Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why I Support Barack Obama

Hey Loyal Fans (do I still have any? I haven't written in three months..).Vermont2Peru2NewYork here

This week (this three months!), the blog gets political. Un Abrazo para todos! 

I am not a media commentator; I am not an expert on presidential elections. I am quite simply a concerned citizen, who can no longer remain silent. I am 24 years old.

I am part of that elusive young voters block aged 18-29. Mostly we stay at home and play x box on elections. However, in 2008 we showed up and rocked the vote. And we can do it again. Tonight I urge my generation to reclaim the Yes We Can Attitude of 2008. This, just like 2008 is a time for hope.  It is also a time to reflect of where our hope four years ago has brought us to today:

Yes we can promised Barack in 2008. Yes he did, saving the auto industry in 2009.

Yes we can promised Barack in 2008. Yes he did, repealing the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in 2010.

Yes we can promised Barack in 2008. Yes he did in 2010 passing the landmark Affordable Care Act, guaranteeing the basic human right of healthcare for nearly every citizen of the United States of America.

Yes we can promised Barack in 2008. Yes he did in 2011 ending the war in Iraq.

I recently returned from the Peace Corps where I worked as a youth development volunteer. I worked with teenagers in several preventative health programs. If there are two things Peace Corps taught me it is that: change only comes one day at a time through incredibly hard work, and the world is a lot more complicated than it appears. No one embodies this hard working, nuanced thinking spirit better than Barack Obama. I support Barack Obama because he knows how to get things done – how to create real opportunities for real people so they can achieve their dreams.

I am so proud for all he has worked to accomplish in his first four years. Our country is so much better off than it was a mere 4 years ago. When he entered office our economy was shedding 800,000 jobs a month and we were too many years stuck in two wars. Four years later and we’re way on the other side of a potential second great depression, recently hitting over 30 straight months of job growth. Four years later and we’re heading into a more peaceful future where realism, compromise and compassion, not militarism, form our foreign policy. 

Yes we can again in 2012. And yes we will, yes we will work hard, yes we will create opportunities, yes we will make progress together, every single day of 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and beyond. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Thought of Coming Home...

Before I left, Freddy Newburger a US Veteran of World War Two I interviewed told me that ¨2 years isn´t an afternoon.¨ He was right.

In two years a LOT has changed. Matthew bécame a doctor, Katherine and Duffy got engaged, married and Matthew and Jessica got engaged. Mom and dad celebrated 30 years together. When I arrived Antonela was 1 and now she´s 4, when I came she stared and said a few words, she now talks, argues, plays, dances marinera and takes clases in Italian! Buon Giorno!

On the world stage much has changed and stayed the same. Americans will have a more secure health care plan but continually struggle against an Economic depression that won´t budge. The Middle East celebrated the Arab Spring at the same time Syria continues to shed its blood. Peru elected a new reformer president but continues  to  struggle against an international mining crisis as old as the conquistadores themselves.

But here I still am, with my feet on the ground, one more time in Yanacoto. Many times before, during and after your service you may be questioned (and you´re often the one asking it), what have you done?
But if there´s one thing you learn especially, it´s that real change takes time. One step at a time, most things stay the same but if you stay determined  you can actually move the marker even just a bit. Oh yeah and you can´t even get that far without great friends.

2 years 2 months later and I´m ready to get on another flight. Same as last time, I´m anxious and unsure about what is to come, but a little more confident in myself, and ready to take that next step. But for now I´ll leave with the words that I saw in action every day for the past two years and two months:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

Thanks for reading for the two years, and now I´m ready to share and hear your stories in person.

With deep gratitude and love for all those have supported me during these two years,

Un Abrazo,


John William Meyer 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

JUMP Health Promoters

After two years you start wondering, what it is that you have done? Where did the two years go?

I posted this video because this is where our time went: the kids - working week in, week out together as JUMP (Youth United and Motivated for Progress) Health Promoters.

We first trained them, and then as promoters, together we painted murals, gave workshops to peers on hygiene, nutrition, sexual health, alcoholism, held health campaigns, promoted vegetable consumption, put on theater presentations, road hundreds of combis, ate refrigerios, frustrated each other and laughed. From March 2011 we have met almost every single Saturday at 10 a.m. in either Jangas or Marcará.

