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My Time in Peru

A narrative account of Kelsey Provo's externship in South America

Second-year law student Kelsey Provo, with the guidance of Oregon Law Associate Professor Michelle McKinley, spent her summer in an international human rights placement with Peru’s Nexos Voluntarios, an organization that promotes social development through volunteer activity. Kelsey worked tirelessly to develop a plan that would improve upon the Cusco region’s current waste disposal practices and improve its sustainability. Below, she describes the personal and professional growth that occurred during her summer experience.

While it is difficult to put into words the life-changing experiences I encountered during my time working with Nexos Voluntarios in Peru this summer, I have done my best to fully illustrate both the challenging moments and rewarding moments of this practical learning experience. For two months, I worked for La Institucion del Manejo de Agua y el Medio Ambiente (IMA), an environmental organization from the regional government of Cusco. IMA educates communities living in the Cusco region, specifically Urubamba and surrounding towns, about waste disposal and the separation of organic and inorganic waste. To make the Cusco region more sustainable, IMA has made large efforts in educating schools and market communities about the benefits of separating trash, recycling, and composting. 

My work with IMA involved presentations on sustainability as well as speaking with community members and students about their opinions on the current waste collection system. I researched waste disposal in surrounding Peruvian cities and U.S. cities. With this research, I wrote a report for IMA and the Municipio highlighting Urubamba’s current waste disposal status.

My typical day included traveling by bus to rural farming communities, visiting schools, and speaking to market members. I taught market owners the benefits of composting trash and I spoke with school directors about their students’ environmental projects. I also helped distribute colored bins to aid students in recycling and separating trash. I felt my work was making an impact when I saw the pride students and teachers took in their environmental projects and sustainable practices.

After working in the field, I spent a lot of time researching and writing my report. By the end of my trip, I completed a ten-page report for the IMA and gave it to the Municipio. The finished project included Urubamba’s current waste disposal practices and ways to improve its sustainability. It included examples of cities with sustainable practices and a how-to compost guide to be distributed to communities. I hope the Municipio and the IMA will use my report to improve the current system.

Although my work with IMA was helping the community, I faced some frustrating challenges during my experience with the organization. First, was the Peruvian perception of time. In Peru, time is less of a priority than time in the United States. During the week, I planned to meet my supervisors at the office at 8 a.m. Frequently, they were not on time and I would spend two hours waiting for them to arrive. After a couple weeks, I adapted to and even embraced Peru’s relaxed environment.

The biggest challenge I faced was the disorganization within Peru’s government. The Municipio was in charge of regulating and enforcing laws and providing all the social services in the Cusco region. The Municipio also organized the city’s waste collection. Since IMA was also a government organization, I assumed it cooperated with the Municipio. Unfortunately, while IMA supported separating trash, the Municipio had no system to keep the trash separated.

Despite this issue, IMA told community members that individuals should continue separating their trash to create healthy habits even though the Municipio did not separate it. The people got frustrated and questioned the importance of separating trash if the Municipio mixed it together anyway. IMA and the Municipio never attempted to address this problem. In my report, I emphasized that if the two organizations worked together, a solution could be reached.

My experiences with Nexos Voluntarios and IMA will deeply influence me as I finish my law degree and begin my legal career. Working with Spanish-speaking people improved my language skills immensely. I also learned about the roles and challenges of a non-governmental organization (NGO). At Nexos, some volunteers complained about the organization and fund allocation. As a volunteer myself, I experienced this frustration first hand and I observed how Nexos handled everything. These experiences have led me to consider pursuing a career with a NGO.

Currently, I am most interested in international human rights. Spending two months in a developing country and working with less privileged citizens gave me a better understanding of “human rights.” Many Peruvians work hard for their families and regularly experience discrimination based on race, social class, and gender. Women are commonly abused, children work to help support their families, and the indigenous Andean population experience racial and economic discrimination. This experience gave me a new perspective on life and development outside the U.S.

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