(This blog is from Summer of 2016.)
Two volunteer groups have come and gone and it’s been less than a week since the members of the third volunteer group have settled into the WindAid House. I am glad we got the six extra weeks, compared to a normal volunteer, to understand the impacts and complications with the project, grow closer to the WindAid staff members, and become more integrated in Peruvian culture.
Community involvement in WindAid’s project in Playa Blanca, a rural fishing village in northern Peru is essential to ensure the turbine’s sustainability. WindAid hopes not to do charity work for a community, but to work alongside a community to build something that will last longer than WindAid’s involvement with the community. That’s the motivation for developing a workshop or test center right in Playa Blanca- so the community will eventually have the resources to construct and maintain turbines on their own. One of our main project goals was to ensure a lasting impact in the Playa Blanca community by speaking and providing educational sessions with both the young and the older (the village is relatively new so no one is really old) in Playa Blanca. We planned to tackle this goal in a couple of ways:
-Aiding in building the workshop or test center
-Creating educational posters for the walls of the test center depicting the health, economic, educational, and environmental benefits of wind energy and lessons for the children
-Designing and conducting a survey to analyze WindAid’s impact on the community for a presentation and paper Jessica’s working on
-Conducting Real Time Evaluations (RTEs)
The first two tasks went smoothly. We started building the rooms during the first trip to Playa Blanca and completely completed the rooms on the second. During the second trip to Playa Blanca, we also laid down the posts of the workshop. I was in charge of researching the health and educational benefits of wind energy, which include providing energy for families to use blenders, giving children more nutrients from juices and providing light so children can do homework at night. Our educational lessons consisted of constructing paper windmills and English classes; the turnout of children at these activities was great!
However, we quickly ran into trouble while completing the second two tasks. Between morning and afternoon fishing trips and taking care of kids, families were often not home or too preoccupied at the time we knocked on their doors to answer our survey questions. Sometimes, we would plan a time to meet with a family, but when the time came, no one would be home. With one lady, we planned to meet her at 10:00 am so when it was 11:00 am and she didn’t show up, we went to her house and she says, “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget. I’ll meet you at 10:00 am.” We realized that in Playa Blanca, where people wake up with the sun and fish until they make their catches, people don’t have a need and therefore don’t keep track of time. Although less efficient than we would have liked and more time consuming, we eventually completed all our planned surveys by making more rounds around the village, especially early in the morning.
Finally, we had hoped to complete Real Time Evaluations (RTEs), which are discussions with the community meant to determine the community’s response to the project and identify areas where WindAid needs improvement. We had our RTEs planned out and told community members to show up at a specific time, but when the time came no one showed up, not even the members of the turbine directors, who manages funds and maintenance of the turbines and acts as community leaders in the project. While talking to Jessica, we realized that this has been an ongoing problem with the directors and the community members as they have not been as enthusiastic and responsive about WindAid activities and meetings for a while. While we do not have enough time to actually solve this problem, we debriefed with Jessica about possible solutions. We brainstormed to have a meeting with the turbine directors to see who still wants to be involved and whether directors should be replaced. From fixing the problem top down and reigniting the enthusiasm of the directors to continue working closely with WindAid, these directors can increase community member involvement in the project as well.
Playa Blanca, although is not filled with fancy clubs and restaurants, is much more fun than I could have imagined. On certain afternoons, the men play soccer in the sand and they always welcome us when we ask to join. Though the games are very competitive and tiring, they are always filled with laughter and enjoyment. The children welcome us with open arms, tight hugs, and small snacks. They really loved playing Frisbee and collecting shells with us. The beautiful beaches are arguably the best part of Playa Blanca. The cool saltwater is the perfect remedy after a tiring day of turbine installation or surveying. The fishing boats are anchored close to the beach so climbing onto the boats and jumping off is quite exciting. The only sad thing is that there are stingrays and on one of my last days in Playa Blanca, I got stung while walking into the ocean. The pain was bad, but we made it to the nearby clinic quick enough that the pain was localized to my foot and didn’t travel to other areas of my body. The wound is still in recovery but should get better soon!
While I will not miss eating fish and rice for three meals a day in Playa Blanca, I will forever miss the friends I have made, the beauty of the milky way, and the ability to put smiles on families’ faces from lighting up their house.