Sunday, July 18, 2010

camera drive for AIDESEP

I am excited to announce a digital photo/video camera drive for AIDESEP, the umbrella organization for indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon.


This camera drive was first envisioned while conversing with Daysi Zapata, who has recently re-assumed the role of Vice-President of AIDESEP after the return of President Alberto Pizango from exile. Daysi had been invited to speak at a public event hosted by NYU's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, which is how we met. During her presentation, Daysi expressed the need to be able to counter the negativity toward indigenous peoples which she says is currently dominating the Peruvian media. She knows that AIDESEP and the indigenous peoples of Peru have many supporters around the world, and is eager to find ways to engage them in the present struggle over land rights.


Camera Drive
If you have a digital camera that you are no longer using--photo or video--please consider donating it to AIDESEP. You can also donate cords, batteries / chargers, and memory cards. You can either arrange to meet with one of the coordinators of this camera drive located in Brooklyn, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Philadelphia, or ship it directly to Brooklyn, NY. If interested, write to donate.cameras[at]gmail.com. The goal is to collect 20 functioning cameras by January 15, 2011.


AIDESEP will use the cameras for a variety of purposes and projects. They will be useful in documenting the current changes occurring in the Amazon. Cameras will help the organization show the rest of the world not only the challenges indigenous peoples are facing, but also aspects of their livelihood they would like to protect. AIDESEP leaders are planning to use photography and video to educate Peruvians as well as the international community about their ways of life and cultural practices, which will help foster understanding and respect. Cameras will also enable local peoples to produce coverage of events which will diversify the media and represent different perspectives on issues.


As explained on its website, AIDESEP represents about 350,000 indigenous peoples who live in 1,350 communities, among whom 16 languages are spoken. AIDESEP writes that "somos una organización moderna que defendemos nuestra propia identidad, reconociendo sus fortalezas y combatiendo sus debilidades. De esta manera buscamos consolidarnos democráticamente como sujetos activos del cambio y así ser un testimonio del cambio que queremos ver en el mundo." Translation: "we are a modern organization defending our own identities, recognizing our strengths and combating our weaknesses. In this manner we look to democratically consolidate ourselves as active subjects of change and be testimony of the change we want to see in the world."


Daysi explained how in the past, AIDESEP has nurtured diplomatic relationships with the Peruvian government, resolving political friction through conversation and compromise. Unfortunately, the Peruvian government has not pursued this course of action in the recent past. Peruvian President Alan García's vision of development for Peru includes opening up large amounts of the Peruvian Amazon to transnational mining, logging and drilling companies, but indigenous peoples living on the land disagree with this kind of development, arguing that not only will it endanger their ways of life but will irrevocably damage the Amazon. In her presentation, Daysi said that García did not consult indigenous peoples about recent laws that he has passed which allow him to sign away land in the Amazon. García claimed that these reforms were necessary in order to comply with the recently signed Free Trade Agreement between Peru and the US. In an effort to make their opinions known, the communities of the Peruvian Amazon decided to stage a series of rallies and peaceful protests in mid-2009. For about two months, thousands of people of all ages stood in the road, blocking traffic through the Amazon to make clear their opposition to García's decrees and the FTA. García ordered the road cleared by force, sending in the national police to disband all participants. The resulting clash near the town of Bagua produced multiple fatalities on both sides.


Daysi firmly expressed AIDESEP's disagreement with the use of violence to resolve this conflict over land rights. She also conveyed a strong sense of determination to defend the land and livelihood of the peoples of the Amazon. Photo and video cameras will help AIDESEP better fulfill their media and communications plans. Cameras will help the organization connect to the international community, create valuable material to educate lawmakers and the public, and monitor any threats to human rights.


There is a wide variety of information that has been written in English about the current situation in Peru, a lot of which is in response to the clash at Bagua. For those who speak/read Spanish, AIDESEP's website is a valuable resource.


