I have been volunteering for the Runa Foundation here in Villa Carmen, focusing on community development and sustainable agriculture. Villa Carmen is a biological reserve that borders Manu National Park (possibly the most biodiverse region on the planet), and shares many of the same features. Since Villa Carmen is surrounded by what seems like an infinite amount of biological species, it attracts a very interesting set of people. The people that come to visit Villa Carmen are seldom tourists; almost all of them have come to research the biodiversity of the region. That being said, the sorts of people that I have been meeting are mostly professors and researchers of amphibian/primate ecology, biology, ethnobotany, indigenous anthropology, and other respectable professions. The kind of crowd that makes for very interesting dinner conversations. I came here to get hands on experience of permaculture and sustainable agriculture techniques and practices, but little did I know I would be interacting with some of the most informed professionals of their fields.
My first month here involved getting to know the trochas (trails) of Villa Carmen. By now I have done all of the trails, going on some all day 15 hour hikes. The trails range from about .5 kilometers to 8 kilometers. Doing a combination of a few trails leads to a very long hike where you can walk up to about 1000 meters higher than the station and find a totally different kind of jungle. Going on hikes with some of the researchers visiting here is always a plus, getting to experience the jungle with such passionate and knowledgeable enthusiasts is like getting a month’s worth of a Master’s Level course all in one day.
One of my favorite projects I worked on was translating for two Columbia University MBA students that came to supply a few of the native communities with solar powered lamps. Most of these communities have inconsistent sources of energy, and resort to having to pay for expensive batteries with short battery life. These solar powered lamps gave the communities the opportunity to practice a more sustainable method of using electricity, and when they find themselves with a power outage they could use these lamps instead of flashlights or kerosene lamps. The students and one of the anthropologists working for ACCA will be keeping in touch with the local communities to hear about the feedback of the usefulness and quality of the MPOWERD Luci Lamps©.
My last few weeks in Villa Carmen I have been working on an Artisanal Catalog for the nearby indigenous community, Huacaria. They have an artisanal cooperative and will be attending a fair in Lima where they will be showcasing their products. The catalog I have been working on focuses more on the context and history of where the products are being made, rather than just the products themselves. It gives insights to consumers about where the products are coming from and who the women are that are making them.
Other than that a few of the other volunteers and I organized an Amazing Race for the other volunteers and workers here in Villa Carmen and that was a blast. I’ve also been helping make trails here and learning about bench cuts getting rid of off-camber inclines on the trails. Throughout my time in Villa Carmen I have made long-time friends with extremely interesting people, and worked on awesome projects. It was one of the best decisions of my life to volunteer for Fundacion Runa at Villa Carmen, and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of traveling and getting an amazing learning experience!