En la cima de Cuncani: el hogar de Saturnina

Por Carlos Kamisaki (Nexos Comunitarios & UDEP)

Trabajar en Cuncani es la parte que más disfruto cuando viajo a Urubamba. Debe ser que  hay mucho por hacer y mi tiempo en el lugar queda corto. La organización de la que soy parte, Nexos Comunitarios, me permite conocer sobre la vida en las comunidades, o Microcosmos Andinos como nos gusta llamarlas. Puedo decir con mucho orgullo, que dentro de ellas, he logrado conocer a familias muy amables. Hace un par de meses, en enero de este año tuve mucha suerte, Saturnina (actual colaboradora de NC y miembro de la comunidad de Cuncani) nos acogió en su casa, a mi compañero y a mí. Hoy quiero compartir con ustedes mi experiencia.

Subir a Cuncani siempre es una experiencia especial, pero debo ser sincero que es un gran reto. Esta vez, el reto se acentúo desde Lares. Al llegar al distrito, empezamos nuestra caminata a  Cuncani. A nosotros, dos costeños jóvenes, nos costó 4 horas. Mi compañero y yo estábamos riéndonos de nuestra condición física y nos comparábamos con dos señoras que andaban con sus wawas en la espalda, caminando a paso ligero como si la altura y la lluvia fuesen cosas de todos los día. Y vaya que lo son.

Para la comunidades de Lares y las que están cerca; el comercio, el transporte, la atención médica y prácticamente toda actividad similar, se realiza en los pueblos más cercanos. Estamos hablando de distancias que toman media hora en auto, si tienes suerte de encontrar uno y puedes afrontar el gasto. La otra opción que queda es ir caminando, lo cual puede tomar entre dos y cuatro horas.

Cuando al fin llegamos a Cuncani, nos dimos cuenta que nuestro destino estaba aun más lejos. La casa de Saturnina es una de las muchas que se encuentra en la cima de la montaña. Si quieres llegar allí, tienes que seguir un camino que exige un último aliento para llegar a la cima. Así hubiésemos tenido un carro, la única manera de llegar hasta la meta, es caminando.

En las casas, por supuesto, no hay ni televisores ni computadoras. No hay rastro alguno de electrodomésticos. Es posible encontrar unas cuantas radios, que nos ayudan a mantenernos informados, y saber si hay algún comunicado para la comunidad. La radio es también un medio de entretenimiento para las largas horas de trabajo en el campo, cuando se cuida a las llamas o se prepara la comida.

Si bien en el momento que llegamos (con lluvia y todo) el clima está templado, en las noches el frío es intenso. A las 5:30 p.m. el sol se despide y se va notando su ausencia. Las familias suelen juntarse en la cocina para mantenerse calientes y compartir unos momentos antes de ir a dormir. En esta visita tuvimos mucha suerte, la amabilidad de Saturnina y su familia, nos hicieron sentir abrigados.

Tetsumi y yo, junto a Saturnina y su familia

En casa de nuestra compañera, cada integrante del hogar tiene una función determinada dentro de las labores diarias. Mientras su esposo Victoriano participaba de una faena convocada por la comunidad, su hija se encontraba en la parte alta de la montaña, donde se cuidan los animales durante todo el día (incluida la noche). Estas son tareas repartidas en todas las familias sin excepción. Yo no podía imaginar quedarme en otro lugar que no fuese en el que estaba instalado y no dejé de pensar en su hija de 12 años, ahí, sola. Pensé: ¡12 años! Seguía muy asombrado, cuando me contaron que esto lo hacen las niñas y niños desde…¡los 7 años! ¿Se imaginan? Mientras seguía asombrado, Saturnina y Victoriano, sonriendo, me dijeron: Estamos acostumbrados.

A la mañana siguiente, la luz nos despertó a las 4:30 a.m. pero el frío hizo que nos quedáramos en cama. Una cama que muy amablemente nos había prestado la familia. Recién a las 7:00 a.m. quisimos levantarnos y colaborar con el quehacer matutino. El desayuno en casa de Saturnina fue buenísimo y estuvimos muy agradecidos por su hospitalidad; sin embargo me di cuenta que no había fruta en el desayuno, ni leche, ni café, sino un gran plato con alto contenido de grasas y carbohidratos, el desayuno y la cena fueron similares. Aunque delicioso, me quedé pensando qué pasaría con mi salud si mi dieta consistiese en este plato o sólo en papas y té, como es común para varias familias en Cuncani.

