Peruvian Cooking 101

March madness, indeed. Throughout the past month, I’ve had a very hard time feeling grounded (not keeping up with the blog surely didn’t help) – between receiving college decisions and thinking about what direction my life is heading in the coming months, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed. But as I know well, there’s nothing better to keep: food.

This afternoon, I had a wonderful day with my host family and fellow housemates. Sundays are volunteers’ collective day off and the same goes for all the members of our host family. With that said, Sundays are more often than not, a grand day of rest and food and today was no exception.

Left to right: Allie, Hannah, Herald, Naomi

Left to right: Allie (back of her head), Hannah, Herald, Naomi

For those who don’t know, I live with the most amazing host family one could ever have the honor of living with. For the past seven months, Herald, Nancy and their son Andrés have invited me into their home and become really like a second family to me.

When Herald grew up, one of his family’s traditions was that they would eat ceviche together every Sunday for almuerzo (lunch). Ceviche is a specialty for the costal region of Peru and the juice of limón and aroma/flavor from ají amarillo make it especially distinct. This afternoon, all of us CEDED volunteers who are living in the house crowded into the kitchen to learn how to make the incredibly delicious dish.

Ceviche is a dish which is made by “cooking” seafood by marinating it in the juice rom citrus fruits i.e. lemon or lime juice. Depending on the type of seafood, the fish can be ready within five minutes, as was the type we made this afternoon. There are many different variations of ceviche, depending on geographical region and such. The ceviche we learned how to make today is a mix of fish, limón, garlic, cliantro, ground celery, pepper, ginger, ají amarillo and salt. After it marinates, it is placed on a lettuce leaf and accompanied by one or two slices of boiled sweet potato. We also had sides of white beans and a type of popcorn.

Needless to say, it was really amazing.

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Later that afternoon, we had a second round of Peruvian cooking 101, when Nancy showed us how to make a classic dish: arroz con pollo. Sadly, I do not have any pictures of it, although I wouldn’t say that pictures of food will be ending any time soon. Arroz con pollo is essentially what its name says: rice and chicken. However, the arroz con pollo that was made today is made by flavoring the rice and chicken with a flavorful base consisting of cilantro (it makes the rice green), onion, garlic, choclo (Peruvian corn), ají amarillo and peas (or other vegetables like carrots or bell peppers). The chicken is first cooked in the sauce of cilantro and spices and once ready, taken out so that the rice can cook in its flavorful broth. In the end, all of it is combined and then eaten and it’s really really great. The chicken is always incredibly moist and flavorful and with a little bit of ají and fresh cut onion, it’s pretty perfect. Arroz con pollo is probably my second favorite dish – first being lomo saltado, but that could be worthy of it’s own post.

Between our morning of learning how to make ceviche and afternoon lesson in all things arroz con pollo, it was a day filled with fun conversation and really good food. What was almost even better, was that between all the cooking and eating, I was also able to finally check some major things off of a myriad of my to-do lists (I have many different lists) and feel better about the basic organization of my life. (Always a good thing.)

All in all, today was the perfect way of helping me remember that in times of stress, spending time with friends and family can be the best remedy. But more importantly, food. Always.

A Sweet Tooth’s Coffee Fix

It’s no surprise to anyone that I am fully enjoying all of the culinary experiences I’ve had in Peru so far. Exhibit A: Peruvian Food Mondays. But there are days when I can’t remember a day that I didn’t go to the bakery that’s across the street and that’s when I think, “take a step back, Michelle and think about your life choices”. So logically, I’ve decided to semi-replace/allocate the time and money I spend at the bakery with my most recent discovery: Big Ben Café Gurmets.

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I discovered these little pieces of coffee greatness at one of the stores up in La Encantada last week. Friday night I “had” to get some change for bus fare so naturally, I decided to buy 10 Café Gurmets (all for roughly $.36). What else was I supposed to do – buy a bottle of water? Nope.  Yesterday I bought more, although I was only able to buy two because that was all they had left. I think that in the course of the past week, I bought all they had.

