After serving my town for just one year, I cannot pretend to be an expert on development or foreign aid programs. I live in a town that got electricity 15 years ago, a road 3 years ago, and Internet just a month ago. Life is changing rapidly for the people of my town, almost exclusively due to foreign aid from Italians. Now I am here chugging along and doing my best to “help” and serve as the “American example.” When work is frustrating and feels like I am just going through the paces while failing to make a real difference, I can’t help but think, “What am I really doing here?”
The one thing I have learned from living in a town that is developing quickly, is that all positive changes have negative side effects. It’s like TV commercials for life-saving medicines that could lead to life-altering consequences. Everyday I listen to people talk about the changes they have endured in their lifetimes, as I am simultaneously trying to encourage changes that I see as positive, because my culture tells me that saving money and organized business practices are the way to go.
For example, my town’s new road seems like a huge positive, right? Increased accessibility leads to increase opportunity to export specialized products and import tourism. However, this year alone, I have seen 14 deaths due to this improved accessibility and it is because people are not used to driving on a paved street. They think that because the road is not the rocky, bumpy ride they are used to, they can go as fast as they like and remain in control. But they can’t. In the same regard, my town has become less safe because road access opened up more incoming traffic of strangers who are no longer reliably trustworthy.
Another large change I can observe is the generational, cultural differences between the adults and young people in my community. The introduction of cell phones and now Internet into my community has led to a totally new type of Chacasino. As someone who regularly works in the high school, I clearly see how technology can aid education and distract from education. Internet opens up connect-ability and resources that were not available to the older generation of my town, but it also makes life more complex and makes our cultures blend together in ways that add dullness to diversity. The culture of my town is beautiful and distinct, but it is being lost in the youth. Most of my high school students don’t even speak their parents’ first language, Quechua. They speak exclusively Spanish and have little desire to learn the language of their parents. Instead of choosing careers in Chacas’ staple economy agriculture, they will go to Lima for higher education and careers in engineering, finance, and law. That is great for individuals, but will hurt the town as the older generation can no longer work in the fields and there are few young people to replace them.
There are countless examples of times I have seen a positive development lead to a negative resulting side effect. It adds a lot of social responsibility to my conscious as I think about the choices I make and the ideas I share with my community, because in two years, how can I really understand the intricacies of a culture that is not my own? The closeness of my tiny community is one thing I love about my town and economic development, while it has many astounding affects on the lives of families, can also lead to increased competition and focus on the material, rather than the familial focus that is currently the center of my town’s culture. There is a fine line between positive development and imposing culture and I cannot take that lightly in my responsibilities as a Peace Corps volunteer. Through discoveries such as these, I am learning the reason I am here in Peru is to learn, practice patience, and experience everything.
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Caron – very profound observations, well said! Best wishes for another successful year!
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I enjoy reading and following your journey! You are making a difference!!