Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mas zapatos que pies!

I’ve been so busy starting up my work here that I have completely neglected this blog! Where to begin? About a month ago I presented my community diagnostic to the rest of the Peace Corps health volunteers as well as our coordinator Miguel Leon. I went with Dominga, a member of my community, and we gave a fantastic speech about Casa Colorada.

Just this week I presented it to our Junta de Vecinos, the local neighborhood association. At the end of the presentation I have a section about plans for the future. Together we decided that our priorities for the rest of the year are to build latrines and develop youth activities. Thanks to the diagnostic study, I know that we have 28 entire families without a latrine or bathroom of any kind. They are using what we call the “monte” or the sugarcane fields, “la caña”. I wanted to do a latrine project from the moment I discovered this startling statistic but I’m very satisfied now that the entire community also sees this as a priority. With the community’s blessing I am now looking through different grant options to get the funding for at least 25 latrines.

As far as youth projects... I have started teaching a very comprehensive youth sex education class. More comprehensive than anything I received! Its called Escojo Mi Vida, I choose my life. The course includes charlas (informative, interactive talks) on values, planning for the future, self-esteem, drugs and alcohol, the reproductive system, HIV/AIDS, STIs, family planning ect. The goal is that after the 2 months, I will be able to select a few youth that are especially dedicated and train them to become multipliers of the information. They will then go on to create their own youth group, teaching the charlas themselves this time.

Our “primary projects,” as Peace Corps health volunteers is the course described above as well as a Healthy Homes course for women that focuses on improving child and maternal health. I have started this as well and now have two groups up and running: one from the La Mina neighborhood and the other in the center of town, Casa Colorada. Our first theme to tackle is nutrition.

Today my group from La Mina, basically all of my direct neighbors, came to my house to practice cooking with local green leaves. What all health volunteers struggle to teach to their communities is that the dark green leaves from the yuca plant, sweet potato plant, and pumpkin plant found in almost everyone’s patios can actually be consumed. Plus, they are very rich sources of vitamins and minerals, MUCH more so than the tubers they produce. For a population that seriously lacks vegetable consumption, these leaves offer an easy and FREE way to complete their diet. I say that we “struggle” because eating dark green leaves from the patio is greatly against the norm. No one has ever considered eating these leaves before so there is a lot of convincing that needs to be done and activities to normalize the concept.

The first day I introduced this I made a big batch of carrot bread. I gave it to everyone to eat while I was introducing great leaves. The bread was a hit. They absolutely loved it. I had never seen people so enthusiastic about any sort of bread before in my life actually. I assume this is because desserts are a luxury here and they aren’t made often, additionally people don’t cook with ovens because it uses too much gas. Anyways, needless to say, they were very impressed. I finished my explanation of green leaves, about the vitamins, what the vitamins do for the body, about how to use the leaves, what leaves are toxic, which aren’t ect. Finally I asked, “Have any of you ever eaten any of these green leaves??” All of them shook their heads no. Then I responded, “Yes you all have! They were in the bread!”

After 3 weeks of learning about these leaves, we got together today to cook with them. We made banana bread in my house first, sprinkling in a cup of green leaves cut up in tiny pieces and a grated carrot! Next we separated into two groups. One group made corn cakes, and the other fried carrot dumplings, both with green leaves. Everything was very tasty!

As for the title of this blog… While cooking in my kitchen, my neighbor Toña, noticed my tennis shoe collection, all of the three pairs I had lined up on the wall. Tennis shoes are hard to come by and expensive so people here rarely have more than one pair at a time. After someone else commented, “Alyson has a lot of shoes,” she responded “mas zapatos que pies!” More shoes than feet!

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