Today while running errands around the municipality, I had a train of thought that went something like this: “Those stores that sell snacks in bulk are so great. I could really go for some Café Gurmets right now. I wonder if they sell them in bulk. I wonder if there are any bulk stores near the muni. I will find one.” This resulted in the purchase of a bag that contains 100 Café Gurmets. I’m not even ashamed.

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As its name implies, Café Gurmet is a coffee flavored taffy. (I’m not entirely sure if the candy is called Café Gurmet or Big Ben. Even google did not lend a helping hand on figuring that one out.)  They’re softer than tootsie rolls (even Marini’s salt water taffy) but still have a good chew to them. Basically a combination of taffy-ness but also melt-in-your-mouth perfection. I’m not a die hard coffee lover (although I do love a good cold-pressed cup of joe) but the lack of good coffee here in Peru has lead to more sentiment regarding the beverage. While these candies couldn’t replace their namesake, they make for a sweet snack…or dangerous habit. I guess that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

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Hannah says that I have a problem. Although we both agree that eating six of these is better than eating six of the manjar blanco filled donuts from the bakery. I’ll just leave the reasoning at that.

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Barranco and Burritos

For the first time in about a month, I had a “Tuesday”. As many know, Tuesdays are often day-trip days up to central Lima and they are always very fun and include really good food. Since my little accident, my Tuesdays have consisted of recovering or working on college applications or Omprakash work. Today’s trip was to the Barranco district which is about 30-40 minutes (on the Metro) north from Villa el Salvador. I almost didn’t go today, but the universe must have really wanted me to because the internet went out about a half hour before Hannah and Roxana were planning on leaving and honestly what does anyone do without the internet? Exactly.

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“CEDED” and the drawing of the woman with the speech bubble saying hello in different ways was Hannah’s contribution to the public chalkboard.

I had never been to Barranco during the day before, so I was looking forward to discovering more about district. Our first stop was the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. It was a in a beautiful location – right in the middle of a park. Or maybe the park was the museum itself… Anyway, it was really quite beautiful. Unfortunately, we came the day before they were opening new exhibits. Nevertheless, we got to go into two rooms, one exhibit on sound and a gallery with a mix of sculptures and paintings.

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What I was most looking forward to was the inevitable trip to the Burrito Bar. Conveniently located two blocks from a Metropolitano stop, this restaurant knows its burritos. Right as we walked in (for the second time because the first time we did, we came before they opened) one could tell that the food was going to be good just by how amazing it smelled. I ordered a burrito with chicken, rice, black beans, fajita-style veggies, salsa, guacamole, cheese and sour cream. It was. So. Good. I literally took a moment to just process how amazing it was. It was as enlightening as my first trip to El Pan de la Chola was. It was that good. To say the least, all of us were visibly saddened by the time we finished our food.

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After Burrito Bar, we still had some room for dessert. We made our way over the a Metro supermarket because Roxana had mentioned that she needed to buy something. As we meandered through the market, we discovered that they sold ice cream by the scoop. Hannah and I decided to go for it and I am still very proud of that decision. They gave us four scoops and a cone for approximately $2. I got vanilla chip and ópera. I’m still not sure why it’s called ópera when it was basically coffee, but it also had tiramisu-like cake pieces in it so I decided to just stop asking questions. I just love ice cream so much. So. Much.

Even though I had originally intended on working today, I’m glad that I spent the morning and afternoon in Barranco, having a grand ol’ time. Can’t really go wrong with burritos and ice cream.

Note: Today’s pictures are brought to you by the cell phone I use in the US. I must confess, it’s not too shabby.

CEDED Taco Night

Once again, Peruvian Food Monday will not actually be about Peruvian food. Next week, friends. Next week. Although, this post does involve food! Surprise, surprise.

