I have always wanted to volunteer in a poor country, but thought this was something only rich people could do, as it can cost around £3000 and more.
I got thinking about this and wondered if there was some kind of funded placements available, after all i would be working for free and losing the regular wage from work by doing it.
I found a company called Platform 2 who to my amazement were currently interviewing people aged 18-24 for the chance to live and work in either South Africa, India or Peru for 10 weeks, part of the rules stated that you could not do this with a friend- so it would be something i would have to do alone.
See link to Platform 2 website: http://www.myplatform2.com/
I filled in the comprehensive application form and waited for a response, after a few weeks i was told i had been shortlisted for an interview the following week- i couldn't sleep i was that nervous, it hit me how much this would mean to me if i was offered a place.
The interview at the Christian Aid office in Manchester was very informal and seemed to go ok, i recieved a phone call a month later after many sleepless nights and got the life changing news that i would be going on the next departure at the beginning of August, they couldn't tell me where i was going at the time but emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me i am going to Peru!
I was given a lengthy email detailing all of my trip and where i would be working and living, i would be travelling with approximately 12 other volunteers.
Following this i had to have 10 vaccinations including Hepititis A and B which really hurt my arms and consisted of 4 seperate injections!
I attended a training day in Leeds where they explained that whilst the trip itself is very important, it is what we do when we get back that is the main thing. They wanted us to use art to record our journey- it was up to us how we did this. When we get back we will use Photos, Videos and Poetry to try and tell people about our experience. I mentioned i would like to do an exhibition and was told that they would help me both with the funding and the advertising- this seemed too good to be true!
I am learning Spanish at the moment as i will be living with a local family who dont speak much english, so need to be able to communicate. I have decided to try to learn the basics for now and as i will have Spanish lessons when i get there, i can gain a more in depth knowledge there- i will after all have 10 whole weeks to practice it!
Gracias- Thank You
Perdon- Excuse me/Sorry
No Entiendo- I dont understand
Soy- I am
De Nada- Your Welcome
La Calle- The street
La Puerta- Door/gate
Hasta Luego- See you later
Un Agua- Water
Por Favour- Please
Un Regalo- A gift
Tengo Hambre- I am hungry
Refesco- Soft drink
The hardest part about learning a new language is knowing how to pronounce the words as they dont sound as they are written, so i have spent many hours on the internet listening to how they sound so hopefully people will understand me.
I decided to look up some videos from the other volunteers who have been before and get a glimpse of Peru, here are two that i found:
This one shows the group arriving in Lima the Capital City then travelling through to the shanty areas- where i would be living. When i saw the shanty town i had butterflies in my stomach, it reminded me of the slums in Mumbai and i knew there would be amazing Photo oppertunities- as bad as that may sound!
This one shows one of the past volunteer's slide show of some of her photos from the trip, it brought a tear to my eye, but partly because of the music and this got me thinking about how i could use my work to have an impact when i return.
I also found groups on Facebook that have been created for past and future volunteers and found a photo of Las Flores which is where i will be living in Peru:
Taken from Platform 2- Peru (Facebook)
Seeing a photo of where i will be living makes it seem so real. To be able to do something like this has seemed like a dream for so long that i couldnt quite believe it.
Although the programme will benefit both my photography and the people in Peru, it is going to be a very difficult thing for me to do and a huge personal challenge to spend 10 weeks in very basic conditions with people i dont know. It is 2 weeks until i go to the hotel in Heathrow to meet the other volunteers and then fly together at 7am on 5th August and i am beyond nervous at the moment. I plan to keep a diary of my experiences which will be used along side my work and i will make it available to people to read- i hope that it will help build a picture of the experience i had there.
Making A Difference
I had previously planned to just use Photography but seeing the efforts of the other volunteers made me think there is so much more i can do. I have now purchased another camera which i will use to film parts of my experience in addition to using my SLR in a photojournalistic sense.
I had to make sure i had an idea of what i wanted to do so that i could get enough material whilst i was there, so my aim: to shoot for England (well, Peru) and get as much footage as i could fit on my Hard Drive!
Spreading the word...
The main idea of Platform 2 is for us to learn about the issues in developing countries, so many people are ignorant to the real reasons behind poverty and it would be up to us to share what we learned and try to make a difference, however small.
I thought that contacting my local newspaper the Rossendale Freepress would be a good idea, both for publicity for Platform 2 and for myself. I asked them if they would be interested in covering my story before and after i go to Peru. They were very interested and went over the story there and then, and sent a photographer round a few hours later- which wasn't the most comfortable experience given that im used to being behind the camera!
I also came accross this competition by the world photography organisation which seems perfect for my trip, they want people to enter images from the following 5 categories relating to one of the five fundamental rights of a child:
-The Right to Healthcare
-The Right to an Education
-The Right to a Voice
-The Right to a Childhood
-The Right to be Treated Fairly
I am fairly confident that i can produce images that tell a story and relate to at least one of the above, and as competitions are a good way to get free publicity it would be good for myself and support the cause and people of Peru.
The link to this competition is: http://www.worldphoto.org/competitions/the-2010-focus-programme-a-photo-pledge-for-childrens-rights/
The closing date is 20th November 2010- i will show my entry further on in this post when i return from Peru and edit the image for the competition.
I have now entered the competition with these two images:
The Right to a Voice
The Right to a Childhood
The most important thing i had to do before my trip was the Global Research Project. The purpose of this was to learn about the global issues affecting our destination country.
We had to chose from the following to base our project around:
Personally i have an interest in Conflict Photography and this has fed my passion to learn more about the causes of war and political unrest, so this is what i have chosen to research.