To celebrate our service together we all took the kids to the Playa de Tortugas (the same ol' trustworth Ancash Beach!). The kids got to be kids, and we got to be kids too. We visited the beach, for a few of the teenagers, their first time in the Pacific and ate ceviche together (thank you George W. Bush - Matthew you should get this reference).

At the hostal, Kyle, Johanna and I cooked pasta and red sauce and then as a treat chocolate fondue! We then played a spirited game of UNO (we're still friends...) and the next day held a sexual health campaign in the Casma Plaza.

Fortunately, the relationships will not end when Kyle and I leave Ancash in August. Peace Corps has gone new age. Dad's community kids banged on his door, my Jangasino friends still do this (occasionally at 6 a.m...) but nowadays the kids hit me up as soon as I get on facebook, bombarding me w/ chats, uploaded images, friend requests and the rest of the 21st century friendship jargon.

I pretend to be annoyed by it, but I'm really happy and always love to chat for a few minutes. The kids plan to keep the group going by themselves and in coordination with outstanding Lima host family sister PCV Ali Foley and our mentors Liz and Miguel.  Together these young adults will make a big difference in their communities and in their country.

 I can't imagine a better use of two years.

                                   ¡After a year+ of hard work together - celebrating at the Playa!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vegetable Fest 2012

                                    Blanca and one of the Participants

Now I could write this blog entry myself, but after two years we get a lot better at delegating responsibilities and running projects, therefore, we actually got some local press to write-up our recent Vegetable Festival, so I'm gonna phone this one in.

I'm not going to lie, the idea for the Veggie Fest probably sprung from my teenage obsession with Iron-Chef and my attendance of countless Shelburne Farm's Harvest Festivals. The basic idea was to have a cooking competition that centered around vegetables. Despite its rich soil and ability to grow most things green, most plates in Ancash involve three main ingredients: potatoes, potatoes, and potatoes (and sometimes rice!). Sadly, despite the rich climate, children still suffer from malnutrition which damages their performance at school, jeopardizing their entire future.

We presented the green cooking competition to our financiers (the local Gold Mine Barrick) and they ate it up (no pun intended). The plan for the cooking competition was executed with PCV Kyle Blair (there hasn't been a single project we've done here that hasn't involved Kyle's invaluable support in one way or another) and my great counterpart Blanca Flores at the Jangas Municipality and the Barrick Gold Mine. Remember, vegetables are apolitical. I think I've said enough, and I'll let the Huaraz newspaper take it from here: those who read Spanish can save themselves my translation:

                            One of the contestants with Ancash Lettuce
Successful Vegetable Festival in Jangas

The festival promoted the consumption of vegetables to fight malnutrition and improve quality of life.

The Jangas Vegetable Fest successfully promoted healthy eating habits and incentivized concrete actions to fight malnutrition. The event was organized by Peace Corps Volunteers (Kyle and I), an organization funded by the US government, and counted with the financial support of the Barrick Mine and the Jangas Municipality.

The festival aroused the attention and the participation of the Jangas town. The festival had different activities like the “healthy food” competition where women from several mother's clubs from Jangas participated. The winners received cooking materials, utensils and vegetable seeds as prizes.

Among the competing plates were a vegetable tortilla and salad, squash stew and tortilla, fried beans with a squash dessert, guinea pig stuffed with vegetables, guinea pig pachamanca and a green salad, vegetable pie, potato stuffed with vegetables, wheat stew with vegetables, pizza with vegetables, wheat and beat juice, sweet carrots, coca ice cream, among others.

Américo Alva Montes, Mayor of Jangas, highlighted the importance of the festival because “it allows us to promote the consumption of vegetables and healthy food” in a time where “people consume too much fried food which damages their health.” For his part, Jhon Williams (original spelling included) representative of Peace Corps, the institution that organized the event, mentioned that malnutrition links closely with poverty and effects children and young people, and that with this festival, Jangas, in many respects, had converted into the world's vegetable headquarters.

The first Vegetable Festival Jangas 2012 evidenced the interest of the local authorities in promoting education and health, showing their vision to create development initiatives with their strategic allies, Peace Corps, the Barrick Mine and other institutions from the region.

                                    Kyle, the JUMP Health Promoters and I

Next time I promise I'll do the writing.