About a month ago, we planned to have a communal dinner with the Voices of Youth kids. Cooking is a great way to bond and the atmosphere is ideal for having a time for everyone to just get to know one another. (No one has to tell me about the powers of food, that’s for sure.) We originally planned to make arroz con pollo and papa a la huancaina. But on the day we planned to make it all, the plans fell through due to the kids arriving a little too late and not enough kids coming. It was disappointing but we made the most of our time by having them brainstorm plans for their postcard project. The communal dinner plan was put on the back burner. But about a week and a half ago, the dinner plans were tossed back into the mix (I can keep going)  and it all came together yesterday afternoon.

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We reintroduced the communal meal idea and the kids voted on more exotic foods to cook. The consensus was Mexican food and after another round of voting, it was decided that we were going to make enchiladas. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make enchiladas because of complications with sauce preparation, so we changed it to tacos. Roxana brought a couple of kids to the market earlier this week to go buy the ingredients and everyone came yesterday to prepare the meal. Earlier on Sunday, Hannah and Roxana even made homemade tortillas to supplement our package of Old El Paso tortillas from the supermercado.

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There were three groups: a group to cut and cook onions and peppers, lettuce and tomato group and guacamole group. (My group was the lettuce and tomato group, but because the kitchen is only so big and it’s kind of awkward to help out with hand, I declared myself the photographer for the afternoon.) The groups worked really well together and anyone could tell they were having a genuinely good time. Although, the tear ducts of the onions and peppers group succumbed to the tear-inducing task of cutting the onions, to the point where they had to rotate between people cutting the onions and people going to the bathroom to washout their eyes.  I was quite impressed with their onion cutting skills – those onions were very neatly minced, let me tell you. Nevertheless, their hard work definitely paid off in the end.

Once all of the ingredients were prepared, we put them all out on the table and got to business. When some of the kids started to eat the tortillas by itself, we were reminded that a lot of them hadn’t had tacos before and that they might have forgotten what they looked like since the voting process of what we would make. It was really quite endearing. After clarifying how to build their own taco, everyone went to town. The most popular ingredient was the guacamole, which lets be honest was no surprise. Whose favorite part isn’t the guacamole?

It was a laid-back afternoon with good food and fun conversation. CEDED taco night: success.

 

Liquid Gold a.k.a. Yogurt

One of the hardest things about being vegan was the lack of yogurt – specifically greek yogurt.  Sure, there are the “non-dairy yogurt style” products, but if you have ever had those, you know quite well that those don’t cut it. Not even close. So for about two precious months, I shamelessly ate loads of greek yogurt. It was a quite a glorious time in my life, yes it was. Then I came to Peru and my greek-yogurt-centric life came to a sudden halt. There’s yogurt here, but unlike the sour cream consistency of yogurt in the US, it’s more like a beverage here in Peru.

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It’s like the liquidy part of kefir. It’s also very sweet. (Even the natural flavor is sweeter than the plain yogurt that’s in the US.) But nonetheless, there are a myriad of flavors, lactose-free and even soy. Another interesting factoid about this yogurt is that it’s shelf stable. This has enabled me to create a stock-pile of sorts, as you can see above. (I also have one in the refrigerator.) The only catch is that the woman who I buy my yogurt from doesn’t always have the same flavors all the time. It’s quite the struggle. My favorite is the Light Natural because it’s fat free and has no added sugar. This is probably because it is the closest thing that resembles greek yogurt. I also like the ActiBIO which is fat-free, sweetened with stevia and has flax seeds. Pretty fancy. Last night I went to the (assumedly only) supermarket that’s in Villa El Salvador for the first time and my yogurt dreams were fulfilled.

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This supermarket had an entire refrigerated isle devoted to yogurt. It was beautiful. I had never seen such a large selection and it was almost a little overwhelming. I quickly searched for the Light Natural, but they sadly did not have any. Instead, I found four other flavors of the Light variety and decided that the vanilla would be a pretty safe bet. It has been added to my stock pile and I am excited to try it. Much like the Light Natural, the bottle for Vainilla Francesa features a picture of a woman being…”light”?

