March 4, 2004 - Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Desiree Robertson in Bolivia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bolivia: Peace Corps Bolivia : The Peace Corps in Bolivia: March 4, 2004 - Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Desiree Robertson in Bolivia

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Peace Corps Volunteer Desiree Robertson in Bolivia

Peace Corps Volunteer Desiree Robertson in Bolivia

This is where to find info on Peace Corps Bolivia and my latest projects!

Why I'm Here...

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On January 17, 2000 I reported to Peace Corps service in Miami. After a brief orientation, we were flown to Cochabamba, Bolivia to begin our 2-year adventures as Peace Corps Volunteers . For three intensive months we lived with Quechua host families as we studied Spanish, Bolivian culture, and learned technical skills. On April 5th we were to be sworn in as the 23rd group of Bolivian Peace Corps volunteers. Instead we got a crash course in Bolivian civil unrest. In Cochabamba, the people rose up to stop the transfer of the state-owned water company to private hands. The move would have raised water prices by nearly 400%. This in an already impoverished area.

For weeks the people blockaded the roads leading into and out of Cbba to protest the transfer. Eventually they succecced in stopping the transfer and we were able to leave to head out for our assignments. A shot-gun swear-in at the airport (the only airport swear-in in Peace Corps history) and off we were to begin our adventure. I spent my first year working in Inquisivi, Dept. of La Paz. But in December I changed sites and am now living in Cochabamba City. My living conditions have changed considerably and sometimes its hard to remember that this is even Peace Corps. In Inquisivi I was a long, rugged bus-ride from the city, had one tiny room (I shared with various rodent friends and constantly leaked), and pretty bland food options (there is only so many ways to cook a potato!). Now I have my own small apartment with a hot shower, a variety of restaurants, and even daily internet access!!! Although I now have all of these luxuries, it still doesn't compare to the tranquilo campo life and scenery of Inquisivi. But, asì es la vida, puès.

Early in the year I worked with the University's Forestry School to help develop the extension office's environmental education (EE) program. I trained several students in EE techniques and accompanied them on their practice presentations at various schools in the City.

But luckily now most of my work takes place in the beautiful campo of Valle Alto (photo right). In Februrary, I began working with the Bolivian NGO Instituto Para El Desarrollo Alternativo, Economico, y Social (IDAES). We are creating an EE pilot program for the Municipality of Cliza. The plan is to establish 3 ecology/youth clubs and train the teachers and parents in environmental education techniques and club management. The clubs will being doing everything from nature hikes to making recycled paper and planting trees. So that the Clubs continue after I leave Bolivia, I am trying to involve as many locals as possible. I am very fortunate to have Balmel Mercado assisting in the project. He is the head of the Municipality's Environmental office and is very enthusiastic making this project a reality.

In May I lobbied the town council (photo right) for support of the project. They agreed to fund almost 70% of the total project costs by providing things such as trees, tools, and transportation. It was a huge success! I'm now waiting on the money to come through from the grant I wrote to USAID which will help buy the basic materials needed for the various activites of the clubs.

I am trying to design the activities so that they address the immediate local environmental problems of Valle Alto. The most pressing being soil erosion and salinization.

But we will also work on various recycling projects to help address the Municipality's waste management problem. A secondary project is to create a Municipal recycling program. A Korean businessman has expressed interest in using the area's plastic to make synthetic polartec-like fleece. If this is in fact a possibility, we need to get the community accostumed to recycling. For most it is a completely new concept. So in the clubs, we will be doing several recycling activities. Thanks to the funding from the NGO Water for People, we were able to hold a seminar with the community leaders and politicians to begin to address the problem of solid waste. It went extremely well. One leader said that it was the first time that any of them truely discussed the environmental problems of the area and potential steps that can take to resolve them.

I also have been organizing training workshops in EE for the teachers of Cliza. We have already had one introductory session with over 40 teachers which proved successful. Two more are scheduled and with the completion of all three, the participants will receive a certificate in EE.

In December the members of the clubs will work to build organic gardens with the assistance of Willy, an Agronomist with IDAES. The products from the garden along with recycled paper and artwork created from the clubs will be sold as a means to raise funds to continue activities in the future.

Gilda Juáregui (bottom right) has become an indespensible aspect of the entire project. She is a sociology student and is writing her thesis on the project. Gilda works alongside me in all aspects of the project and is quickly learning the intricacies of environmental education. She also loves heavy metal.

I completed my service in March of 2002.

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News Bolivia Back Home Photos Links

Willy and Gilda

Balmel and Jonny

Erosion and Salinization in Valle Alto

Looking down on Tolata in the Cliza Valley (Valle Alto)

Lobbying the Concejo

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