Useful links:
--info about the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Peru by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Foreign Policy in Focus, The Office of the United States Trade Representative, Public Citizen, and The Sierra Club
--a letter to the Attorney General of Perú from Human Rights Watch
--Amnesty International's call for investigations into the Bagua incident, which includes a link to a report (in Spanish)
--BBC's article about the clash
--BBC's article about the return of Alberto Pizango, President of AIDESEP
--Global Voices' article commenting on a year since the incident


Also, Witness.org, an organization that promotes the use of video to raise awareness of human rights violations, published an article about AIDESEP and the use of digital media to help document what happened in Bagua and the struggles over land rights involving indigenous communities and the government. This informative article is a strong argument for increasing AIDESEP's access to digital media, showing how valuable more cameras could be for the organization. You can read it here, and learn more on the Witness website.


Here is a recording of Daysi Zapata speaking before the US Congress in April 2010, a couple of days before presenting at NYU.


Again, if you have a digital camera that you are no longer using--photo or video--please consider donating it to AIDESEP. You can also donate cords, batteries / chargers, and memory cards. You can either arrange to meet with one of the coordinators of this camera drive located in Brooklyn, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Philadelphia, or ship it directly to Brooklyn, NY. If interested, write to donate.cameras[at]gmail.com. The goal is to collect 20 functioning cameras by January 15, 2011.


Please forward this article to others who may be interested. Thanks.


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campaña de cámaras para AIDESEP

Estoy emocionada para anunciar una campaña de cámaras fotográficas y vídeos para AIDESEP, una gran organización que representa todos los pueblos indígenas de la selva Peruana.


Esta campaña de cámaras fue concebida durante una conversación con Daysi Zapata, quien recientemente retomó la posición de Vice-Presidenta de AIDESEP después de que el Presidente Alberto Pizango regresó de su exilio. Daysi y yo nos conocimos cuando fue invitada a presentar en un evento público por el Centro de los Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe (CLACS) de la Universidad de Nueva York (NYU). En su presentación, Daysi expresó la necesidad de cambiar la imagen negativa de los pueblos indígenas que está saturando la prensa Peruana. Ella sabe que AIDESEP y los pueblos indígenas tienen apoyo de la comunidad internacional, y está interesada en involucrar a esta comunidad en la lucha sobre los derechos territoriales.


Campaña de Cámaras
Si Ud. tiene una cámara digital que no está ocupando--de fotografía o de video--por favor dónala a AIDESEP. Ud. puede donar cuerdas, pilas / cargadores, y tarjetas de memoria también. Personsas tambien pueden coordinar con una coordinadora de la campaña ubicado en Brooklyn, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix y Philadelphia, o la pueden enviar a Brooklyn directamente. Si tiene interés, por favor escriba al donate.cameras[at]gmail.com. Nuestra meta es tener 20 cámaras que funcionan antes del 15 de enero 2011.


AIDESEP usará las cámaras para una variedad de proyectos. Sean útil en documentar los cambios que están ocurriendo en las Amazonias Peruanas en esta época. Las cámaras ayudarán a la organización en mostrar el resto del mundo no solo las metas en frente de los pueblos indígenas, pero también aspectos de sus modas de vivir que requieren protección. Los líderes de AIDESEP están planificando usar la fotografía y video para educar los Peruanos y la comunidad internacional sobre sus vidas y cultura, para fomentar comprensión y respeto. Las cámaras permitirán que la gente local cubra los eventos que afecten sus vidas. Esto diversificará la prensa y representará más perspectivas sobre los asuntos.


Como está explicado en su sitio de web, AIDESEP representa más de 350,000 personas indígenas quienes viven en 1,350 comunidades y hablan 16 idiomas. AIDESEP escribe que "somos una organización moderna que defendemos nuestra propia identidad, reconociendo sus fortalezas y combatiendo sus debilidades. De esta manera buscamos consolidarnos democráticamente como sujetos activos del cambio y así ser un testimonio del cambio que queremos ver en el mundo."


