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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Explore Back-Country Peru

South America, Peru

Kurtis Shank served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru, in South America. His primary assignment was to work with the community to develop small businesses, with an added emphasis on information technology.



Machu Picchu—perhaps the best known of the many treasured ancient sites of Peru. Recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the world, it reveals a glimpse of what was once the center of the Incan empire.Peru is an incredibly diverse country. If people are asked what comes to mind at the mention of this country, it's hard to guess what they might say.

Some might describe the pristine lakes of the Cordillera Blanca in Ancash, whose turquoise waters are fed mostly by melting glaciers.

Others might suggest the rolling sand dunes of Huacachina, in the sunny region of Ica.

Still others could mention the cloud forests in the mountains of the North, in Piura—where rains generate the water that feeds into the rivers of the lowlands.

And of course there are those who would say that the high-elevation Lake Titicaca is surely the most breathtaking geographic feature of Peru. Numerous sites come to mind...

and aspects other than geography define this country. For example, the warm and caring people throughout Peru, the delightful foods, and the diverse array of plant life.

Hi, I'm Kurtis Shank. I'd like to share a little about my two-year experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in this fascinating country.

I would like to tell you about the rural pueblo of Miramar, where I lived. It lies along the northern coastal region of Peru. This town of approximately 3,000 people is about a six-hour bus ride south of the border with Ecuador, and about an hour's walk from the Pacific ocean.

Miramar is known in the region as the land of the windmills. It is a largely agricultural town that relies heavily upon the breeze from the ocean that drives windmills, which pump irrigation water from the nearby River Chira.

The windmills here are constructed mainly from materials found growing native to the area—reeds are woven to form the six blades, and wood from the few trees in the area provides the framework.

Windmill-driven pumps pull water from irrigation channels that originate at the river. This water then floods through a maze of hand-dug irrigation channels that direct the water to farmers' plots of land and onto their crops.

The river is the lifeblood of Miramar, providing families with water to irrigate their crops, water for livestock and cleaning, fish for food—even transportation to their fields and neighboring towns.

Wandering away from town and the river, you can see how quickly the green disappears. The landscape becomes arid, with rocks and sand and very little foliage.

Farming here relies on hard labor, horse-drawn plows, and long days in a harsh sun working with simple tools to ready the earth for planting and harvest. This farmer uses a plow to uproot camote, a type of sweet potato commonly grown in the area.

Camote is a staple of the cuisine in Miramar—and is commonly referred to as the bread of the Earth.

Some families also tend flocks of goats, but if there are no rains, little foliage is available as food for the herd. This results in malnourished stock and high mortality rates among newborns.

When the goats reach a suitable weight, some of them are sold for their meat. Goats also provide a small amount of milk that is made into cheese.

These women are planting onions between the furrows of a communal plot.

Later, water pumped by windmill power floods the plot, so that only the high soil between the furrows remains dry. The crops draw moisture from the furrows for days. When the earth has been visibly dry for several days, the farmers irrigate again.

The most famous dish of the northern coastal region is ceviche. It consists of raw fish chopped and marinated in lemon and onion juice, with hot pepper and cilantro mixed in. It is common to spend hot afternoons socializing around large platters of this refreshing dish.

The importance of family in my town was shown in many ways. Beyond working and eating together, families celebrated holidays together. Perhaps one of the most family centered holidays was Day of the Dead, when people go to pay their respects to deceased family members.

On Dia de los Muertos —celebrated in Miramar on November 1—families walk to the cemetery outside of town and set up camp around the tombs of their relatives.

They sit around campfires and candles all night, sharing meals and memories of loved ones. The evening can be solemn at some moments and festive and celebratory at others. Families intermingle, converse, and sing throughout the night.

I was assigned to help the people develop small businesses, with an added emphasis on information technology. I focused much of my efforts in training students and teachers how to use computers. In Miramar, there was one computer center with 10 computers. I taught everything from basic graphic design to advanced spreadsheet operations.

I was able to merge information technology (or IT) with teaching English through a language training program, often in after-school computer classes. I worked with the teachers and administrators to help design and update existing curricula that used information technology.

During my first year in town, there was no Internet access, so I focused training on the fundamentals, such as physical maintenance of the computers. Because our climate was so arid, dust pervaded everything and was especially hard on the sensitive components of the computers. Frequent cleaning was required to keep the machines running.

A local technician and I trained several educators to safely disassemble the machines, then use air compressors for preventive maintenance. Those educators then trained others in neighboring communities who had recently received their first computers.

After the Internet arrived, there was a surge of new learning possibilities. I showed how to establish e-mail accounts, and students and parents alike were eager to communicate with friends and relatives who lived great distances away. Small-business owners were pleased to have a way of communicating other than by the two costly public pay phones in town.

Even Web logs, or blogs, made their way onto the scene. For the first time, students in secondary school could publish stories about their daily lives, along with their opinions and photographs. As the students shared their blogs with parents and teachers, the technology sparked notable enthusiasm. Students quickly became appreciated as resources for business owners who wanted to examine the possibilities of using information technology to improve their products and services.

A youth group even used their newly learned online savvy to research the viability of a beekeeping project. Online, they found a nongovernmental organization, or NGO, in a neighboring town and invited an expert to come to give them basic information about starting a bee project.

They further researched prices of equipment and techniques online and then used the information to start up a small beekeeping project.

My two years in Miramar saw much growth in the way of technology. One day, when I return to visit, I anticipate there will be even more positive change. I am also certain there will be much that will remain the same—the beauty of the land, the good nature of the people, and their zeal for life.