Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Cultural Co-op

A Cultural Co-op 

The "Last Supper" made by members of Ichimay Wari

The "Ezimngo Fellow Supper" made by members of Ichimay Wari

Learning to fly in Peru has a way of working up quite the appetite.  We hike up and soar down the sand dunes on Para-gliders.  We each cheer loudly as the Fellow’s feet lift off the ground and they take flight. Para-gliding is an eco-friendly way of seeing Peru. If you feel like flying in Peru,  flyadventure Peru offers safe, fun, and affordable eco-friendly tours.

Luckily for us, a special Peruvian meal, Pachamanca, cooks underground while we soar through the air. Our host removes layers of cloth, and hot rocks, from a hole in the earth. As the rocks are removed, chicken, pork, beef, corn, peas, and two types of potatoes are uncovered. Peruivians are well-known for cultivating over 4,000 types of potatoes. The food cooked in the ground for hours and now a wonderful aroma fills the air, signaling the completion of the cooking process.  We feast on Pachamanca and reminisce about how this cultural cuisine has passed generation to generation and is now arousing our taste buds, filling our bellies, and satisfying our hunger.The meal is only our first taste of culture during the day.

Our hosts are also a part of a cultural cooperative (society of artisans) that emphasize preserving traditional arts and crafts. The group is as known as Ichimay Wari, after the native god of the Lurin Valley. By hand, they craft, paint, and bring to the market a variety of ceramic figurines. Many of the figurines are heavily influenced by Catholic religion given Peru was colonized by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro in 1533. Among the line up are Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the Last Supper scene, the nativity set, and a slew of angels playing various instruments. Other figures include children circling the world, women with children, and small to medium sized boxes with campesinos playing instruments in them. The artists fire the figurines in special ovens, carefully paint them, and let them dry.  Members of the co-op have workshops and points-of-sale at various locations, however, they band together as a community-based co-operative and reach the market with more power than they would be able to as individuals.  

Our host for the day, kindly allows the Fellows to try their hand at creating a figurine from the clay and hand-crafted mold. In trying to create a small girl holding a drum, a deep appreciation is gained from realizing just how much detail is needed to obtain the smooth curves of the flawless pieces that are on display. We thank our hosts for the authentic experience and part with a customary kiss on the cheek.

To learn more about Ichimay Wari, visit: or find them on Facebook!

Audriana Stark
NexGen Fellow
Peru, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

What Does it Mean to Thrive?


Weekends are great creations.

This one happened to be quite the exceptional one. Saturday started off with a workshop at work on the Theory of Change and how it applies to one of the Lonely Road's objectives of fostering thriving communities. It was the perfect Tori-style workshop, complete with sticky notes, huge sheets of white paper tacked up to the walls, and popcorn-style input from everyone present. It was a great glimpse into the deeper workings of the Lonely Road, but the word thriving has really stayed with me.

A big part of the workshop from my perspective was to really look at that word, thriving. Of the six words that make up the three Lonely Road objectives - Happy children, Thriving communities, and Effective development - three of those words have very unique properties, they are open to interpretation. 

So what does it mean to thrive? 

And how is thriving different from functioning? The Webster definition of thrive is "to grow or develop successfully: to flourish or succeed." And the consequent Webster definition of flourish is, "to grow well: to be healthy." When I picture the word thriving I picture a mermaid. The picture in my head is saturated with deep blues and greens, the mermaid girl is healthy with long, strong hair, full features, she is physically agile. Her surroundings are covered in fertile sea-greens, the sun is shining down through the water in patterned ribbons, and there are scores of rainbow hued fish all around her. The point is, thriving evokes a sense of surrounding as well. Both the subject and their background are flourishing, strong, and there is a sense of its organic nature. The scene seems like it was meant to be. 

So what does a thriving community look like? (A) There isn't one answer to the question. (B) There isn't an easy question to the answer. (C) We still tried to work up to one. What the focus group came up with was a popcorn of different adjectives and descriptive phrases. A few of my favorites were love, play, access to opportunity, freedom of choice, and social cohesion. 

We ended the session happily, knowing we were nowhere close to painting the perfect picture of a thriving community (nor should we be), and fully acknowledging the fact that not a single member from the community was present during the discussion. The session was, however, valuable in that it made the team really think. It made us think about what we are working towards. It made us think about why we are working towards it, and it made us acutely aware of our limitations, in the best way possible. 

Now, what does it mean for me to thrive?


Saturday, July 4, 2015


“It requires trust in yourself and trust in others”- Alex, Arena y Estrella

The road turns to dirt as we bump along in the van. Our driver is a pleasant man, a smile always on his face. The homes are stacked, level upon level. Clothes and towels  strung along lines as they dry in the warm air. We have left the tall buildings, glamorous shops, and paved roads of Mira Flores to experience  Peru- from the margins.