Daysi explicó que en el pasado, AIDESEP había construído relaciones diplomáticas con el gobierno Peruano, buscando soluciones para la fricción política con conversación y compromiso. Desafortunadamente, el gobierno Peruano no ha seguido este curso de acción recientemente. El Presidente de Perú Alan García tiene una visión de desarrollo para el país que incluye abrir gran porciones de las Amazonias Peruanas a las compañías transnacionales de minería, perforación y petróleo. Pero los pueblos indígenas que están viviendo en la zona no están de acuerdo con este tipo de desarrollo; ellos discuten que no solo se lo pondrá sus modas de vivir en peligro pero también lo dañará irrevocablemente la Amazonia. En su presentación, Daysi dijo que García no ha consulado los pueblos indígenas sobre leyes recientes que han pasado que les permiten abrir tierra de las Amazonas para las compañías transnacionales. García ha reclamado que estas reformas son parte del Tratado de Libre Comercio Perú - Estados Unidos recientemente activo, un acuerdo que tomó muchos años en desarrollar pero que recibió las firmas finales al final del término del Presidente de los EEUU Bush en 2009. Para promover sus opiniones, las comunidades de las Amazonas Peruanas decidieron preparar una serie de manifestaciones pacíficas en la mitad del 2009. Para casi dos meses, miles de personas de todas edades se pararon por la autopista principal, bloqueando el tráfico de las Amazonas para hacer claro su oposición a los decretas y el Tratado de Libre Comercio. García los ordenó que terminara, enviando el policía nacional para disolver los participantes. Este conflicto, cerca del pueblo de Bagua, produjo fatalidades por ambos lados.


Daysi expresó firmemente que AIDESEP no está de acuerdo con el uso de violencia para resolver este conflicto sobre derechos territoriales. También ella demostró una determinación fuerte para defender la tierra y los pueblos indígenas de las Amazonas. Las cámaras de fotografía y video ayudarán a AIDESEP hacer sus planes de prensa y comunicaciones. Las cámaras ayudarán a la organización en conectar a la comunidad internacional, en crear materiales importantes para educar legisladores y el público, y en vigilar amenazas a los derechos humanos.


Hay una gran variedad de materiales en el internet de este tema. Obviamente, el sitio de AIDESEP es un gran recurso y un paso importante para empezar.


Artículos útiles:
--Violencia en la amazonia peruana (BBC Mundo, 6 junio 2009)
--Perú: Investigar violencia en Bagua (Human Rights Watch, 10 junio 2009)
--Perú: Presidente califica a indígenas de Bagua de “banda paramilitar” (Servindi, 11 enero 2010)
--Bagua: a un año de la barbarie ¿cuánto hemos avanzado? (La Región, 6 abril 2010)
--Perú: liberan a líder indígena (BBC Mundo, 27 mayo 2010)
--Gobierno: "los indígenas fueron manipulados" (BBC Mundo, 4 junio 2010)
--Perú: A un año de Bagua (Global Voices - Español, 5 junio 2010)
--Información sobre el Tratado de Libre Comercio Perú-EEUU (Gobierno de Perú)


Aquí hay un video de Daysi Zapata hablando en frente del Congreso de los EEUU en Abril 2010, algunos días antes de su presentación a NYU.


Si Ud. tiene una cámara digital que no está ocupando--de fotografía o de video--por favor dónala a AIDESEP. Ud. puede donar cuerdas, pilas / cargadores, y tarjetas de memoria también. Personsas tambien pueden coordinar con una coordinadora de la campaña ubicado en Brooklyn, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix y Philadelphia, o la pueden enviar a Brooklyn directamente. Si tiene interés, por favor escriba al donate.cameras[at]gmail.com. Nuestra meta es tener 20 cámaras que funcionan antes del 15 de enero 2011.


Por favor, si pueda enviar este artículo a los individuales con interés sería muy genial. Gracias.


