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A letter from YAV Joe Tobiason in Peru

February 22, 2010

Thirty hours of travel on two taxis, one plane, one van, and one “collectivo” was what it took for us to get from Lima, Peru, to the 3rd International Congress on Water and the Environment, and that was because we didn’t have any travel issues. I was blessed to be one of those people who can just “check out” and sleep in any moving vehicle, and I felt sorry for others who don’t have that super power when we sat down for the opening meeting for this four day conference. Why was I here? I am not Peruvian, but I am with the Peruvian delegation. I work with organizations that deal in environmental issues, but I am still just getting my feet wet. There are lots of kids here who have real-life experiences — seeing, drinking, and living with the effects of a maltreated Pachamama (Quechua for “mother earth”), while I come from a world where I can just open the tap for a drink.

This congress is part of an ongoing relationship between the Red Uniendo Manos Perú (Joining Hands Against Poverty Network in Peru) and the Network UMA VIDA in Bolivia. It is a way for the youth of both countries to come together to find their commonalities, share their experiences, and motivate each other to achieve a world that better cares for all. This year, members from the Mennonite Central Committee and representatives from the San Francisco and Cascades Presbyteries also attended the congress.

During the four-day conference, we listened to 16 presentations on topics ranging from water as a human right to the problems in La Oroya, Peru, to contaminated water due to closed mines in southern Bolivia, to garbage clean up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We held a fair in downtown Sucre for the general public to interact with the different projects represented. We had a night of cultural dances and celebration (we as the Peruvian delegation performed traditional Wylash dances from the Andes region).

But after all that, I couldn’t help but to keep on asking, “Why am I here?” I had new friends and was able to reconnect with some friends from my days at Whitworth University who were there representing other groups. I had learned a lot, but for what?

For me, the purpose of the event came out in our last morning there. We worked our way through four grueling hours of discussion to come up with a plan, a name, and a desire to move forward and maintain community throughout the year. The presiding team realized that there had been next to no continuity between the preceding two congresses and this one. Each year everyone showed up and shared what they had done and that was it. Knowledge is great, but only when it actually leads to something that it means anything. So, we created the “Acción Juvinil en la Defensa del Medio Ambiente” (Youth in Action in Defense of the Environment) which consists of representatives of all countries who are dedicated to maintaining contact with the others. Of this, I am proudly one of the country coordinators, and I am excited to go back to my life in Lima and maintain these relationships. I look forward to hearing and seeing how I can be involved in the other projects in the region and to pass this position on to the YAV who takes my position so that next year, when Peru hosts the 4th International Congress, we’ll be a little more on top of what is going on in this part of the world.

Joe Tobiason

Joe is a YAV who lives in Lima, Peru. He lives with a family where the dad is the director of a Peruvian NGO, the mom is a fantastic cook, and his two host sisters are 12 and 15. He works in the offices of the Red Uniendo Manos Perú doing communications (facebook, newsletter in english and spanish, and a podcast) and for another NGO, CENCA, working in their team of Ecological Santitation, planning a international conference in Lima in November.

Email Joe


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