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So that’s that for this Monday’s “Peruvian Food Monday”. There’s been a lot going on regarding non-food related activity, so I’ll be catching up on that stuff in the coming days.

Welcome to WordPress and Other Craziness

Welcome to Notas de Perú via WordPress! If you’re reading this, I greatly appreciate it. I’m sorry about the site change – but it’s all for the better! (It’s not you, Tumblr. It’s me.) Now, if you feel compelled to write a comment on a blog post – you can! (No pressure, but you should.)

This morning was spent transitioning the posts from the Tumblr blog to this one. I wanted to make sure that everything got here in one place, instead of just starting off with today’s post. Gotta keep up that continuity. (Says the girl who said she would post one blog a day and has many a post titled “Catch Up ___”.) Also may I just say that choosing a blog theme is more difficult than one would think. There are just so many. I digress.

On to the important stuff!

Since the program’s inception (I believe) the guitar/cajon class that I’ve been working with has been held in the morning. But not today. As of this week, we changed the time to 4-6pm, because of the really low turnout that we had been getting. The kids study more often in the mornings so afternoons are a better time. So, tonight we had very high hopes that we would get some more kids to come jam with us. We got that and then some. Because Música isn’t the only program that runs from 4-6pm every Saturday evening – Repostería happens at the same time.

In theory, it really shouldn’t be much of a problem. The women who go to Repostería really just stay in and around the kitchen at CEDED and the guitar class is in the main area of the community center. So, there shouldn’t be much traffic. But more often than not, the women also bring their young children and not all the books in the world, let alone the little CEDED library, could keep them occupied for the two hour class. So tonight was pretty busy. At one point, I somehow I ended up holding a toddler while also trying to stay engaged with the kids in the música class. Regardless of the craziness, I thought that tonight went very well. Having an abundance of kids at CEDED is better than none at all.

Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get to play any guitar tonight. We only have so many guitars at CEDED and tonight yielded enough kids to have them all being used. Although, the selfish part of me that wished I could have gotten to play just a little was drowned out by the excitement from seeing all of the new faces playing the guitar for the first time. It was nostalgic, fun and of course the theme of the night: a little crazy. There were about eight kids in total, some playing guitar and some the cajon. And by playing, I mean more like aimlessly strumming and spontaneously drumming along to each kid’s individual internal rhythm. The immense activity was a refreshing change and I hope that the kids come back next week. With their friends, too.

As mentioned before, tonight was Repostería. During one of the quick moments I was a way from the music kids, I peaked my head into the little kitchen to see how things were going. Luckily, I got to try tonight’s recipe: empanada de pollo.

Empanadas ready to go into the oven!

A delicious filling of chicken, hard-boiled egg, olives, onions, bell peppers and spices was wrapped up in a flaky, warm golden brown pastry. They were amazing, as is every recipe that is made during Repostería.

I’ve found that busy nights like tonight end up being more energizing than exhausting. That may be naïve to say as I’ve only been here for a month. I don’t know if it’s the challenge of keeping tabs on everyone when things get busy or the buzz of energy that envelops the community center during such times, but it is nights like tonight that I try to remember most.

Central Lima 3.0

I know, my creativity is lacking in the title-making department.

But really, today I went into central Lima for the third time. Except, I almost didn’t.

Tuesdays are virtually everyone’s day off at CEDED because the only program is one that starts at 6pm. I hadn’t anticipated going anywhere today, except for doing random errands and such. But to my surprise, I heard a knock on my door at around 6:30am with Roxana on the other side, asking me if I wanted to go into central Lima with her and Hannah. My newly discovered spontaneity embraced it and decided, “Why not?”.

