26 September 2011

The light side.

So, after what was probably the dark side of Peace Corps in those last two posts, I decided that I should bring us back to the lighter side of Peace Corps: actually successful work.  Of course, success depends on your own definitions, but right now success in my book means having work to do!

As I wrote about a month ago, my Alcaldeza (female mayor, or in this case, vice mayor) came to me because she wanted to start a micro-empresas class for women.  I suggested to her that we work in conjunction with the Women's Office for our municipality.  We set up a meeting for the following monday, and promptly sat down, went through names of needy women, thought about how large a class I could do, and right then and there wrote a proposal to take to the Mayor.  The following day it was typed, the Alcaldeza and I signed it, and it went to his desk.  It was approved before the end of the week.  Sometimes it is awesome to work with the vice-mayor.

However, that was the end of the awesome efficiency we had going and we promptly waited a month for funds to be released.  We had timed the class to end right before reconnect, but in reality, we started the week before reconnect, and I did three of the scheduled six classes on a thursday, friday, and the following monday.  The very first day there were 25 women who attended--some of whom walked an hour to come.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, as my class got smaller), there are about 14 who stayed on, and I had a regular attendance of about 12, not including the Alcaldeza, women's office director, and librarian (classes were at the library).

The class concluded last week with the women being in three groups, and preparing business plans for three businesses (a cafe, a restaurant, and artisan jewelry).  However, in my attempt to bring some start-up funds from the government, the women realized they needed a group of at least 10 to get the seed capital and promptly decided to give up their plans in favor of one big panadería (bakery).  I think this is extremely unfortunate, because they could have formed a group of ten or more, obtained their small business loans, and still started three businesses.  One large panadería is a terrible idea here, because there is no way a business of a size large enough to support 10 families can be successful or sustainable here.  I mean, I haven't even SEEN a business with more than 5 employees who aren't related to one another.  So, I'm still trying to talk them out of it.  I was happy, however, when one of the best students was like "Even if we don't decide to be a part of this group and get the loans, now we have the capacidad to start our own businesses", and one of the students even called me yesterday to see if I could continue advising them.

So, it's not all a wash.  After seeing Carrie's presentation at Reconnect on her class "Mi Vida Empresarial", I'd really like to adopt that format, though I have doubts about how to obtain the funding for that.  Jeff might be starting (read: the doctor wants him to start) a pregnant teens support group, and this might be the next step for them toward income generation as well.

P.S.  I'm sorry that our blog lacks photos.  This is because until recently we only had iPhones to take photos with, and those are likely to get stolen if we take them in public.  We have a digital camera now, but are waiting on a connection cable and battery charger for it.

25 September 2011

Reconnect and S&S

So I know that I promised the next post would be about family vacation.  I lied.  Well, it's not my fault really.  You see, mom and Mariah just started school again and John.... well he doesn't really have any excuse.  Anyway, I'm going to write about other things instead.

The 7th-10th of September was our Reconnect.  Reconnect is where everyone of the same project gets together to share about their work, sit through some boring-but-occasionally-useful lectures, and remember how great friends we were during training (or not).  This year, due to the budget situation, PC-H decided to hold Business, Health, and Wat-San reconnects all at the same place.  Not only was our entire training group there, but also the H-16ers--most of whom we hadn't met before.  All in all, most volunteers treated it like a giant party, and sometimes it was. 

Reconnect was hard for me.  It's difficult to sit and listen to other people talk about their work--especially when they are working in Food Security and neither asked for that, nor wanted to.  I was (and probably still am) angry at my project staff for building up my expectation of my counterpart which have turned out to be all false.  I think I could have handled not getting a FS project much better if they hadn't mislead my beliefs about what I was getting.  Disappointment is a harder emotion to get over than the others.  We also sat through several lectures about the new Acceso program from USAID which we don't qualify for in the east.  That was an awesome kick in the ass, especially since my project team is well aware that I sent them an email about what is up with my counterpart, and they haven't acknowledged it.

Anyway, I talked a while about it with TJ who lives south of us here and is my closest BZ neighbor.  He told me when he got to Salama, it was none of the things he asked for.  He pretty much spent a year not really having work, and feeling bitter about his assignment.  It was only recently that he started to have work again, and now he's happier.  The conclusion that I came to from all of this is that I want to try to love La Union for what it is, instead of hating it for what it's not.  And that, I suppose, can apply to all areas of my life. 


On that note, safety and security has been much a concern here in Honduras lately.  Some new rules have come down restricting volunteer travel and get-togethers, mostly aimed at curbing public-drunkenness and the dangers that possesses.  It frustrates me a lot that Peace Corps has to put policies like that in place, since especially here in Olancho, we get together for nights of safe fun on a regular basis, and I feel like if we didn't we might all go insane.  There is no social life to speak of for many of us in our own towns.  Jeff and I are in by 6 (7 at the latest, but it's already dark by then), and we don't go out after dark.

Honduras has a lot of security problems unrelated to volunteer stupidity as well.  The murder rate here is the highest in the world (more dangerous than Afghanistan), and rising due to increasing drug violence.  Every month we get more disturbing updates about things like violence outside of Trujillo (there's an ongoing land dispute), or someone getting jumped in the woods by men with masks and then raped.  Thankfully neither of those things are near us, but the potential for violence everywhere in this country is very high.  Jeff and I are constantly asking ourselves if we can be effective here with all the limitations these security problems impose.  I think if asking to be relocated to a safer post was an option, we would be seriously considering that.  Unfortunately married couples do not really have the option, like single people, to not accept their first invitation to the Peace Corps.  We are told that "Very rarely does any couple get a second placement consideration", which means there's only one shot.

If you are considering joining the Peace Corps, think very hard about what is most important to you.  If safety and security is important, make that known to your placement officer.  However, if you had asked me if safety and security was important to me last year, I would probably have said that it wasn't any more important to me than the next person.  However, now I feel like it really restricts our ability to be effective volunteers while not breaking all of the safety and security rules.