FIMRC Ambassador Matt Molnar shares his experience with Project Peru

Fall 2011 FIMRC Ambassador Matt Molnar shares his experience with Project Peru in the following post. Pictures are included, and I hope you'll continue reading to learn about how things went for him. Dos meses en Perú. I know once I get home, all settled in, people will start asking, “How was it?”  And every time I’m asked that broad question, I’ll have to rewind the last two months of my life down in Trujillo, Peru, working with FIMRC, and in all, the most rewarding two months of my life.

I graduated from college last May, with a BS in Health Sciences. I took many classes with a public heath focus which heightened my interest to become involved with health work abroad, and especially working with children. FIMRC gave me the chance to explore this goal.   My family, while trying to be supportive, was a bit overwhelmed that I was heading off to a foreign country they knew little about. “Everything’s going to be ok” I kept trying to reassure them, but with that comment, I have a better chance of meeting President Obama than calming down MY mother.  “Just come back alive.”  I am coming back more alive than I have ever been as this experience has opened my eyes and my mind to so many things.

September 26, 2011, I arrived in Peru.

From the dessert, to the top of the Andes Mountains, to edge the Amazon, Peru’s geography presents many day-to-day challenges for its citizens and directly affects health care.  While the coast has a developed infrastructure, major access roads quickly become dirt paths as they wind up the Andes.  People are scattered about the mountainous terrain, which then descends into largest rainforest in the world. Transportation and communication connectors between these regions are limited.  As a result, Peru faces many health challenges such as child malnutrition, proper sanitation, and access to care. FIMRC has a site in Agallpampa, a small, remote mountainous town that sits 10,000ft above sea level.  The hardships of Andean life are great, but as I found out, not insurmountable. People travel great distances for access to any type of medical care. We met one woman who traveled three hours just to hear our 20-minute hand washing presentation. Children sometimes travel over an hour and half each way just to attend school. Yet, no matter the obstacle, people of the Andres manage to overcome.  They are a testament to human survival.

Over the last of two months, I was involved in a number of FIMRC projects, but being a FIMRC Ambassador gave me the opportunity to design and implement my own project. When I had first arrived to Trujillo we visited the school called, Collegio de Santa Maria in the community of Esperanza. Haley Kerr, the FIMRC FOM, showed me the school garden which was overgrown and littered. I had found my project.

PHASE 1: Manual Labor and Amateur Landscape Architecture

The first step of the process was to clean up the overgrown weeds in the garden. This, as we quickly learned, was no easy task. Haley, Edgar and I used pitchforks, hoes, and shovels …. essentially whatever could slash and dig, to remove all the overgrown plant life that had taken over the garden plot.  We quickly realized that there was no way plants were going grow in the sandy, rocky soil.  There’s always a plan B. We decided to make raised garden beds.

I tapped into the architecture/engineering learning from 8th grade woodshop to plan out the garden beds. I drafted a couple designs before finally coming up with the final plan. One day later, using rocks and string, we mapped out the garden, made the measurements, and came up with a plan to construct the beds. 

PHASE 2: The Gang Becomes Carpenters

In all, we had to build thirteen flowerbeds for the garden. Edgar and I had went out to several woodshops, and luckily after 3 days of attempting to find something reasonably priced, we found our materials. Edgar and I headed the construction while Haley took control of the creative department, i.e., painting the beds the Santa Maria colors. And yes, there were difficulties from time to time, Edgar and I making at least a trip a day to the Maestro (Peru’s version of Home Depot) but we managed to get all thirteen done in three days, leaving us more time to get them into the ground.

 PHASE 3: ¡El jardín está terminado!

 The third and most important part of my project was writing the nutrition and environmental curriculums that go with the garden project. My hope is that these curriculums provide future volunteers and teachers at Santa Maria a general guideline on how to use the garden for student learning, and to encourage their own creative contribution to its effectiveness. Some topics found in the curriculum include: composting, vitamins and minerals, a balanced diet, and the plant cycle.

As I write this, my time is almost up in Peru. I’ll be heading home on December 5th, leaving behind my project, Santa Maria School, Trujillo and the beautiful country of Peru.  It is hard to believe the 2 months passed so quickly.  Thank you FIMRC for this incredible fieldwork experience.  I learned so much, especially about taking on challenges. Landing in a completely different culture and being thrown into situations where the unexpected is a daily occurrence, has made me realize a lot about myself.

Finally, just a quick thank you to these people:

To Site Manager Edgar Mantilla- for helping me with my project and providing me guidance and constructive criticism.

To the Morales family- Thank you Daniel, Susanna, Diana, Paul, Ariana, Monica, Christen, and Hector for letting me be your “gringo hermano.” Thank you to Gustavo Morales for letting me stay in your home and putting a roof over my head while I was down here. I want to thank Margarita Morales for loving me the instant you met me. Thank you for your delicious meals, your company, and your smile. Thank you family, for taking in a complete stranger and letting be part your lives for two months; it’s a gift I’ll never forget.

Finally, thank you to Haley Kerr. You have taught me so much the past two months, showing me the challenges of this profession, answering all my questions, and lending your insight. You have been such a huge inspiration to me that I cannot thank you enough.

Adiós Perú, nos vemos pronto.

Thanks, Matt! FIMRC appreciates the time you've given us and we're so glad that you found the experience to be a fruitful and rewarding one.

Posted on December 7, 2011 and filed under FIMRC Stories, News from the FIMRC Field, Internship Program, Peru.