The building is covered in color, painted on both the outside and inside with pictures that look as though they come straight from children’s books. It contrasts much of the browns and red shades of the roads and buildings. We are visiting Arena Y Esteras. The group is based in a community center started in the 90’s in order to have a place where people could escape from the violent terrorism sweeping the country.

The space also serves as a daycare, Cuna Arenitas, to enable mothers to work during the day and provide the children in the community a safe and stimulating environment.  There is a small library in the entrance with places to sit and read. Venturing farther into the building, we enter a wide-open space with long colorful drapes. A man sits on the bleachers picking his guitar. The music echoes in the large space and fills it with its sweet sounds. We continue to explore the building, each hall revealing new paintings- a boy in a scarf surrounded by stars, a girl playing an instrument that has birds flying out into the air, and calligraphy. We enter a room filled with masks and props. Then, a room filled with guitars, and boxes used as drums, and flutes. At the top of the building is a room with two large tables and a window into the kitchen area. A wonderful aroma fills the air.

We walk three flights of stairs back into the main room. This time four boys all dressed in brown trousers and vests with patches on them are waiting with instruments in hand. As we take our seats in the bleachers, one of the guys begins to fill the air with the sounds of a flute. I imagine birds flying from the flute, just as in the painting on the wall. A guitar and ukulele join in. A drum beats steady along with the other instruments.  Girls in brightly colored green dresses dash out from behind a curtain and dance to the rhythm of the music. Two of the boys set down their instruments and begin to balance on each other, making a variety of shapes with their poses. They are strong, balanced, and confident. When they return to their instruments, another guy takes lets down a drape and starts to climb, higher and higher, wrapping himself in the drapes as he goes. He lets go, twisting and turning  rapidly until he is near the ground. He rejoins the group and continues to play his instrument. The group is committed to preserving their arts and culture through music and dance. They learned their crafts and now teach others, both children and adults alike.  The space provides the room to do so.

The group breaks up and brings out cajons (box drums) and zancos (stilts) for us to play with. A mummer from the group breaks out. “I don’t have rhythm, I can’t play the drums”. “I am afraid of heights, I can’t walk on stilts”. The small voice in my head warns me against trying to do something that I am inexperienced at, something new and unfamiliar, something that I might fail, and something that may even result in physical injury.  But “can’t” and “no thanks” were not acceptable answers. One by one, we started drumming to the rhythm. One by one, we went up, up, up toward the ceiling on stilts.  One by one, we conquer our fears and rise to new heights with the sound of beating drums echoing through the building.

We sit in a circle and reflect on the joys, the triumphs, and the sensations of awakening the inner child. We reflect about the trust it takes in ourselves and in others to do the unthinkable, to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, to take a chance, and in some cases to fall down, get back up, and try again.

While this reflection was triggered by a particular experience, the lessons apply to business, education, and life in general.

For more information about Arena Y Esteras visit their webpage or "Like" them on Facebook.

Audriana Stark
Emzingo NexGEN Fellow
Peru, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015



It was like a scene from a movie.

After crawling up a rickety ladder up the side of the left tower, I creeped into a dark doorway leading inside of the repurposed cooling tower. I turned around as my friend crawled in after me, then slid across a catwalk grinning ear to ear.

We were about to free fall.

After being hoisted up to the top of the inside of the tower in a cherry red steel cage, they lowered me slowly down through the open floor of the metal box by one single cable. The operator smiled, and completely disconnected the cord. You just fall.

It feels like forever. All you can do is look up at the circle of bright blue sky above you getting smaller and smaller, screaming, wondering if the net will ever come.

It does.

I giggled for a solid minute, feeling like the main character from the first Divergent movie when she falls into the giant, unseen net. The best part was, I still had the bungee jump from between the towers to look forward to.

As the last one to jump from my group, there was no one left to cheer me on. No one left to say, "Tori, you can do this." But bungee jumping had been on my bucket list since around the age of 14, and it was about to happen, no turning back. By now, it had been a solid hour and a half since the free fall, and all my adrenaline was gone. As I stepped up to the ledge, I took a deep breath, and leaped towards the horizon on sheer will.

The first few seconds are the scariest. Then understanding comes back and you just kinda hangout in the air. By the time you start bouncing around you are completely calm and just soaking it all in. I did it, and it was awesome. 

I think a lot of times, at least for me, we don't trust the outcome when presented with a jump or a fall. We can't put our full faith in the net underneath us or the cord attached to our ankles. All that we can focus on is the fear we'll feel right after we begin plummeting though the air.

Today marks one week in South Africa, and already I know I will not come home unchanged. I want not to focus so much on jumping, or falling, but how I can be a net, a bungee cord. I've seen incredible people in the last week with incredible heart and incredible desires to jump. It's not my job to come in and tell others how to jump, or even why. They know. I want to be an asset, a net, a way to empower others. That's a lot of what we talked about this week - focusing development work (1) around people, not their issues, and (2) on what communities have, not what they need.

