Health & Safety in the Central Jungle

It is often said that Peru is a mix of First and Third World and my trip to the Shipibo village of San Francisco, in the jungle province of Ucayali, in May 2008, brought this into sharp relief.

Pucallpa Peru

Having spent five hours at Lima airport, on account of a cancelled LAN flight, with its Wi-Fi hotspots, food courts, overpriced souvenirs and frothy lattes, I took a 50 minute flight to Pucallpa, followed by a 45 minute taxi ride – all done in the dark – and found myself in a basic, wooden building with a palm frond roof, and a 19-year-old Canadian volunteer, Theresa, and a tarantula for company.

Theresa, who was spending three weeks in the village, had erected a tent inside the hut to give her some privacy and respite from the insects and rodents!

The reason for my visit was to do a Risk Assessment for a UK-based volunteer agency, which is hoping to send paying volunteers to work at the ANIA Tierra de los Niños (Kid’s Land) project. ANIA is a great, ecological NGO which aims to instill a respect for natural resources in children by putting them in charge of an area of land, donated by the local community.

The meeting of UK Health and Safety with Peruvian jungle is not a perfect match!

For example:

  • Question: ‘Do all showers have adequate curtains or similar?’
  • Answer: No – there is only one shower and it is a bucket of water set up on a wooden scaffold in the open air.
  • Question: ‘How many on-site staff have completed basic food hygiene certificates at the time of inspection’
  • Answer: None – meals are prepared on two gas rings outside a one-bedroom, wooden house.

Nonetheless, the sense of close-knit community amongst the villagers was palpable, and made my insistent form-filling seem almost ridiculous.