Recently one of my favorite threads on ILE has been revived. It’s the running stories by a regular poster there, sleeve, about his trips to Peru. His partner, Laurie, who also goes on these trips, runs a separate blog also worth checking out, Pencils for Peru. Together they are a striking portrait of a place in the world many will never go to, and the work they do there to improve the general circumstance of all in concrete fashions.
Sleeve kicked off the most recent thread revival with these details about the new trip, which gives a sense of why they keep going back:
The main initial focus of our return trip is to do the same health tests and interviews that we did last time for the people of Sipascancha. In the intervening 18 months, we have learned that there is very little medical data on high altitude respiratory systems. Allegedly we have accumulated one of the largest bodies of data in the world! We probably interviewed 150 people. This time, we will be hoping that the new stoves have improved their numbers. If we can show objective indicators of improved health it would be very useful for future grants.
We also have a small control group, consisting of those people who we interviewed that did not come and get their stoves. We will have to track all of them down as well.
So for our first month we will be spending a lot of time in Sipascancha. Looking forward to seeing it again. I found this amazing book of Quechua folk tales called She-Calf, and the best thing is that it has the English and Quechua side by side. So I can read stories to the kids in Quechua! Very exciting.
This recent newspaper story posted by Laurie at her blog explains more about their work. To quote:
[Laurie] had observed the townspeople cooking their meals in open fire pits, the smoke from the day’s cooking filling their adobe shacks, creating a permanent layer of soot and giving children year-round colds, bronchitis, persistent coughing and pneumonia, said Ellen Bouton, Steve’s mother, who still makes her home in Nelson County. She is currently in Peru with her son and Iaccino. The Vidas project conceived by Steve Bouton, Iaccino and a Peruvian colleague, Pavela Jimenez Figueroa, began to change this basic fact of life for Sipascancha’s people. “Vidas Mejoradas has chosen to focus on one of the simplest and easiest ways to help,” Ellen Bouton said, “introducing a basic cooking stove with a chimney that burns wood more efficiently and removes the smoke from the living space.” Any family that wanted a stove was able to participate.
The pencils are part of it as well, as the article details. A brief July 2008 report from Vidas Mejoradas may be downloaded from here if you like. You may also find photos from the project here on Flickr.
I have said before that it is those who are able and willing to do this kind of work will always earn my deep respect. It is not for everyone. But it is good that they are there, and that they do so with open eyes and a sense of assisting while not wanting to create a crutch of dependence. sleeve’s stories are often wondrous in their eye for detail, recognition of the challenges and that sense of not simply wanting to ‘do good’ but to see it through with everyone’s participation and contributions that is crucial.
In times like these, it is all the more worthwhile to honor that.