Dirt Bags and Guinea Pigs

Monthly Archives: June 2024

Dirt Bags and Guinea Pigs

Posted by in Blog | June 27, 2024

by Rob Hackleman

Another week in Pisco, another set of memories and experiences to be cherished.  I have been here for two and a half weeks, and I have been able to settle into the rhythms of the town and of Pisco Sin Fronteras.  I have already had to say goodbye to new friends that I hope to stay in contact with, and I have begun to meet new people as they arrive for their PSF adventure.  I am also preparing to say goodbye to all three of my roommates, whom have also turned into my closest friends here, as they are all coincidentally leaving in one week.  Although it is never fun to say goodbye, I’ve learned that the beauty of PSF is in the shared experiences that we will always have.

Of course the primary experience to be remembered is the projects we do for the community.  I was fortunate enough to have gotten on a project from its beginning, and I have managed to stay on this project for the most part.  It is a new school and community center in a poor neighborhood not far from where we live.  When I showed up, it was just trenches dug in the ground for the foundation.  We now have about 2 meter high walls built from dirt bags, and we will probably begin building the roof this week.  I am expecting to be able to see the completion of this project while I am here.  It is very tough work shoveling dirt and moving 50kg bags of dirt all day, but it has also been very rewarding.  The kids in the community are often at the site and love to try to learn all our names.  It has been awesome meeting many of the kids that are going to be using our school, and it has definitely been worth the slowed production that they may cause at times.  There is one four-year-old boy named Pepe that is almost always at the site since he has not started school yet, and he has insisted on helping out on the project from day one.  By the end of the day he is usually sweaty and tired from a full day’s work.  While I am not a proponent of child labor, I think Pepe loves helping us out, and his energy and spirit really encourages all the volunteers and reminds us why we are here (Para los ninos).

Aside from the hard work that we put in six days a week, PSF always does an excellent job balancing work with social activities.  This week was no exception.  Monday nights we have been consistently getting about 15 people out for basketball at a court that was built by PSF volunteers.  We have been having pretty spirited and competitive games.  There have also been soccer (futbol), yoga, and dance classes offered on a regular basis.  Thursday, one of the volunteers from Quebec, Canada organized a beach party to celebrate the Quebec holiday for St. Jean de Baptiste.  We cooked pizzas over the beach fires with relative success, had some good live music, and even were introduced to the new PSF theme song, written and performed by one of our own volunteers.Friday night was casino night.  By normal measures of gambling, nobody really won since all the winnings of the night went towards the organization (Para los ninos).  The Texas Hold ‘Em started with about 25 players, each donating 20 soles to play.  Unfortunately, I was the first person out at my table, but this just meant I was able to participate and lose money at other games such as Blackjack, and my personal favorite, Guess which box Renee the Guinea Pig will choose.  I guessed correctly on the first pick, but then lost the next three turns.  The goal for this game was to raise 100 soles to prevent the Guinea from being eaten (Guinea Pig is a regular meal in Peru). The money was not all raised, but a couple volunteers were kind enough to donate the remaining money to save Renee’s life.   There was also a full operating bar set up at PSF for the event with the proceeds from drinks also going to the organization.  We were forced to end the festivities at 2:00 am to respect those wishing to sleep, which of course meant the rest of us went to a disco in downtown Pisco called Mystica, where we danced the night away, where we more than doubled the occupancy.  Of course, everybody was up for breakfast the next morning at 8:30 ready to put in work because that’s what we do at PSF!

Today a group of us took went to an Incan ruin which is about one hour outside of Pisco.  This was my first Incan ruin I’d seen, and it was a good preview of more spectacular scenes to come at Machu Piccu.  It was also a nice change of scenery from Pisco as it was a very mountainous and peaceful area.  It was a good day off to rest from the week’s work.So hopefully that gives a brief taste of what life is like here at PSF.  It is difficult to accurately portray PSF, but it is certainly a unique place.