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Monday, July 13, 2009

Paro in Peru: 8 July 2009

Outside of the Central Market in Cusco, a throng of people slowly marched through the otherwise empty street, most traffic suspended for the day. They chanted “Urgente! Urgente! Nuevo presidente!” Some beat on drums, others blew horns.

On July 8, 2009, unions across Peru organized a national strike (paro). After several conversations with various Cusqueñans, and after reading newspapers and the wall of information posted for public display, I understand that participants used the strike to voice a quantity of grievances against the current president, Alan García.

I spoke with a municipal worker in the Plaza de Armas named Sylvester (left). In his opinion, “the platform of the fight is [that] our Peruvian government wants to privatize our natural resources, riches, and territory that had been adjudicated as part of the state.” Referencing a nationwide economic crisis, he condemned the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, claiming that it “doesn’t benefit us, the people of lesser resources; [it] only benefits those higher up [like] business owners.” Sylvester highlighted another point of the strike to be the nationalization of the factories, explaining that “before they belonged to the state but now they have been privatized. We want them to be nationalized, and not in the hands of international companies” (my translation).

While not all were in accordance with the strike, many groups spoke out in Cusco. Of what I witnessed, protests were generally peaceful, with a massive number of police keeping watch throughout the city. In addition to unions marching through the streets, a large collection of posters and pictures lined the stone wall of one of the main buildings along the Plaza de Armas. I heard both that law faculty from a university had posted the information as well as local writers. There were also large sheets of blank paper taped to the wall on which the public was encouraged to write their opinions on topics ranging from the privatization of water to Alan García’s relationship with the United States. While I have read that the strike was not as widespread as some had hoped, I understand that it is probably not the last that we will see.

To see more photos of this day, visit flickr.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quechua Studies in Cusco, Peru

Hello from Cusco. Along with three other classmates from New York, I am here to study the Quechua language at Centro Tinku, a language school that is about a 5-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. In addition to this intensive program, I am also planning to research photography in Peru for my master’s project. My intention is to explore the many ways that photography may be used in and around Calca, a small town about an hour drive outside of Cusco in the Sacred Valley.

While all four of us from NYU passed the evaluation into the intermediate level, all 10 of us in the class have had a different experience in learning the language. Even though our professor in New York is a native speaker from Cusco, it is incredibly challenging to attempt to converse with Quechua speakers outside of a classroom setting. One of the benefits of studying Quechua in Cusco is the countless opportunities we have to practice. Participating in a homestay, I have the advantage of chatting with my Señora in Quechua over a mate de coca or while learning a new recipe. Quechua speaking taxi drivers, waiters and sellers in the market have generally seemed willing to see how this gringa fares: I would say that I know that I have a lot of learning ahead of me, and I’m excited to have so many chances to actually use the language on a daily basis.

We are now in our second week of classes, and I finally feel like I may have a grip on being here. The first week was intense, to say the least: adjusting to life with a family as part of a homestay, battling stomach complications due to new food and bacteria, fighting off colds and the flu during these frigid winter nights, trying to wrap my head around a new language. I had hoped to be able to start research in Calca almost immediately, but I see that I needed this week to get settled. In addition to the challenges listed above, Peru is also in a time of political discontentment...more on this soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

part 2: pascua-lama, the debated mining project


It’s rumored that certain trusty canine friends are “good as gold.” An honest and generous person might be said to have a “heart of gold,” something for which Neil Young has been mining for decades. A yearning for a pot of gold lies under the arc of every rainbow, the gold medal is clearly the most prestigious, and if you are an outstanding and productive person you may be deemed worth your weight in gold.

In its scarcity, the shiny metal has garnered the reputation of having great worth, and for thousands of years has been cherished for the beauty societies have given it. The extraction of the metal and subsequent use of it has played crucial roles in many civilizations as leaders have struggled for power, wealth and beauty. The war over gold today, even in light of the countless other precious objects over which we fight, is still ravaging the land in which it rests and the people who live and work on it.

