It’s been over a month since my last post – a five-week flurry of visiting Cusco, trekking to Machu Picchu, returning to the States for a few more weeks of summer vacation, and finally returning to Northwestern this week to begin my last year of college. And over this time I’ve been processing the memories and editing the footage I collected in Peru: both in Lima and on my “off-the-grid” trip with Light Up the World to the rural areas outside the town of Andahuaylas.
It’s a lot to process and a lot to edit. Taking the trip with LUTW was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I sampled guinea pig and cow heart, practiced and expanded my (very basic) Spanish, drove and hiked through the most vast and breathtaking mountain landscape I have ever seen. And I gained an invaluable perspective on the different light access challenges facing urban versus rural populations. These challenges are at once completely different – those in shantytowns live under a criss-cross canopy of electrical lines but often can’t afford full, legal use of them, while those in rural areas burn kerosene lamps and candles in the absence of any electricity whatsoever – and the same: both populations need access to safe, healthy, affordable light.
And the people I met who are working to address the issue of light access are also diverse, but united in the common goal of improving the lives of Peruvians in need. In Lima they were the employees of the artisanal company Novica and of the solar light nonprofit LUTW, and in Andahuaylas they were the staff of the tiny nonprofit Kuyacc Ayni. Meeting the staff of Kuyacc Ayni (which in Quechua means “for the love of work”) changed how I look at development. For three years I’ve been sitting in college classrooms as a global health minor, learning about asset-based community development and sustainability and capacity-building, and all of a sudden on this weekend trip I was introduced to people who were living these concepts. I saw these abstract ideas in action, in motion, at work in communities. And I met people on multiple sides of the development equation: not only the staff of Kuyacc Ayni – Jorge, Christian, Toni, Milagros, and Arturo – but also a few members of the communities targeted by their efforts: the rural locals, the campesinos, who speak Quechua and often only Quechua and work in partnership with Kuyacc Ayni to improve their own lives.
Kuyacc Ayni works in 4 areas: agricultural production, renewable energy and the environment, education, and health. LUTW’s work with Kuyacc Ayni – installing solar panels and sustainable lighting for the simple one-room stone dwellings characteristic of rural Apurimac – falls in the second category. This partnership with Kuyacc Ayni is indispensable for LUTW’s work because, as LUTW’s Rod Macintosh put it, “We’re just a couple of Canadians with technical expertise who speak a little bit of Spanish.” They can’t make a sustainable, powerful impact, Rod says, without partnering with NGOs who know the local geography, people, culture, and language.
As I’ve mentioned, my Spanish is limited, and so in Lima Caity and Rachel were essential to my understanding of what was going on around me. On community visits with Rod and Kuyacc Ayni staff member and co-founder José, the amount of translation doubled: José asked locals questions and conversed with them in Quechua; not knowing any English, José translated Quechua to Spanish for Rod; and finally Rod filled me in on the goings-on in English-language asides and undertones. Over the few days of the trip we visited homes where LUTW and Kuyacc Ayni had already done solar panel installations, whose functioning Rod explained to me; and homes where the two organizations hope to do installations this coming fall, to chat with the homeowners about the project and ask them questions about their light needs and current lighting methods.
My time in Peru was amazing in many ways, but what has stuck with me the most was getting to know real people who get up in the morning and go into local communities, ask their members what their needs are, and help them meet them, day in and day out. I had the opportunity to sit down with Christian – who founded Kuyacc Ayni with José – for an interview about his work, which Rod patiently translated for me. I asked why Christian does what he does. He spoke for a few minutes, then fell silent and looked to Rod. Rod paused. “So there was a lot there,” Rod told me, “but he quoted something he said he heard on a history special on TV. ‘What you do for yourself you take to the grave, but what you do for others lives forever.’”
Of all of the words, English or Spanish, spoken by all of the people I met in Peru, it’s those that linger with me now.