Thursday, May 26, 2011

Frustrating News...

Yesterday I received an email from the President of the Sacred Valley Project, Alex Ball.

Here is an excerpt:

"The dormitory currently operates in a 2,560 square foot building that includes 3 dorm rooms (for the 12 girls), a room for the housemother, a kitchen, a dinning hall, study hall and yard. With a majestic view of the Ollantaytambo ruins, it is a beautiful location with plenty of space for the girls to run about, hang laundry and burn off steam.

Last December, after a nearly unanimous vote of approval by the 500 members of the local community, we signed a 5-year contract that required us to pay only $100 per month and discounts 50% of all costs associated with repairs or improvements to the infrastructure.

The community has owned and occupied this space for over 30 years and also built the locale’s entire standing infrastructure. Unfortunately, a wealthy man from Lima with strong ties in government and law enforcement purchased the land from a neighbor who claimed to be the rightful owner. He then entered into a lawsuit with the community to win the land with plans to build a hotel. Willing to pay for the highest quality lawyers and taking advantage of his high level connections, this man has successfully appropriated community-owned land on a number of occasions in a variety of locations.

It seems as though he is winning the suit and we fear that we might lose our dormitory. Because we are a third party, we do not believe that we will be kicked out before the end of the school year and we are already actively seeking out other options. We have begun looking for grants to help with construction and are reaching out for help from the provincial and district governments. This is not the first time that our project has encountered difficulties and we have every intention of continuing to fight against this injustice. "

New dorm

Am I upset? Yes.

Am I surprised? Not really.

I feel like land disputes like this happen all the time in developing countries, and they were the inspiration for the creation of the Association for a More Just Society ( that I visited while in Honduras.

There is some good news, however. The mayor of the neighboring city Urubamba has offered to sell land next to the site of a future high school for $8,000-$10,000. This would be a great long term solution as the SVP would own the land outright (and not rent) and would be right next to the school!

I will keep everyone updated as I hear more about the situation.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

3 Weeks to Go!!

I leave three weeks from today, and things are crazy.

First of all, I bought a new (to me) motorcycle on Saturday! Yup, I've been working on mine for two years and now I have to get rid of it. It turns out that Peru has a law where you cannot import any vehicle more than five years old because of emissions. My motorcycle is a 2003. So a quick trip to Warsaw, Indiana on Saturday and I bought a 2007 (Thanks Troy!!). I definitely have my work cut out for me getting the new one ready in time and getting the older one sold.

Riding home from Warsaw, IN

John and Emma came over today to take pictures for the Bucs Blade and the Tribune. It was fun as Jeff stopped over and we rode trails at his house. Emma's face was priceless and she sat on the back of a 4-wheeler trying to get the perfect shot. Those two stopping by inspired me to put in about 6 hours working on the new bike. I'm actually almost done!! I did discover the choke cable is stuck, one more thing to fix...

Two years of work packed into one week.

Actually not too far from being done!

I still have a million little things to do, but the major pieces are in place. My house is rented for the year. I have been granted a leave of absence. Plane tickets have been purchased and the shipping is all set. I also have been trying to spend as much time as possible with family and friends, which has been great.

Yesterday and today I presented at Rotary Club's two weekly meetings. I showed a powerpoint summarizing the trip and highlighting the Sacred Valley Project. Monday I received the biggest surprise imaginable. Grand Haven Rotary named me as a Paul Harris Fellow!!! This is a big deal. I am so humbled and honored to be recognized by a group that I hold with such respect. When I wear the pin during my journey, people will recognize it and I can build connections. This is amazing. Also, many Rotarians gave me advice and information about possible connections. I really feel supported by my community, now I have extra incentive to actually make it through the entire journey!!

Now is a good time to mention that if you haven't watched the girl effect video I highly recommend it. I have been reading research on the effects of education on girls in developing countries and the results are astounding. I think so highly of the mission of the SVP and can't wait to get to know the girls better and help them with their education. I have a stack of six TI-85 graphing calculators I am bringing. I think they will enjoy learning how to use them. (Okay, as much as anyone can enjoy math.) My students also suggested I bring some scratch and sniff stickers, good call!!

My highlight of the day today was the fundraiser that Interact students (mostly Kira and Lauren) did. They sold HOT KOOLAID at all three lunches. It was a big hit, of course.

At this point I need to really reach down and think about what lies ahead. I can't believe what I have planned for myself, but at the same time I am excited for all of the possibilities. Most people's reactions are about 50/50 so far. For every person excited about the plans, there is someone who is certain I am going to die. It kind of messes with your head a little bit. I do understand there are risks, and I want to be as responsible and safe as possible. Maybe this is a good time to clarify.

These are NOT reasons why I am planning this trip:
1) It is on my bucket list.
2) I have a traveling itch.
3) I seek adventure.
4) I am a natural risk-taker.

But, at the end of the day, it is all still just plans. After last week discovering that I couldn't ship my old bike to Peru, I am now expecting anything to go wrong. Let's just see if I can actually make it to Peru with a motorcycle in tow...