Gold mines have periodically intrigued me for a couple of reasons. My grandmother told us how two of my ancestors, a father and a son, came from an economically depressed Slovenia to the United States around the turn of the 20th century to work in the gold mines of Colorado. The father died in an accident, and the son moved to Chicago to stay. I always thought it was just a story, but after meeting the descendants of the family they left behind in Europe I learned it was true. Strange memories of an elementary school musical will occasionally drop themselves in my lap, the rhyming lyrics about the Yukon Valley in Alaska which made the gold rush era seem like a sentimental fantasy. But while I personally have never nurtured an interest to wear the precious metal, I also had never had a particular aversion to it until I heard about the No Dirty Gold campaign.

No Dirty Gold is a campaign to demand change by “calling on retailers to identify and disclose the source of the gold they sell-and to ensure that jewelry, watches, cell phones, computer chips, and other products do not contain gold mined at the expense of communities, workers and the environment. Currently, retailers and consumers do not have an alternative to dirty gold.”

The campaign states that:
The production of one gold ring generates 20 tons of wastes.
More than half of all gold comes from indigenous peoples' lands.
80 percent of all gold is used to make jewelry.


The good news is that the campaign exists, that it is making headway, and that media attention has been drawn to the issue. The troubling news is that it hasn’t had enough media coverage, that not enough headway has been made, and that gigantic mining corporations are still excavating with poor practice around the world.

Barrick Gold is the largest gold mining company in the world. They recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, and their slogan is “Responsible Mining.” With headquarters in Toronto, this Canadian company is mining at 27 locations and has 10 development projects; some of the locations include Papua New Guinea, the United States, Canada, Australia, Peru, Chile, Russia, South Africa, Argentina and Tanzania. They are also exploring on 100 sites across 16 countries. On their website, they boast about their corporate responsibility. They contend that they work in support with local citizens, and imply that they have the community’s best interest at heart.

One of their projects, Pascua-Lama, is located on the border of Chile and Argentina. I traveled to the area twice to learn more about it from the perspective of the local community, and discovered many contradictions between what Barrick says and what local Chileans think.

The Huasco Valley is a narrow alley through steep and jagged Andes Mountains. A river cuts through the center, and flows all the way from the glaciers housed on the Pascua-Lama mountain to the Pacific Ocean, providing the only natural source of water for the valley. Located in the Atacama region, named after the direst desert in the world, these glaciers defy science in their existence, and are already suffering severe damage from climate change and the explorations for the proposed mine. Dry, rocky terrain juts up to the fertile vegetation made possible by the river: this is a farming valley. It is also a valley of economic depression, with the worst unemployment rates in the country.

In an attempt to understand the predicament more personally, we met with activists and with families, we stayed with them in one of the towns along the river, Chingüinto, and we attended a weekly community meeting on the battle between the people of the Huasco Valley and Barrick Gold. What we learned needs to go beyond the rugged walls of the valley. Even though so much has been written and published about the destruction of land and communities by mining, how can a small community face up to the likes of the abominable Barrick Gold?

To be continued…

See photos from the Huasco Valley
Read Part 1: Pascua-Lama
Read more about the No Dirty Gold campaign

Saturday, March 15, 2008

OJOS nuevos to begin workshops in Chicago

OJOS nuevos began in Santiago de Chile in the fall of 2006. While the workshops still continue in the southern hemisphere, we are about to expand to include a new location: Chicago.

Planning for a May start, workshops will be offered to a small group of adolescent women in collaboration with La Casa Central Community Center which is in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. Stay tuned for updates!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

the weight of wealth: Potosí, Bolivia

Potosí had captured my attention before I began planning the trip through the north of Chile, Bolivia, and into Peru — but I had never heard of the city before I moved to Chile. Then I began to hear stories of the mines in Cerro Rico from an Italian photographer friend. A Chilean executive businessman described to me the influence of Bolivian mined silver on the European economy of the 16th to 18th centuries. Because of my interest in the mining industry and the intriguing historical accounts of this towering city, I felt compelled to visit.