I will be producing a presentation on this which we are all asked to share with the other volunteers whilst we are in country, to learn from each other and discuss how we can help.
Conflict in Peru- A Brief History
I decided to start with Wikepedia first, although it isnt very reliable, it offers a starting point for my research.
According to Wikepedia.....
"It has been estimated that nearly 70,000 people died in the internal conflict in Peru that started in 1980 and, although still ongoing, had greatly wound down by 2000. The principal actors in the war were the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and the government of Peru.
A great many of the victims of the conflict were ordinary civilians. All of the armed actors in the war deliberately targeted and killed civilians, making the conflict more bloody than any other war in Peruvian history."
The Shining Path movement are still ongoing although weakened.
It all begain in 1980 when Peru's government allowed elections for the first time in 12 years and it was then that the Shining Path movement declined to take part and launched a Guerrilla war against the state of Peru. (Guerrilla warfare is irregular warfare or conflict where a small group use military tactics such as ambushes and raids to attack a larger and less mobile traditional army). The word Guerrilla is the diminutive of the Spanish word guerra "war", literally "little war".
The war was launched in the highlands of the province of Ayacucho.
On May 17, 1980, the eve of the presidential elections, it burned ballot boxes in the town of Chuschi, Ayacucho. It was the first "act of war" by Shining Path. Nonetheless, the perpetrators were quickly caught, additional ballots were brought in to replace the burned ballots, the elections proceeded without further incident, and the act received very little attention in the Peruvian press.
Shining Path opted to fight their war in the style taught by Mao Zedong. They would open up "guerrilla zones" in which their guerrillas could operate, drive government forces out of these zones to create "liberated zones", then use these zones to support new guerrilla zones until the entire country was essentially one big "liberated zone." Shining Path also adhered to Mao's teaching that guerrilla war should be fought primarily in the countryside and gradually choke off the cities.
On December 3, 1982, the Shining Path officially formed the "People's Guerrilla Army", its armed wing.
In more recent times there are many things contributing to the conflict and unrest in Peru, some are:
More recently it is believed that the war has come to an end, although after reading the below article it leads me to believe that conflict in Peru is far from over:
The article details the presence of the Shining Path in the mainland of Peru, despite some of the locals saying that they are pleasant, this comes with the threat of violence and the understanding that the Uncles (as they are more locally known) are in control.
Some people say that its not an issue that there are a few hundred Guerrillas in the Jungle, but when we are reminded that it was a few hundred back in 1980 that started the warfare which lead to 70,000 being killed, maybe its more of an issue than some want to believe.
About 97% of the Coca harvested in this area is used to produce Cocaine.
A big issue fuelling the conflict is the cocaine trade, the violence by the Shining Path is intensifying as they go against the Peruvian Army in a bid to try and retain control over part of Peru's Cocaine trade.
As large oil companies plan to take over large areas of the Rainforest, violent protests have ended in large numbers dead, despite the lack of press coverage.
I found an interesting video covering this story which offers a good insight into the struggle for the Peruvians, even their own government are siding with the foreign oil companies who are offering them no compensation for taking over the land that they live from.
Here is the speech i wrote for my presentation:
Research ProjectConflict in Peru
I decided to research Conflict because I am a Photography student influenced mainly by Photojournalism around the world and especially war and conflict photography.
Conflict can be partly caused by poverty but can also thrive in areas of poverty, so to understand and help the people of Peru it is important to look at the areas of conflict and unrest and understand why this is happening.
There have been several wars in the history of Peru but the most notable and recent was the conflicts lead by the Shining Path from the 1980’s.
The shining path fought a Guerilla war, primarily in the countryside, gradually smothering the cities, Guerilla warfare involved having “Guerilla zones” in which they could operate and drive government forces out to create “liberated zones” until they had gradually liberated the whole area.
The Shining Path, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and Peru’s Government were the main contributors to the conflict; killing innocent civilian’s and rendering this the most bloody war in Peruvian history.
An estimated 70,000 people died in the conflicts that began in 1980, although this war had mainly ceased by 2000 it is believed that it is still ongoing today.
Although weakened the Shining Path still exist today and according to an article in the New York Times they are beginning to rebuild from the profits of Peru’s cocaine trade after they have re-invented themselves as an illicit drug enterprise.
The front line is in the Jungle of Vizcatan a region in Apurímac and Ene River Valley and the largest grower of Coca in Peru- the raw material for Cocaine.
In 1997 Peru’s Cocaine production was estimated at 290 tons- second behind Columbia.
The government have made attempts to stop the Shining path and regain full control but the large rainforest has so far provided ample cover and safety for them to simply move around upon threat of attack; making them hard to track down. The killings hit a high last August when the government launched its campaign resulting in at least 26 dead.
2 Children are missing from the far flung village of Rio Seco and there are claims that soldiers killed at least 5 civilians in addition to the dozens of families that have fled the villages to escape the violence.
Despite this some local Coca farmers have described the Shining Path as disciplined, well-armed force entering villages in crisp black uniforms and the rebels themselves say that they no longer assassinate local officials or plant bombs on donkeys in crowded markets, something they were famous for in the 80’s.
The relationship between the old Shining Path and the reinvented group that exist today is quite different. The villagers refer to them as Los Tios meaning the Uncles although this is enforced by the threat of violence rather than any kind of respect.
One woman said “we can live in peace..... as long as we obey the uncles”
Perhaps the most worrying aspect, is that with the Cocaine industry thriving, the rebels may continue to grow and become increasingly powerful.