From being crowned Miss Vermont USA in 2010 to joining the Peace Corps and being sent to a poverty-stricken area of Peru, Castleton alumnus Nydelis Ortiz says there is nothing she would trade for this experience.
For security purposes, the Peace Corps prefers not to disclose the exact location of its volunteers, but Ortiz was willing to share that the area she resides in is on the coast of Northern Peru near Trujilla, the third largest Peruvian city.
After interning with the Department of Homeland Security for her last two years in college, Ortiz was offered a job as an accounting technician and translator; putting her two degrees in Spanish language and literature and Spanish for business to good work.
The Peace Corps experience was brought to her attention during middle school when her cousin’s girlfriend returned from volunteering in the Dominican Republic. After hearing her stories, Ortiz knew what she had to do.
“I started applying for the Peace Corps in 2011 and in June 2012 I was in Peru,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz described the application process as long and mysterious because they don’t tell you where you will be sent.
“Not knowing adds to the excitement of it though,” she said, adding that in April of that year she received an invitation to serve as a community economic development volunteer in Peru.
She said her tasks include financial management, small business advising and youth entrepreneurship.
A woman in Peru familiar with Ortiz’s work wrote a letter to this reporter in Spanish saying that she has drastically changed things for the women in the village. They are now able to connect with contacts abroad and promote their cultural craft work.
“Nydelis has been killing it here in Peru. She has been working with an artisan group in a nearby annex trying to help them grow and expand,” Teddy Shiver, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer in Peru said. “Also, she lives right next to me, so it’s been cool to be able to shoot the breeze in English or vent my problems whenever I see fit.”
Ortiz lives with a host family selected by the Peace Corps. The host mother is a 39-year-old single parent, the son is 16, and the 21-year-old daughter, her husband and child live with them.
The daughter of the host family decided to name their baby girl after Nydelis.
“My mom was flattered because she made up my name, so I guess it’s gonna live on for a little bit,” Ortiz said.
Volunteers get vacation days and Ortiz says she takes full advantage of them to visit all the sites including Cajamarca, Tarapota and Puerto Malabrigo, which has the longest left-breaking wave in the world. Ortiz said she waited for her mom to come visit before she made her way to Machu Picchu.
With all the good however, comes the not-so-good.
Upon coming to Peru, Ortiz had to get a series of shots including the one for Yellow Fever. The Bubonic Plague, a disease spread predominantly by fleas, is a serious health issue in Peru. Most infected persons die within four days.
Ortiz said the volunteers often get sick a lot because of the food and undrinkable water. Hygiene is another problem.
“I try to bucket bathe at least twice a week. I don’t have running water,” said Ortiz. “I just made it sound kind of terrible, but it’s really not. People have an amazing ability to adapt to different environments.”
Ortiz says she doesn’t really worry about getting sick because the Peace Corps medical staff is fantastic. She said she’s experiencing all of the pleasures and hardships of living in a foreign country, and wouldn’t change a thing.