The bus ride from Uyuni to Potosí is ordinarily about six hours long. My friend Lena and I decided to make this journey during the day, as we weren´t sure about the quality of roads and buses. It was June of 2007, and an incredible heat saturated the air that fell in direct sunlight; a remarkable difference in temperature waited in every angled shadow, and at night, especially in buildings without heat, the Andean chill proved most persistent. My seat on the bus collected full sun, and a decision had to be made between opening the window and filling the bus with dusty air from the arid countryside or dealing with the crowded heat. Unfortunately I had to use the restroom so badly (a result of the scarcity of bathrooms) that the decision seemed too trite to deal with, and I simply did whatever the Bolivian in front of me chose to do.

I believe that was the first time in my life that I rejoiced at the announcement of a flat tire, something that seemed to be taken in stride as a rather common event for our fellow passengers. We filed out of the bus, many of us looking for an obliging rock on which to lean. An abandoned house made of mud or clay bricks sat on the banks of a trickling river, and many passengers wandered down to take a drink. A flock of sheep bleated at us as they wandered by, monitored by a woman in a gathered skirt and a cap. A team of passengers assisted the driver with the tire and we continued.

The bus stopped for a second time at a small family run restaurant situated in the middle of a dry field dotted with tufts of yellow prickly plants. A couple of pigs wandered around, licking clean a collection of discarded bones. All along the drive we had seen individual houses, like the one with the restaurant, spotting the vast land. They were made of bricks the same color as the dirt blowing in the air and coating your skin, the same color as the earth that seemed to be pulled taut and stretching out forever, the same color as the low hills rising around us on all sides. The bus traveled up and down, but always more up, on a constant climb towards the highest city in the world. See photos here

Lena and I befriended an Argentinian traveling through some of our same cities, and, in need of a hostel, he followed us to ours. The trek might not have been so arduous had we not been with our heavy clothing in the mid-afternoon sun, packed with our backpacks and walking up steep hills in a city of 4,090 meters above sea level—about 13,419 feet. Potosí is much larger and condensed than Uyuni: Germán, our guide from the 4x4 tour, had told us that about 7-8,000 people live in Uyuni, and current population estimates for Potosí are about 125,000. We dropped off our backpacks and several layers of clothes, and began walking the streets.

While we spent a good deal of time wandering — buying fresh juice from stands in the street, oranges from the central market, submarinos from a little café, flat breads from sidewalk vendors (and unfortunately for my stomach, some street cheese) — a top priority for me was to visit the infamous mines that weave through the mountain looking over the city. Cerro Rico literally means “Rich Hill,” but it has a much more complicated significance to regional and world history. It is said that the Spanish gave the mountain this name once they discovered the astounding silver deposits it guarded, but the local indigenous people had already known about the mountain’s content. The root of the name Potosí is still debated by some, as it could have roots in Quechua or Aymaran, the two most prominent indigenous languages of the central Andes area.

The next morning Lena and I rose early and headed toward La Casa Nacional de Moneda, where a large painted mask smiles effusively (and a bit unnervingly) over the courtyard just inside the entryway of the old expansive building. This building is the second mint constructed in Potosí, by order of the Spanish crown. The original mint lasted 192 years, from 1575 to 1767, during the peak of silver extraction from Cerro Rico. The coins created during this period were circulated throughout the world and at one point symbolized riqueza, poder y gloria – wealth, power and glory.

Records say that 45,000 tons of silver were extracted from the mines at Potosí from 1556 to 1783. The silver was shipped to Spain, but most of it didn’t stay there. The surge in wealth helped the king pay off large debts. New connections between continents and countries forged and the silver taken from Potosí and other Latin American locations flowed through trade routes and across borders. The European economy saw dramatic changes in the definition of wealth, and inflation spiked. The value of silver plummeted to a dramatic low, and Europeans began to desire — and buy — luxuries which they imported from around the globe.

