By Kenji Misawa (Carleton University)
Working for Nexos Comunitarios was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Our goal was to build the foundation of a program that aimed to promote human rights in small communities in Cusco, such as Cuncani. During our stay in Peru, we had a chance to visit many incredible and historical places such as the city of Cusco, Incan ruins, and the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu. Although seeing these places was amazing, my 4 day stay in the small Andean community of Cuncani was the most memorable part.
Firstly, I was shocked to see the difference in lifestyle in Cuncani in comparison to life in Canada. There are approximately 70 households that make up this small community located in the middle of the Andes Mountains, isolated from other communities. Cuncani lacks access to the basic services and infrastructures that we take for granted in Canada. There is no clean water, streetlights and very limited access to electricity; there are only few households that had electrical appliances.
The houses in the community are all made of earth and rocks. Most of households depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Moreover, not a single market exists in the community and one has to visit the closest city, Lares (2 to 3 hours walk from Cuncani) to purchase goods or necessary foods, which they cannot harvest.
Even though we only stayed for 4 days, it was obvious that people did not have sufficient amount of food to feed their family members. Furthermore, most of the children in the school were wearing exactly the same clothes for 4 days. It suggests that they are lacking access to personal items. There are number of other things that surprised me and made me think how luxurious our living in Canada is and the need to improve living standards for these families.
Secondly, my stay in Cuncani was unforgettable because of the great time I had with the people in the community. Despite the lack of basic needs and lower quality of living, people were very nice and kind and seemed to be happy with their community. They were warm-hearted, welcoming us and more importantly, they smiled a lot, which made me very comfortable being with them.
Our group had a chance to visit the primary school and play with the children. Although some of them were wearing old and dirty clothes, they were adorable and beautiful. On the first day of my stay in Cuncani, I was out in the schoolyard, playing with the ball that I had. Later on, one girl joined me. After ten minutes another girl joined. And after that, another boy and his sister… I ended up playing with 5 kids for about 2 hours just running around and throwing a ball. Even though I was not able to speak their language (Quechua), I could somehow communicate with them. They are always happy to see new things and the smiles that they had on their faces were priceless. I thought that the kids probably did not have much chance to play with a person in my age (since all the young people leave the community to find work) and I was really happy that I was able to provide some time to them to enjoy and have fun. Also seeing their smiling faces made me really happy. Even though these are very small things, I felt satisfied that I could somehow contribute to the community.
However at the same, I was a little sad to see the reality of their living. When I imagine children’s future life, there would not be able to have the same opportunities that we do. I felt we must help them to have better lives. Even though our group did not have enough time to make a profound change in their lives, it was really important for us to know people and understand who they are and what they need. I believe the first step for an individual to help communities is to see the reality of the people in order to create a realistic plan, rather than an optimistic plan.
Overall, I believe I was at the right place at the right time with the right people to experience incredible moments. After this internship, I hope to come back to Peru and work to help small indigenous communities in Andes where they need our helping hands.