Entries tagged with “LIma” from Peru Village Empowerment Project

First blog post

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To begin, I´ve been here for 2.5 days and have already experienced so much.  Last time I was out of the country all I brought with me was a backpack full of beach clothes and sunscreen.  So after a 7.5 hour flight from NJ to Lima I got to experience customs.. we were eventually allowed into the country after they searched all of our equipment bags and none were confiscated so that was a relief.

Upon arriving at the hotel in a very nice bus I was told we did some exploring around the neighborhood, visiting the internet cafe but I had no soles so I could not blog yet.  We then walked down to the ocean, it was nice, I´ve only seen the Pacific Ocean once in California.  Then it was off to bed, it was already 1 in the morning and we had a big day on Friday.

We all met in the ´dining room´ of the hotel for breakfast, cafe con leche and breads with butter and jam.  Friday had begun, a little background is needed however.  The capstone team in 2004 had created a prosthetic leg for a young woman living in Peru.  Javeht was 14 at the time and since then the prosthetic had become very worn and had to be repaired several times.  My capstone group this past spring with members Joanna Langworthy, Luc Messier, and myself were able through many e-mails and visits and a conference call to have a very nice prosthetic leg donated by a local Massachusetts company.

Friday was the day we were going to get to deliver the prosthetic leg to Javeht and have it fitted at the clinic where she recieved her first prosthetic.  Javeht is 20 or 21 now and has had a daughter.  With the prosthetic she had she was not getting around very well and was afraid to travel.  Upon arriving at the clinic there was a mix-up and we did not know where Javeht was, it turned out she was in another part of the hospital waiting for us.  Once she found us and after many hello´s and thank you´s, we opened the box containing her new prosthetic.  I don´t believe there was a dry eye in the room, she was so happy that after all the forms and e-mails for the last 3 months that the day had finally arrived.

During her fitting we encountered a couple of problems and even had to consider switching out some of the parts in order to ensure a proper fit.  The doctor had her walk around the room with the new prosthetic, looking for any problems and discussing with the technicians how to improve it.  There were a few times that I noticed Javeht wiping the tears from her eyes.  After many adjustments and sitting and walking around, the doctor and the now team of technicians in the room trying to fit Javeht´s leg, agreed that it was now ok.  She is going to have to check in with the clinic for physical therapy and adjustments from time to time, but now I think she will be much more confident to travel.  It was a very rewarding day.

After a very emotional day, we got back to the hotel with half an hour to get ready for a wedding!!  It was a very beautiful ceremony and a very very fun reception.  We had to get up the next day and pack to catch the 2 pm bus from Lima to Huarmey, which took about 6 hours.  The view was amazing along the coast, with cliffs down to the ocean on the left and desert mountains to the right.  We arrived at the hostel and picked rooms.  Then off for some traditional Peruvian food.  Then we slept.

Today we are doing inventory and packing for the various tasks which lay ahead the next couple of weeks. 

Peru's Places

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We have touched down in Peru, been here a couple days and have been spending our time in Lima. So, I have not yet seen much of Peru but I like what I do see.

We’ve been staying in Barranco; it’s one of Lima’s neighborhoods and also happens to be the arts district of Lima; I feel at home.

Just the other night we took a walk down to the beach (first time I have seen the Pacific Ocean mind you) and right next to the beach was a massive mosaic. I was simply stunned at the piece’s beauty.

But I forgot my camera.

In just a few hours we’re going to get on a bus that we will stay on for between five and six hours until we reach our destination and homebase for the rest of the trip, Huarmey. From there we will be going into the smaller villages in the valleys and cliffs of the Andes mountain range.

While there I know I won’t be in any arts districts, but the way of life will be a form of art in and of itself. The culture will be drastically different and I can only wait to see some of the traditional items that the people in the mountains make for everyday use, whether it range from a hat made of alpacca wool or a small piece of jewelry. Those pieces are art of a different kind.

Along the way I will be filming what I see, what the other members of the Peru crew see and our reactions to the culture and their reactions to our actions. How are these people affected by what we do?

Well, I can tell you that I know some of them are truly touched. Chad already talked about how we filmed the donation of a prosthetic leg to Javeth. Well, I have to say, as soon as she saw the leg her demeanor completely changed. She went from a cordial and kind person to someone who was simply happy. Happiness defined her in that moment. When we interviewed her later she said "Sentio contento," "I feel happy."

Making people happy and helping these people out is one of the main purposes for this trip and I am glad that I have the opportunity to be able to tell that story through both film and this blog.