Still in Jangas, yours truly, oh and eat your vegetables!

Jhon Williams

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If you don't succeed at first...


This is really more of a photo blog. But a few words to my faithful public (friends and family).

If I've learned one thing in Peace Corps it's to keep going. Your document hasn't gotten accepted yet? Go check in with the secretary. They wanna change the date again? Ok, what date works better? I'll be there, will you? Kids don't show up? Bring a book (currently Gulag - thanks Matthew!). People don't wanna work with you? Find other people.

Peace Corps is not for those with fear of commitment. Here I've been here well over 23 months and there's still 2 left! It's like the two minute drill – still a very important part of the game. We've gotta wrap up our projects – try to get a tomato or two to grow from an organic garden, try to get the health promoters to understand they can meet themselves every saturday, get the kids in Sueña to see how great of a team they make with or without us, and of course find myself a job...

Sustainability doesn't happen over night and in some cases it may not even happen after two years. It does however requires a daily effort, even if on some of those days all you do is get out of bed, read a few pages in the plaza and battle a Peruvian bug inside your stomach. Like Matthew said, some days you're going to make/eat three meals (or in my case 110 potatoes) in a day, and that's going to be a success.

This was wisdom Matthew had after two years, and I think I now know what he meant: Keep going, and maybe you'll leave behind something you're proud of. On that note, I give you the latest World, Perú, and Ancash Maps in the Jangas Municipal Library. Don't worry, this time, it's inside, you don't make that mistake twice :).


"Reading opens up the doors to the world that you dare to imagine"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sierra2Costa: 55 Kids, Parents and Ancash Volunteers Head to the Beach

It all started, and I know I've said this before—with a casual conversation.

Beth and I were talking in Chavin about what type of field trip we wanted to take the DREAM kids on... Ideas were tossed around—glacial lakes, archaeological ruins, etc. Nothing was that inspiring—our group's name is Sueña (DREAM)—and would any of these trips help kids dream bigger? All right—archaeological ruins are cool and all but do you stay up at night thinking about them?

Glacial Lakes are neat but common here in Ancash.

No, we needed a trip that would lengthen the horizon, push people's limits. Beth said it, and as soon as the words were out, the decision was made. The Beach.

Ancash has its very own beach: “La Playa de Tortugas”--Beach of the Turtles—oddly enough there are no turtles there I know of, just a statue of one. So the idea was hatched (just like a turtle)--we were going to take 20+ kids and their families to the Playa Tortugas.

If I've learned one thing in Peace Corps (and in my Peace Corps Reading)--a great idea needs even better execution. The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to complete. Colin Diver hit the wall working for Mayor Kevin White trying to implement too many progressive ideas (this is a reference only Duffy will probably get). Anyway—we had the great idea, we just needed the execution now.

Luckily, a year and eight months in, we have great friends. Liz and Miguel are our two Huaraz DREAM Mentors, and their committment to the program is nothing short of impressive. As soon as they heard about the trip, they were pumped and ready to attack the details—permission slips, bus rentals, food prep, meetings etc.

Beth and I started putting the financial resources together—our Kids2Kids Grant (thank you the wonderful sponsors back in the US!), Money from our “Taste of Huaraz” fundraiser we did last July, and volunteer donations to put us over the finish line.

Together, we haggled prices, wrote the oft-hated document the solicitude for free entrance to a museum on the way to the beach, held meeting after meeting with parents, reminded people they had to wake up at 4:30 a.m to leave, coordinated combis, readied lunches, and then let the dice fall as they may.

We started the day heading to Chavin at 4 a.m to go pick everyone up. EVERYONE (about 45 parents and kids) was perfectly on time, ready to go.

We got on the combis and headed down in the dark. Arriving at the bottom of the hill, one of the kids, full of excitement asked, “Is this the Beach?” Along with the parents, I laughed about this beautiful question.

We picked up our tour buses and the rest of the Peace Corps Volunteers at about 6:00 and the journey began. The trip from Sierra to Coast is a beautiful one where you get to see the Cordillera Blanca mountain range (see above). I sat next to my best friend Emily an 8 year old, told her that no, Huaraz wasn't the final destination :), and woke up when she poked me to tell me “quiero vomitar”-- “I want to throw up.” I've never gotten a bag quicker in my life. Fortunately no one got too sick and we made it down to the coast in a few hours.

