucks in Milwaukee. I didn't know Milwaukee had food trucks. I didn't know that food trucks existed anywhere in the USA outside of that weird Coney Island section of New York (to my knowledge Promesa Peru has never received a donation from Coney Island so I feel okay insulting it). Back to Carlos' food truck.

The ceremony began with the unveiling of the truck's interior. Everything was shiny and squeaky clean. We'll see how long that lasts. Carlos made a speech about the truck, and how he intended it to be a long-term business for his son and son-in-law. Then different family members took turns blessing the truck and sprinkling it with holy water.

The ceremony ended with free Pisco Sours distributed to the guests. When the drinks were finished the crowd converged on the truck to order food (not free) from the menu. The empanadas were especially good, filled with meat and a tasty sauce.

Carlos' truck joins about six others that normally park in the evening on that stretch of the road bordering Las Musas park. We hope the business is successful. We'll do our share to support it, as long as he continues to sell those delicious empanadas.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A return to the village of Los Bances

Our return trip to the village of Los Bances this morning was an enjoyable one, but before we get into the visit some comments about the journey to get there seem appropriate.

Riding through the cities of Tucumè and Mochumi it quickly became evident that those towns and the surrounding area were hit much harder by the floods than Chiclayo was. Many of the roads including the main highway were washed away, leaving only rutted, muddy passageways. In both towns on both sides of the street there were many lots containing piles of rubble where businesses and houses recently stood. In the Tucumè cemetery the bottom row of the above-ground tombs is under water. We were told that the city has been pumping water out of the cemetery since the rain stopped two weeks ago.

In the countryside, small creeks and canals had reached heights of more than 15 feet above their normal state. Most of the bridges, maybe 10 to 12 feet in length survived but are in need of urgent repair. The gravel roads are pockmarked and in places impassable.

This photo shows the main (only?) intersection in Los Bances. A building in the center and two on the left collapsed. The pronoei we visited today is the most distant building in the center of the photo.

Despite all the recent hardships it was a cheery group that greeted us this morning. Martha (on the left in the group ) seems pleased with her new classroom. She has more room than in the previous quarters, and she needs the extra space because she has 20 students this term as opposed to 13 last year.The name of the pronoei is Manitos Traviesas; in English 'naughty little hands'.

Martha has one table and two wooden chairs for her 20 kids. She has asked us for five tables and 20 chairs. She would also like some puzzles and books to accommodate the additional students. She still has those we donated last year, and the whiteboard and storage shelves. The estimated cost for 20 chairs is $340. For 5 tables it is $100. Puzzles and books will be about $60. The total is $500.

The good news is that, with the money from donations carried over from last year and donations received so far this year we already have enough to pay for this project. To anyone who may have been thinking about donating to Promesa Peru this year, please hold on to your money until we need it for a future project. And there will be future projects, perhaps as soon as next week.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Chiclayanos are settling in

Every day life in Chiclayo has nearly returned to normal. Trucks and buses to and from Lima are getting through, though the Pan American highway is still restricted in some stretches. Empty store shelves are being restocked with milk, bread and a host of other food items that had not been available for the last two weeks. The small bakeries are receiving flour and sugar from Lima. Normally they would get their sugar locally but the floods have brought the sugar cane processing plants to a halt.

Military planes are still flying into and out of Chiclayo's airport, though they are no longer transporting people. Instead they are transporting food, medicine and other supplies to the Piura Region north of us. I don't understand why they are stopping at Chiclayo when Piura is only another 40 airplane minutes away but there must be a good reason for it. Anyone contemplating a visit to the Piura Region would be wise to put their plans on hold. Damage has been incredible...much worse than our region. It will take many months to clean up the destruction.

Chile and Colombia came to Peru's aid, supplying food, medicine and aircraft to transport them. We saw several Colombian helicopters approach the Chiclayo airport. We assume they came direct from Columbia rather than  going out of the way to Lima. Now that Colombia is experiencing floods it may be Peru's turn to help them. There are 290 deaths so far in Colombia.

Sites where buildings have collapsed in Chiclayo are being cleaned up. All that remains of a house two doors down from ours is the front wall, and that is being held up with braces. Everything else is gone. After all the rubble has been removed I'm sure the remaining wall will be taken down. The cinema in the Real Plaza mall has reopened after being closed for three weeks because of water damage.

Schools in the Lambayeque Region officially opened today, though we suspect that parent's will take a wait and see attitude before sending their kids to classrooms. We have received five invitations to visit schools; three of them in the Mochumi District. This is one of two districts we wanted to target this year, the other being San Jose. We hope to visit the Mochumi schools on Wednesday. We expect to be very busy very soon.