I spent part of the time on the plane the other day reading a book, The Wisdom of Donkeys, and came across a couple of lines that fit well as a description for the Village Empowerment Project.  The author had made his own journey through France (leading a donkey of course) and described that traveling as ‘a door opening out to chance, with only vague plans,’ most of which ‘were subject to change. ‘


At packing day on Wednesday (when every one going to Peru gathered at the solar lab to pack gear) and in the airport today (when we sat together during the three hour layover), we did finalize “to do” lists.  But those tasks will be governed by the rules I learned from past trips to Peru (thanks Diana and Cheryl).  One is that the best answer to many questions (when are we leaving, how are we getting there, where are we going, what are we doing there, where will we sleep, what will we eat) is often “depende,” or “it depends.”  The other rule is the fact that things happen here “poco a poco,” little by little.  And already I`ve seen both of those play out.


Today we delivered a prosthetic leg to a clinic in Callao, an area of Lima, with Dimitrios and I tagging along to film.  At first we thought the event wouldn´t happen, because there was a mix up in trying to find Javeth, the young woman who was supposed to get the leg.  We were about to leave, to try again tomorrow, when I saw Javeth, her husband and daughter in the hall, and told Maia.  Then, the doctor wasn´t ready to do the fitting but accommodated us anyway.  Two (or more hours) later, in a crowded rehabilitation room (full of sublime light coming through the windows), the thing was done and Javeth was in tears, beyond happy. 


So Saturday we continue.  We’re off to Huarmey, a long bus trip up the coast (including a few spectacular views of dry brown hills on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other).  In Huarmey, at a church that serves as our base, we’ll pack and repack and divide up into crews, figuring out transportation for each, and then do still more hours of traveling into the mountains, to finally get to work in the villages.  Then we’ll see.



Re-learning how to type


We have arrived in Peru and I am writing my first blog post from the country. And just typing this entry is proving to be a challenge in and of itself. Why? The keyboard is set-up differently.

The biggest issue I'm faced with is the fact that there is no actual key for the "@" symbol. Rather you need to press and hold the "alt" key and then type in the code for the character, 64. So, small differences like that will take some getting used to. I am re-learning how to type. While it may not be something completely new, it is different enough that it will take some getting used to. I have the feeling that the same can be said for many more experiences to come while I'm in Peru.

I will not need to completely re-learn how to do everything, but everyday tasks will be different enough to throw a wrench into things. For example, I need to remember not to use tap water while brushing my teeth, otherwise my stomach will be fairly upset with me. If i wanted to use tap water to drink or even brush my teeth, then I need to use these little iodine tablets that I brought with me. That is a process that will take about 40 minutes for a single liter of water.

But it's these small differences that will form my entire experience of Peru. The many small changes that differentiate it from the way of life in the states.

So, I just finished packing about an hour ago and have my alarm set to wake up in less than three hours to give everything one last check, start heading out of the house and make it to the airport by 7 a.m. I am glad there will be time to grab some sleep on the airplane. After that there is always coffee. 

I've done some traveling before, but none of it has been to a place like Peru and it has also generally been more of a tourist type experience. This time, I am going to a country where more than half of the population is impoverished with about half of those people being in extreme poverty. That degree of poverty is one of the reasons the Village Empowerment Program (VEP) exists. It exists so that students can take their education, make use of it, and create the opportunity for others to benefit from this education.

Some students are working on solar energy projects, others are working on drip irrigation. I along with Professor Montrie will be filming the work they complete. The filming is my project for while I'm down in Peru. It's going to be an opportunity for me to improve my camera work while also working in less than desirable conditions (hiking up a mountain lugging around camera equipment will be interesting).

So, I'll end my first post by going back to the whole packing situation. I have no clue if I packed the right things. I am getting that feeling most people get when they pack for a trip, the persistent nagging of that inner voice asking what you forgot. You know the voice, it's a lot like a little five year old with a sweet tooth on a hot day in the summer, no pool, broken air conditioner, and an ice cream truck playing that tantalizing melody outside on the street. Can you picture the kid constantly asking for ice cream? Well I'm constantly asking myself what I forgot to pack. But, I'm not going to sweat it, rather I'm going to think back to a very simple philosophical approach to life that I learned at a very young age when I myself was constantly asking my parents for ice cream from the ice cream truck.

Hakuna Matata (even though I am slightly worried about not having slept enough).


- Dimitrios

While packing for the Peru trip I found myself asking what will I use and what type of situations will I encounter. I know there will be a language barrier, cultural differences, and many other obstacles to overcome.  So how do you prepare for life’s unknowns?