We headed out at around 8am, similar to last Tuesday’s adventure. Today we decided to explore a church we didn’t have time to see last time, the Saint Dominic Priory. Architecturally it was very similar to the Convento de San Francisco on the other side of Plaza de Armas. The cathedral or Convento de Santo Domigo was also very similar to the Basilica of Lima. The tombs of Saint Rosa of Lima, Saint Martin de Porres and Saint John Macías are all located at the Saint Dominic Priory.

One of the coolest things about this tour, was that we got to go up into the bell tower. We climbed up some of the most precarious stairs I’ve ever been on, but the view from the top was worth it.

Me, Hannah, Roxana

After climbing back down, we went to a coffee shop only half a block away for a much needed coffee fix. As you can see in the picture above, it was pretty foggy and there was even a little drizzle. Coffee was a must.

Conveniently across the street from the coffee shop, was the Casa de la Gastronomía. Basically, a museum dedicated to food. It was everything you could want from a food museum, except for the fact that they don’t serve any food. But nonetheless, it was really fun.

The different types of pastry/bread in Peru aka heaven.

Quinoa!

Not surprisingly, after perusing through a museum of food, we were pretty hungry. We decided to head down towards Miraflores in search of the cafe that Hannah and I went to a couple of weeks ago for a BD marketing meeting. (Considering we had to get back to Villa before 3pm, we were a little frenzied as we power-walked our way through Lima and the Metropolitano bus stations. There was even some sprinting.)

Once we got to the cafe, we settled down for a quick lunch. It was pretty darn good, too. For only 10 soles, each of us got a nicely portioned appetizer, entre, drink and a little dessert. I would have posted a picture of said lunch, but I was a little too hungry to remember. My appetizer was a frittata-esque sweet potato gratin (if you can imagine that) and my entre was rice in a little pyramid form, perfectly grilled chicken and a little side salad. It was delicious. That is all.

I’m becoming very fond of these little day trips because it’s really nice to explore places outside of Villa. I don’t think it’s going to turn into a weekly thing, as that could become sort of expensive, but I’m definitely looking forward to excursions around the city.

One Fine Sunday

With almost three weeks under my belt, I’ve started to definitely feel more comfortable with the ebb and flow of my schedule. I work every day except Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week consists of three 9am-7pm work days, and two days with programs only during the afternoon. So far, that’s been going quite well. Except I haven’t really had a totally normal week, as I was at CEDED all of last Monday and the week before was my first one here.

The flexibility has allowed me to have a lot of mornings free, during which I’ve enjoyed traveling about the markets of Villa El Salvador.

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Every Sunday, there’s a flea market of sorts in the same area as the open air market where I buy my food. The street is lined with dozens and dozens of vendors selling all sorts of random things. It’s a great day full of bustling people and good food. Today I was feeling very festive and bought these delicious coconut cookie/macaroon-like treats. The vendor sold these as well as fried coconut meat. (I decided to buy these instead because I figured the coconut meat wouldn’t taste as good when not warm.) These are a coconut lover’s dream. AKA my dream. They’re basically flat macaroons with a freshness and sweet taste that are equally apparent. They’re fabulous. I can definitely see that buying these every sunday could (and most likely will) turn into a weekly ritual.

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After going to the market, I headed up to CEDED for today’s Voices of Youth meeting. On Sundays, the meetings are 3-5pm. I was pretty excited for today’s, because of the activities that were planned. On Friday morning, Hannah, another volunteer Katherine and myself created the lesson plan. We started off with two “dynamicas” or ice breakers and one of them was one that I suggested! I learned as a part of LINK Crew training, which was a freshman orientation program that I participated in during my junior and senior years in high school. I was curious to see how the kids would like the games. While I wouldn’t be personally offended if they hadn’t liked it, it definitely wouldn’t have felt very good. But that didn’t end up happening. From the incredible amount of laughing and smiles, I think I can say that the name game was a success.