A successful bungee jumper already has the desire to be thrilled, they already have what it takes. All the facilitators have to do is focus on empowering and coming along side the jumper. 




I don't feel like I have anything to write about. 

We have done so incredibly much in the past two weeks, I'm a bit stumped as to why I'm at a loss for words. I've gone back to Dikgale, I've gone on a trek through the South African hills, I've developed and pitched a project plan to the Lonely Road Team from the ground up, I've learned how to snowboard, I've driven on the left side of the road, I've learned an incredible amount about South African institutions, and I've taken a lot of time for reflection. 

And yet I still can't think of a theme for this post. 

It's crazy to think about how your brain can seemingly fill up. Almost like if it were a bathtub that is constantly being filled to the point of spilling over. I feel like that. It's overwhelming and kinda hard to sort out. It is hard to decide whether to focus on turning off the tap, or opening the drain. 

However, at the same time, I am full with joy. I am headed back to Dikgale tomorrow for my third visit, this time to pilot a consignment system for the Lonely Road to facilitate the sale of second hand clothing by women in the Dikgale community. Despite experience with the model firsthand, as well as a decent load of research that I have done to prepare, I'm a little nervous. I don't think I expected an "okay" from the Lonely Road's founder when I pitched the pilot run to him this morning. The cool part though, is that my excitement, as well as the excitement coming from Dikgale, is overpowering the nerves.

Of the Lonely Road's 16 drop in centers in Dikgale, two of them will be participating in my pilot. We will give them a set amount of inventory of donated second hand clothing on consignment for three weeks. At the end, we'll come back and collect R10/item (roughly 1USD) as payment, and the women will keep the profits for their centres so that they can buy food and other supplies necessary for the centre to provide care to kids. 

It has been an incredible experience to be able to tie the work I did last summer with the Social Entrepreneur Corps in Ecuador to my work this summer with Emzingo and the Lonely Road in South Africa. There are beautiful similarities between the rural communities in each country, and being able to see the efficacy of the tools I learned working with the MicroConsignment Model last summer got me really excited. 

As the halfway point of this trip approaches, I'm proud to say I want to work in the development space long-term. Last summer was an awesome taste, and after this first month in SA, I have an incredible peace that this is where my heart is. 

More updates on the impacts of the consignment system to come!


No Big Thing


I have the coolest internship in the world.

Before writing this blog, I went through my photos from the past two weeks, searching for that perfect picture I could write about. A picture is worth a thousand words. I skipped through gorgeous panoramas of the ocean, hilarious photos of my group and I adventuring, and those random pictures you take just to send to your best friend. I passed over this one the first time, but after reaching the end of my camera roll, went right back to it. It’s my favorite one.

Two weeks ago, I had the express privilege of running a very informal training session with two groups of ladies from the Dikgale community in the Limpopo province. The picture you see above was taken from the session with the second group, at the Tsogang Drop In Centre. The lady to right of me in the picture is a gem. Maria is one of the sweetest people I’ve met in a long time, and man, does she have those centres on lockdown. Maria is the field coordinator for all sixteen of the Lonely Road network Drop In Centres - childhood development centres meant to focus on afterschool care for orphaned and vulnerable children. Maria was also the reason the sessions went so well. I don’t speak Sepedi well - okay I don’t speak Sepedi at all - so Maria was my partner in crime for the day, helping to explain the model to the women during the sessions, and joining in the group’s laughter when I spoke too quickly in my American accent or got caught smiling giddily.

The timing of the sessions was clutch. The day before we got to Dikgale, eight of the sixteen centres got word back from South Africa’s Department of Social Development (DSD) that they would not be receiving any further funding. It’s a huge blow, considering that the DSD is the primary source of funding for the food, electricity, gas, stipends, and all other operational costs for the centres. From an outside perspective, it might seem like the lack of funding would mean the end of these drop-in centres, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The ladies that care for the kids at their centres care. Arriving around 8am each morning, they prepare meals, water gardens, take care of countless toddlers, wipe noses, teach english, play games around the yard, change diapers, check on the mental well-being of each child, and so much more. For them, adding secure funds for the centre to their list of daily to-do’s is no big thing.

So two of the centres, Morarompa and Tsogang, decided they wanted to sell second hand clothing to raise money for the centres. Yesterday was the two-week check-up for the pilot run of this program. The ladies are killing it. Tsogang has already made around 1000 rand in profit (a little less than 100 USD), and Morarompa isn’t far behind. We have a week left in the pilot run, and I am already looking forward to heading back to Dikgale next week to do the final inventory and revenue counts with the caretakers.

I think that it has been a learning experience for us all. I know that I have learned and grown and changed over the course of the past six weeks. One of the greatest takeaways has been the power of greeting others openly with a smile and a laugh. I’m trying to work through the fact that in a week, my time in Dikgale is over. The best solace I can find is,

I will come back.