Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Cusco on My Mind


If you haven’t heard, there have been terrible floods in Cusco, Peru in the past week. Since we are in the thick of la epoca de la lluvia (the rainy season), rain is expected but the level of destruction seen in the area is unimaginable.

Affected house in Oropesa

Tourism is the main industry in Cusco, and the damage produced by the rain does substantial damage on the Cusco economy. From the February 3rd warden message from the U.S. Embassy in Peru, I read that Machu Picchu is closed and the rail line between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes is closed due to landslides until possibly March. I also read that tourists were stranded in Aguas Calientes (the town closest to Incan archeological site Machu Picchu) and that the conditions were excruciating. Luckily, helicopters eventually evacuated all the tourists from the town.

Unfortunately, my Kiva clients in Cusco don’t have that luxury.

I met a Kiva communal bank called Virgen Estrella de Oropesa in Oropesa, a small town south of Cusco in November while working as a Kiva Fellow for Asociación Arariwa, a microfinance institution that has worked in the Cusco region of Peru for the past 25 years. This town is known as the capital of bread because of its delicious “pan chuta.” In fact, the town has so many bakeries that the smell of baking bread permeates the town’s air. In their Kiva profile video, the from Virgen Estrella de Oropesa are laughing and smiling as they get together for their Kiva profile photo. If you had the pleasure of meeting them in person like I had, they were even more animated, making fun of their loan officer Jacob for not having a girlfriend. Unfortunately, most jokes told outside of the city are told in Quechua, so I just got the translated version (definitely not the same!)

Now the town of Oropesa is under water, and many of the talented entrepreneurs I met in Oropesa have lost their homes and businesses.

I wrote in my last La Vida Idealist entry about when you live somewhere you feel a much closer connection with your adopted home than if you had visited for a week or two for vacation. And if you work or volunteer in your new home, like I did in Cusco with Arariwa, you feel an even stronger connection to the place and its people. I am sure the volunteers in Haiti feel similarly, like fellow climber and volunteer Krista.

My friend and colleague, the Kiva coordinator at Arariwa, Raquel Villafuerte, recently wrote me an email in which she said (translated into English):

“Hi there,

…Arariwa is collecting money from employees to help. We are also collecting food at the offices here. If you want you can send money to buy supplies. In reality all you have known – has been for the most part lost – the main avenue of Aguas Calientes and many houses in Anta and south from Saylla to Urcos are under water.”

Organizations like Kiva have responded with updates about how the tragedy has affected Kiva/Arariwa entrepreneurs, including links on how to help victims.

I read a La Vida Idealist post about the tragedy, which included photos of the flooded streets of Cusco city. But from other photos I have seen, the provinces of Cusco were harder hit by the floods than the city.

Citizens have been collecting supplies in the Plaza de Armas, while virtual support, fundraisers, supply collections and updates have come through online and offline news sources and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I have also heard many updates through the Couchsurfing La Paz group, of which I am a member.

Now living and volunteering in La Paz, I see homes located on the edge of cliffs where there has been and continues to be severe erosion. As I go by, I always think that one day when the rain is strong enough, these homes could fall. I recently heard of landslides in Chasquipampa, a neighborhood of La Paz (and I do have Kiva clients in Chasquipampa). A friend of mine here works as a volunteer gathering and distributing supplies, which she did last Friday after the landslides. Another friend told me that a victim who lost his home in the landslide is staying in his church.

Although tragedies like this one are tough to experience and hear about, it’s great to know that ordinary citizens become dedicated volunteers and come through when people need it.

Here’s how to help the victims of the floods in Cusco and how to support disaster relief efforts around the world.

Sheethal Shobowale is working as a Kiva Fellow at microfinance institution Emprender in La Paz Bolivia.


Thinking about the Collective, Selflessness and a Year of Service

Thinking about the Collective, Selflessness and a Year of Service

During this year’s September 11th tribute, I thought about Obama’s call to make that day of National Day of Service.  Is one day enough to make a difference or does it promote slacktivism?  I donate time and money to various organizations.  I’m even going to Peru for 6 months to volunteer as a Kiva Fellow and I still don’t think that is enough.

Every Israeli citizen goes into the army when they turn 18.  Leaving aside the combat draft idea for a moment, why shouldn’t the U.S. have a similar program?  A year of service, broadly speaking (whether in the military, volunteering for a non-profit community or civic organization) would teach a sense of collective, selflessness and respect for others as it seems to me that the trend these days is towards individualism and selfishness and disrespect.

Motivation for this post – Some recent examples of selfishness and individualism and disrespect:

Though I realize these examples are celebrities and political figures, known for large egos and outlandish behavior, these are examples we hear the most about in the news and on the internet, in social media, etc.  They may respond that it’s not their job to be a role model (except maybe the Congressman).  Even so, their public personas make them role models for the behavior of every day people and our children by default.

Some examples of Selflessness and the Collective

Maybe we are on to something…I wish selflessness examples got more air time than the selfishness. Continue reading

The Extraordinaries Microvolunteering as a Crowdsourced Commmunity Watchdog Group?

I was recently in the West 4th Street subway station where the garbage cans were overflowing.  I mean, ridiculously overflowing to the point where people were spreading trash all over the platform just by walking by.  Mothers were making sure their kids avoided the mess by walking way too close to the the edge around the circumference of the cans.  And this was 11 AM in the morning.  A whole day of densely populated trash dumping would probably go by before this disaster were cleaned up.  Not to mention how many pests were feasting in the summer heat!

This experience made me wonder if there was a way to use The Extraordinaries in my city.

A short summary of the Extraordinaries can be found in an earlier thought starter post about The Extraordinaries and it’s possible uses for Financial Literacy.  Here are some screen shots of the Be Extra! iPhone app:

The Extraordinaries

The Extraordinaries (from The Extraordinaries website)

When I tried out the Be Extra! iPhone app, I found that most of the tasks were related to tagging photos for museums or the Library of Congress (the one I choose was for the Brooklyn Museum) or tasks like Kaboom!, where you can help create a database of safe places for children to play.  Both of these are useful but I was searching for a more meaty Extraordinaries “mission.”

The Extraordinaries - tagging

The Extraordinaries - tagging (from The Extraordinaries website)

There were two tasks in the iPhone app that caught my eye in relation to the trash mesh I had experienced in the NYC subway: Voice of San Diego, where citizens can report water waste in San Diego and Heal the Bay, where citizens can report polluted water in So Cal.  This was closer to what I was looking for…

The Extraordinaries - taking photos

The Extraordinaries - taking photos (from The Extraordinaries website)

The Extraordinaries Microvolunteering as a A Crowdsourced Community Watch Dog Group for New York

As I played around with the app more, I got to thinking: “Couldn’t I use my iPhone app to take pictures around the city of unsafe conditions (such as the overflowing trash can problem) so that New York City (or other cities) could rapidly respond to citizen’s concerns?”  In New York, a city with so many iPhones, this has the potential to work well until they develop an app for other devices.

Nowadays, New Yorkers may call 311 to report noise complaints or something going on in their neighborhood.  The Extraordinaries could be an efficient way to deal with the deluge of complaints and suggestions and lower the strain on 311 phone operators.  Link Be Extra! posts to the 311 logging system and voila! you manage the c11’s focus on accountability for every reported 311 issue.  I see a potential 311 partnership in the making…  I will suggest that in my meeting with them next week.

A final thought: would this be considered slacktivism?  Personally I think it would constitute good citizenship.