My family has always stressed that the best way to prepare yourself is with a high-quality education. Some say just to go with the flow. Others will tell you to do what you love and the rest will follow. 

I graduated last Saturday from Umass Lowell with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. As a Mechanical Engineering undergrad I also had the opportunity to work on the redesign of the Passive Solar House in Peru along with Richard Kee and Maia Benavente.

I have always enjoyed community service projects and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in a service learning capstone project that coincided with my adventurist interests.  I can’t wait to get to Peru and put to use our research and the knowledge that I have accumulated over the last few years at Umass Lowell to assist developing areas in obtaining some of the necessities that many Americans take for granted. 

First Timer

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I have never been on a plane, never been outside the country, never blogged and this two week long trip is sure to bring many more first time experiences for me. I am anxious to begin this journey and would like to thank all the people who make it possible year after year and Professor Duffy for inviting me to come with this group. As we are now just one day away from departure I am not nervous rather anxious to put my recently acquired degree in Mechanical Engineering to good use. I am also looking forward to experiencing different cultures and meeting new people, although I realize that my Spanish is lacking and the language barrier may be difficult at times I feel that the trip will be a truly rewarding experience.

During my Undergraduate studies at UMASS Lowell I worked alongside Kevin Duncan and Graduate student Maia Benavente in performing a structural and thermal analysis of the first generation passive solar adobe house. Goals for the trip are to obtain feedback on the first generation house from the locals and figure out if their are changes or improvements they would like to see made. At our University we did research on varying the composition of the building material and how it affected the structural and thermal properties. The equipment we used is vastly different then how locals test the adobe bricks, therefore it is important to work with locals and learn how they make it, how they determine when its ready for use and how they determine if its strong/safe enough for construction. Combining the knowledge we obtained through our research and the knowledge of the local builders we would like to propose a new composition for the bricks of roughly 30% straw by volume for a secondary wall layer which would improve the thermal efficiency of the passive solar house. We hope to begin construction on the second generation passive solar adobe house as well.

For more information on the Village Empowerment Project visit

The words in the title above belong to Kelly, a member of the January 2008 Village Empowerment Project (VEP) crew.  At the time, she was an engineering student and hoped to actually install the bio-digester that she and a partner had designed “on paper” during the previous semester.  With the system, people could compost animal manure (mostly from ubiquitous guinea pigs) to create fertilizer and cooking gas, both quite useful byproducts.  But Kelly came to understand that the VEP was about much more than bringing a technical fix to a technical problem.  The human interaction and connection across cultures that had to happen, and that did happen when the bio-digester installation started in a place called Laguna, was another equally valuable dimension to her “capstone” experience.  It revealed the larger, social significance of the manner we make our way in the world and demonstrated that this is no less a consideration for engineers than for anyone else.


I was with the January 2008 crew too, filming for a promotional video, and I had a chance to observe Kelly and many others close-up for hours and days at a time.  It did not take long, I noticed, before they were forever changed, pushed harder in a direction they might already have been going but forever changed nevertheless.  This was prompted by the reality of the poverty they saw, by the kindness and modesty of the people they met, and by the varied beauty of the landscape.  Even before going down Kelly had plans to join a convent, which she did right after graduation, yet I’m sure her vocation was more grounded and continues to be grounded by the time she spent in Peru.  And that holds true for everyone else and their particular career path as well.  In this sense, an odd sense, the folks who participate in the VEP probably receive as much as they give to the people in the mountain communities they serve.


As I get ready to leave for my third trip to Peru, departing in less than two weeks, I am fleshing out a list of specific objectives.  I’m a filmmaker (not so great but competent enough) and one job I’ll have is to collect footage that can be edited for still more promotion and recruitment videos.  I also teach filmmaking (among a number of subjects) and I’m bringing down a student, Dimitrios, who I hope to nudge to the next level with his camera skills, guiding and testing him in the practical application of techniques we learned in the classroom this spring.  Finally, however, I'm going because I am hungry to witness the power this particular service learning initiative has to work personal transformations.  I want to see first-hand, once again, how a counter-narrative can develop, challenging the notion that university training (as an engineer or otherwise) is simply a means to get a degree, land a job, make money, and be an individual success.


Following this post, then, before we actually leave, others will join in, some of them VEP veterans like me and others new to the venture, each reflecting on the moment at hand.  During our trip, when we have access to an internet café (in Lima, Huarmey, and Casma), we will update the blog and let readers know what we’re seeing, thinking, and doing.  Ciao for now.

Chad Montrie

Professor, History Department 

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