The main activity was Impromptu Baseball. It’s very well known in the Interact-world and most likely other leadership building platforms. Today, it was “Béisbol Improviso”. We split the group into three teams that each had about six or seven people. Essentially, someone is given a random word and he or she must speak about that topic for no more than a minute (we changed the rules a bit), and he or she cannot use filler words like “um”, “like”, take really long pauses or go off topic. The point values are pictured below and one point was taken off for each “mistake”. It was an exercise to try and get the kids to feel more comfortable with public speaking and presenting to their peers.

Below, is the final score and point values (kept by yours truly):

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The kids absolutely loved this game. After someone spoke, Katherine would give them constructive criticism about how they did as well as how many points they got for their team. Everyone would get really quiet, in preparation to hear what she would say.  At the end, everyone wanted to do one more round! Their enthusiasm was infectious and my heart was quite warmed.

One of the biggest challenges that I anticipated regarding my involvement with Voices of Youth, was a potential lack in cohesiveness of activities and lessons that I’ve learned about leadership, in conjunction with the goals and values of the kids in this community. That and my ability to communicate my ideas and beliefs clearly and obviously, in Spanish. Today, I got to tackle all of the above. The name game ice breaker and today’s main activity, resulted from me suggesting them earlier this week. I even lead the ice breaker! Today was a really positive step forward in my journey here. Today’s Voices meeting gave me reassurance, confidence and a lot of hope.

With all of this said, I feel like I will soon be able to dig a little deeper into my involvement here. I’m fully aware that every day won’t be like this one – invigorating and boosting of self-esteem. I know that some days will be difficult and things won’t turn out as I will have hoped. But as corny as this little thought has turned out to be, I really believe that it’s days like today that make the not-so-great days, not so bad after all.

Catch Up 2.0

Once again, I have fallen short on the daily-update of this blog. Although, I didn’t set out to make this a daily-entry blog, I think that routine posting creates a nice sense of continuity.

On Friday, I went with Emily, Hannah and Andy to Miraflores to meet with Alisa, a current study-abroad student who will be helping format BD’s newsletter. We met in a hip cafe in town and got to business talking about BD marketing. Although before I get to that, I must describe to you what we ate! Because as many of my posts contain my experiences volunteering, I have also been having quite a few culinary adventures as well.

Everyone ordered a coffee drink and I got an “Ice Cappuccino”. I’m not usually someone who goes for the fancier drinks, but this morning I felt like why the heck not. We also ordered an appetizer of fried wanton-like dough that came with guacamole. They were so good. My drink was also super delicious – the cappuccino had been blended up with ice and had a drizzle of chocolate syrup on top. Its sweetness wasn’t overwhelming as well.

The meeting was really quite interesting. I learned a lot about BD’s goals as an organization as well as its history. I attended the meeting because not only will I be working on programs at the center, but also with BD’s Facebook page. (If you haven’t already liked them on FB, go do it!) I gained a lot of experience about how to utilize the information that Facebook gives to people who host pages about their organizations on their website due to the social media internship I had with Omprakash. I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge with BD.

The rest of the day consisted of another delicious lunch made by Martha at CEDED and horas publicas later that evening. As most Friday night tutoring has been, today was not exception. It was pretty quiet.

Saturday was another full day at CEDED. That morning’s guitar class was really awesome, because we played for most of the time. When I got there, it was only Andy and one student, Isaac. The three us of played a song by the Latin American band, Camila. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t played a lot of guitar lately because I had been so busy with school. The calluses on my fingers are no longer, so playing this Saturday was a little bit of an exercise. One of my favorite moments was when Isaac pulled up chords for a song he really liked and we proceeded to learn it together. I even got to show him an easier way to play the song by using some bar chords. It was super fun to jam and play along with the song on YouTube. About 30 minutes before the end of the class, a younger boy came. He had never played guitar before and it was great to see him being so enthusiastic about wanting to learn. We spent the final few minutes eating cake and drinking tea. Pretty great start to the day.