Slave trade also increased, and Africans were shipped to work in the mines as well. The altitude proved fatal, however, and the local indigenous were forced to work the belly of the mountain for Spain. Many sources estimate that 8 million miners died during the most productive years of the mines at Potosí, but our tour guide encouraged us to remember that the number is most likely much higher.

After choosing our tour guide company, of which there are several, Lena and I suited up in plastic orange outfits, attached our lamps onto our hardhats, and drove with our guide up to the Miner’s Market, El Mercado de los Mineros. Here we purchased 2 liter bottles of orange or cola flavored pop and large bags of coca leaves for the miners we would encounter while walking through the shafts underground. We drove high up one side of the mountain to a mine entrance that still had blood spattered above it: about a week ago there had been the annual sacrifice of a llama, asking for the safety and productivity of the miners.

Shortly after entering the opaque darkness of the mine, we met with whom is now called Tío, one of the statues representing the god of the world underground for the miners who work in it. Every day they begin with a ceremony to Tío, a name the Spanish mistakenly took for their word “uncle.” We were told that it comes from a word in Quechua for god, because although the Spanish said that it was the devil, for the indigenous it was not so negative. Our guide told us that just as there is a god for the world above ground who protects and guides people, there is a god for the world underground; in following, the miners ask for protection and prosperity every day.

Unfortunately, even though the mine is now a collective, and miners can keep their earnings for themselves, it is terribly risky and difficult work. Shafts that have been closed for decades will be discovered, and the desperate will weave their way through dangerous tunnels looking for minerals. The hope for striking it big drives many impoverished into the mines, including children. Many live in makeshift dwellings around the mountainside, hoping for a better turnout. Illness and disease often follow the years spent inside the mine, after exposure to toxic materials. Although we met many who have said they have benefited from working in the mine, it is not questionable that what they have endured inside it has not been humane.

Walking out into the sunlight at the end of the mineshaft surprised me with its starkness. Exhausted from a few hours of crawling and bending and climbing, I wondered how the miners subsist an entire day on the large wad of coca leaves packed in their cheeks, even if it does mask their hunger. We stumbled back to our hostel, took showers during the hours that the water heater could be used, and spent the rest of the day meandering, chewing on our tourist view of one of the most infamous mines of the new world.

Zequi had decided to extend his stay in Potosí and explore a nearby town and some hot springs in the mountains, daytrips that are advertised in pamphlets at the hostels and tour guide offices; Lena and I decided to stop next in Sucre, slipping the city into our agenda last minute. We met for dinner the night before we left, and toasted to the crossing of paths in the highest city in the world.

See photos from Potosí here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

benet academy hosts camera drive

Recycling Cameras for Chile, the latest OJOS nuevos campaign, asks for the digital cameras that have been replaced by shiny new ones during this recent holiday season. In an effort to redistribute resources to where they can be better utilized-- other than that dusty shelf on the computer desk or shoved in the back of a drawer nestled in knotted cords-- this campaign will send donated digital cameras to OJOS nuevos, a photography program for youth at social risk in Santiago de Chile.

Benet Academy, a high school in Lisle, Illinois (and my alma mater), is currently hosting a camera drive to collect digital cameras for the campaign. A series of posters have been hung through the school hallways explaining the mission of OJOS nuevos and encouraging students to ask their families and friends for any unwanted cameras, and announcements are read daily over the loudspeaker. The drive officially began on January 7, with plans to wrap up on this coming Friday the 18th.

This morning I received notice from the assistant dean of students that nine cameras had already been brought into the office, a pleasant surprise; I had originally set the goal for ten total. Around lunch I opened another message saying that three more had been brought in. I also found out that a Spanish teacher is having a fundraiser in his class to raise money to buy a new camera.

Benet would like to extend the camera drive until the end of the month, and of course I have no objection. The generosity has overwhelmed me and already exceeded my optimistic expectations. Please stay tuned for final results!