Restaurant Course in San Andrés

Posted by in Blog | June 15, 2024

by: Frank Hoder

There are virtually endless ways volunteers can support the reconstruction efforts driven by Pisco Sin Fronteras. Many dig foundation trenches, clear rubble, pour concrete and lay brick. Others teach English and life-skills to local youth. As a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Pisco for the better part of the last two years, I´ve seen some amazing people come through PSF and can attest to the enormous difference they have made in peoples´ lives here. The growth of the organization since I arrived in 2024 has been impressive, to say the least. Today, in the waning months of my service as part of the PC Small Business Development program, I´m excited to be able to formally collaborate with PSF in an effort to improve the standards of customer service, hygiene, and general management capabilities of local restaurants.

The initiative aims to bolster the gastronomy and tourism segments of a fledgling coastal economy through a series of nine evening workshops covering a broad array of topics regarding restaurant management. Participants are learning about essential steps of service for “front-of-house” staff (waiters, bartenders, hosts) as well as how to improve efficiency and quality control in the kitchen. Furthermore, owners and managers are being trained to seek and analyze customer feedback in order to implement the changes needed to improve the quality of service they provide. Given my own experience as a bartender and server, I am coordinating the “front-of-house” and business management training modules while Carlos Rozo – long-time PSF volunteer and newly appointed PSF Director with a rich culinary background – is taking charge of the hygienic standards and kitchen management portion of the course. Carlos is also helping to promote some innovative dishes that incorporate underused locally produced ingredients. Scallops and asparagus are two such ingredients that, though they are abundant in the region, are slated almost exclusively for export to foreign countries. When Carlos demonstrated the preparation of two simple yet delectable dishes – a cream of asparagus soup with scallops sautéed in a white-wine butter sauce and an appetizer consisting of sautéed asparagus, seared scallops dressed in a sweet & spicy honey-ají glaze – he stoked the culinary passions of every participant in the room until it nearly boiled over. The owners and managers who often double as cooks and/or waiters began to discuss the fusion of different flavors and debate the best possible variations as well as the side-dishes and drinks that would best complement them, their eyes wide with excitement.

My Peace Corps work with a small-scale scallop farming association here provided further motivation to promote an increase in local consumption, which should benefit small-scale extractors, restaurants, and end-consumers alike. By increasing local demand, more of the value stays in the community, which should generate greater economic activity.

The course is offered free of charge to all participants, and includes several sessions that take place in Puro Pisco, one of the most modern restaurants in the area, providing a practical setting where participants see how theory is put into practice.

When the course is finished, we will be working with the Municipality in San Andrés to implement a new set of standards of excellence in customer service amongst local restaurants. These standards will not be imposed, yet will offer incentive to those who comply through publicity provided by the Municipality. The hope is that this may serve to strengthen the gastronomic sector along the coast as a way to augment tourism in the future. Although some tourists currently pass through Pisco and San Andrés en route to Paracas (approximately 15 – 20 minutes south), it is imperative to prepare small-business owners for a potential influx of tourists once the plans for the construction of an International Airport in Pisco/San Andrés comes to fruition. Peruvian cuisine is quickly becoming renowned across the globe – most notably ceviche and many other seafood plates – which provides an extraordinary opportunity for locals dedicated to the culinary arts and which may also improve the standards of living of many others consequently affected by a local surge in gastronomic prowess.

This course is just one more example of the myriad possibilities available for PSF volunteers to make a difference in the community. As reconstruction moves forward, I earnestly hope the people at PSF will continue to use their creativity and good-will to begin new, innovative projects while continuing to enhance existing one in order to promote sustainable development in Pisco. There are truly no limits to the things you can achieve at PSF; there is an immense need here for people who can share skills and experience with locals and there are innumerable ways to do so. The intrepid spirits of those volunteers who break the mold of the status quo and persevere in their efforts to make this a better place are what I have come to revere most about PSF. I hope those of you who continue on at PSF will maintain that mentality, always striving to make a positive impact that may be felt long after you´re gone.