We breakfasted in Pariacoto—and then headed to the Sechín ruins—I know I ripped on them earlier, but archaeological sites are awesome-especially when you're heading to a beach after. On the trip between the ruins to the beach I was asked the spanish equivalent of “are we there yet?” “¿ya llegamos?” fifty-eight thousand times. I answered happily each and every time “almost! :).” I'm not sure who was more excited, the kids, the parents, or myself. For many of the parents, this was their first time going to the beach, and their excitement was equally palpable.

One kid the whole way down, kept exclaiming “mango, WOW, mango” whenever he saw a fruit tree. The change of landscape was exciting—and the trip had just begun.

We got to the beach and the kids immediately rushed to the water, everyone dipping their toes or getting surprised by a wave doing that for them. Smiles came on, and people started ditching their warm-weather clothes to get a taste of the salt water. Our knees only safety rule was followed for the most part.

Hugo and Alex, two ten year olds stayed in the water for about 4 hours each. At the end of the day, the ever confident Hugo thanked me, saying, “Now I can swim, thanks for teaching me earlier.” I honestly didn't know I was that effective of a swim instructor haha. Everyone packed lunches—rice and chicken, guinea pig and potatoes—and I was lucky enough to be invited to some—that was a first for me—eatin guinea pig on the Pacific Ocean :). Kyle and I escaped for a plate of ceviche as well—even my stomach was excited to be at the beach and digested ceviche on top of guinea pig.

At the end of the day we gave out t-shirts and prizes to each member of team Sueña and thanked the parents for the support that made this trip, and this group possible.

I've never seen these kids so happy. Most of them had never swam before and thoroughly enjoyed their first experience. I hope the trip showed them that when you participate in something positive—when you learn about health, educate yourself, and unite together as friends (the nouns and adjectives that make up the word SUEÑA) –your horizons get bigger. I hope they learn that when you participate, things happen—as dad always says “you never know what will happen when you leave the house.”

We didn't meet a single Peace Corps Goal yesterday. There aren't any numbers to put on our tri-annual report for Congress. We didn't train anyone to do anything. We didn't capacitate anyone in nutrition, sexual health or hygiene. We didn't give a charla. We didn't teach a lesson. We didn't form leaders. We shared. We formed circles, holding hands, jumping up and down in the waves. We threw the bigger kids into the waves, we held the littler ones on our shoulders. We had fun, we ate, we smiled, joked, celebrated the kids' achivements. In short, we had a beach day, together. Just a casual day, that we'll never forget.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Skype Date With Cultural Understanding

Peace Corps has gone 21st century. While dad talked to his family once in two years on a coconut phone, things here are just plain technological. I'm coming to you live for chrissake. To my five readers in Russia—you're reading this tomorrow morning! Congratulations.

The Claro USB allows me to have fast, real world internet. No more playing three games of free cell while I wait for my attatchment to download.

I told everyone I purchased this USB stick for my “job search”--classic. So far my job search involves 20 months of back-logged time on facebook, g-mail and catching up with friends, or as our generation calls it: “networking.” Anyway—I'm on Linked In, I'm getting back into the swing of things, one step/procrastination at a time.

Anyway—this internet thing is not necessarily all vice. Today we connected the 6000 kilometers from Burlington, VT to Jangas, Perú. With my old DREAM friend Evan, we connected a class from Jangas, Perú to a class at the Lawrence Barnes school in Burlington.

For about thirty minutes, the kids stared at each other, asked each other questions about their free time, cheered when the learned they both loved video games, made farting noises, tried each others' languages, smiled at one another and generally had a rambunctiously good time.

After the skype call, Johanna and I talked about where these new friends came from—how not everyone from a “gringo” country is necessarily gringo, and how not everyone from a “rich” country is necessarily rich. The Jangas kids—the last students standing in 2012's Vacaciones Utiles are some of the most dedicated students I have met in my year and a half here. I'm glad we could reward their hard effort this summer with this skype call, and I think they enjoyed it a lot.

Knowing that your friends 6000 kilometers like playing video games just might be the first step to seeing that we're not all so different after all, and it just might spark a desire to learn, to travel and to meet.