Now, fast-track to this afternoon’s Voices of Youth meeting. As mentioned before, there are Voices of Youth meetings twice a week; Thursday and Sunday afternoons. Today’s group had a couple of kids that also went on Thursday, but I saw a lot of new faces. We played name games and had groups compete in a competition of completing challenges while their wrists were tied together. We tested their teamwork skills and they did fantastically. I’ve only been to two of these meetings, but I’m really excited to get to know these kids better and collaborate with BD on the program’s curriculum.

Full disclosure, I would like for this to be the last time I have to make up for missing posts. I don’t really enjoy the rushed tone that these types of posts exude and they aren’t as interesting to write. I know that this being my own blog, I can write about whatever I choose, but I like to think I hold myself up to some standards. In conclusion, look forward to more consistent posts! I’m looking forward to writing them.

Warm Fuzzies

While it has been rather chilly lately, hearts were warmed this evening during a meeting of Voces de Joventud aka Voices of Youth.

This particular program was, for lack of a better phrase, a selling point during my research for non-profits to work with during my gap year. Voices of Youth is one of two leadership programs that Building Dignity provides to this particular community. The other is a program for adults.

Voices of Youth meetings are held every Thursday and Sunday evening from 4-6pm. There are two meeting days so that older kids who go to school later in the evening have a chance to participate on the weekend. On a broader level, the semiweekly meetings also provide more opportunity to connect with the kids.

Earlier this week, Emily, Hannah (BD’s new program director) and I had a meeting to discuss today’s lesson plan. I didn’t realize until then how involved I would be in creating the curriculum. For the upcoming year, Voices of Youth is being re-vamped in a way, by integrating principles of the Montessori philosophy. For those who are unfamiliar, the Montessori education is one that recognizes the impact that a student’s psychological, physical and social environment can have on their ability for development and that nature can provide the best means for such growth. One of BD’s the most important goals for its youth and the program in general, is to not only foster an appreciation of giving back to the community, but to also express the importance of being just as benevolent to themselves. Essentially, a healthy community is fostered by a healthy people.

One of the first activities we did this evening was called “Abrazos” or the English equivalent of “warm fuzzies”. All of the kids take turns giving put-ups or compliments to one of their peers and the recipient of the kind words receives a token to symbolize the exchange. In this case, it was a smiley face sticker. (I don’t want to boast, but I did end up with three at the end of the night.) At a retreat a couple of months ago, the kids were first introduced to this activity – they loved it! The enthusiasm was not dampened tonight, as the stickers were flying. It was a great way to build a positive atmosphere for a later activity; creating a código.

This código is essentially a list of principles that the group collaborated on abiding by. We asked the kids to write down one or two phrases or ideas to put on the código and then we pinned them to a string that hung across the room. After reading them, the kids categorized the ideas into similar themes and the código was born. They jokingly created a group of papers that were related to food. One of the papers simply said “torta”. While they thought that was super funny, the BD staff were internally smiling because another one of our goals is to establish monthly communal meals. They ask for food, we give them food.

It was interesting to observe the social dynamics of the group. They were a bit rowdy tonight, but from what I heard, it’s not always like that. For my first Voces meeting, I think it went pretty well. I also can’t complain that on Thursday nights, the program following Voces is “Colectiva de Vecinas” during which women in the community come to the center to make chocolates. I got to try one tonight and it was easily one of the tastiest chocolate bars I’ve ever had. It was like the best Mr. Goodbar ever. I think I’ll try to send some home to friends and family. Watch your mailboxes. (Although not yet, because I still don’t really know where the post office is…)

Tomorrow I’m going to Miraflores with the rest of the BD staff for a marketing meeting. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Lima, as I’ve been staying primarily in Villa El Salvador. We’ll be taking the Metropolitano there. I think it’ll be a lot of fun, as we all know that I am now a pro at the metro.