Junto a Victoriano y su hija en Cuncani.
Junto a Victoriano y su hija en Cuncani

El día continuó con una conversación con Victoriano, quien ya se encontraba trabajando en los cultivos de su casa. Victoriano nos contó que antes que se sienta el calor del sol, hay una hora en la mañana en la que la sensación de frío es mayor, es como si el mismo sol tuviese que calentarse antes de salir a abrigarnos. Mientras pasaban las horas o días, crecía mi aprecio por vivir en una comunidad con Cuncani. Veo, por ejemplo, que cada uno aprecia el valor del trabajo del otro. Los integrantes de una familia funcionan realmente como una pequeña empresa. Finalmente, todo los esfuerzos van dirigidos a poder alimentarse y cubrir los gastos básicos de la vida diaria en Cuncani. Siempre me quedo admirado al ver el gran esfuerzo que realizan todos. Ahora más, porque entiendo lo que significa trabajar para sobrevivir.

De las muchas lecciones que adquiero en cada viaje, esta vez me quedo con una especial: siempre puedes hacer tu mayor esfuerzo por generar un impacto positivo en la vida de quienes te rodean. Así lo he aprendido de Saturnina y su familia. Dentro de la sencillez de su hogar y las limitaciones de una vida en un microcosmos andino, no hubo momento alguno en el que me sintiera incómodo de no encajar en el sistema que mantienen. Me hicieron parte de su familia por unas noches y eso es algo que no olvidaré.

Sé que lo que estoy compartiendo con ustedes pueden ser solo palabras. Pero sé también que es una decisión personal el honrar estas lecciones y el trabajo de familias como las de mi compañera Saturnina y de muchas otras alrededor del mundo. Las familias de Cuncani y de varias otras comunidades, están acostumbradas a vivir en un mundo difícil, muy difícil y muchas veces, hostil, y a acomodarse en un planeta cada vez más ajeno a su realidad.

En unos meses regresaré a Cuncani, veré a los niños y niñas de nuestro Programa de Almuerzos y seguiré aprendiendo con Victoriano y Saturnina. Mientras tanto seguiré recordando mi último tiempo en Cuncani y aquel (último) largo día, aquél en el que mis amigos y yo, manejamos 100 Km en bicicleta para recaudar dinero para nuestra organización…un día que nunca olvidaré.

Hasta pronto.
Cuncani: Microcosmos Andino
     Cuncani: Microcosmos Andino

 

 

 

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Who knew that saying so little… could say so much (Urubamba 2015)

By Bailey LeBlanc (Western University)

Learning Service with Nexos ComunitariosAs I reflect back on my trip to Peru, I become overwhelmed with emotion. It has been the single greatest experience of my life so far. Prior to submitting my application to represent Western University abroad, I thought I had a good understanding of what to expect on a trip of this kind. I had some experience traveling to developing countries and volunteering with other organizations. I decided to apply for this trip because I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to change someone’s life. Thankfully, I was accepted. So caught up and determined to make change for others, I was completely unaware of the impact this trip would have on my own life.

Before leaving for Peru, I was filled with excitement. I couldn’t wait to embark on what would be an incredible journey. Upon arrival in Urubamba (a small town in Peru), our group was welcomed graciously into the home we were going to be staying in for the next two weeks. Gabriela and Maricarmen (Nexos Comunitarios) opened their doors and showed us a kindness that was truly remarkable. At this point I was completely unaware of how much these sisters were going to mean to me in such a short period of time. Gabi and Mari, along with  others,work for Nexos Comunitarios, a non-profit organization founded in 2014 in Lima, Peru. Their mission is to promote the exercise of rights and civil liberties though Responsible Human Development, alongside the populations that live in poverty and social exclusion.

Learning Service with Nexos ComunitariosWe arrived in Urubamba in May 2015 and the organization was supporting Kiya Survivors Rainbow House, an organization that supports children, some of which have mental or physical disabilities. Most of the children living there were not related, and through various circumstances, had been separated from their parents. A woman named Luisa lives with the children and takes care of them every day, treating them like her own. The house was small for the amount of people living in it, but it was decorated with drawings and crafts the children had made and contained many donated toys and school supplies. Comparing this to my childhood, these children had a fraction of the luxuries that I had grown up with. Despite all of this, I saw a family. Everyone offered to help without complaint and worked together in the ways a family should. I saw huge amounts of love, kindness, and true happiness. Everyone was interacting with each other, there was no television, video games, or cell phones to distract anyone from being together. The kids would play together and with us, we would all help cook and reorganize the school supplies. They would help us learn some Spanish, and in return we would teach English. My favorite part was painting the outside of the home yellow and orange, so it was as bright as the people inside.

There was an obvious language barrier between us. However, I was amazed at how easy it was to communicate without using words. A smile, a laugh or a hug is universal and understood in any language. We were able to play games for hours without understanding what anyone was saying. We got to know each of the children on such a personal level. Who knew that saying so little could say so much. I would have never expected to make such tight bonds, or care so much about someone I couldn’t communicate with. It was incredible.

In addition to the work we did at the rainbow house, we were invited to Amilkar’s (one of the older children at the rainbow house) home in the mountains to meet his family and also to Mafers home to build an accessible bathroom. Both of these experiences were extremely moving in very different ways. Amilkars family prepared a traditional meal for us, only made on special occasions. We learned that Amilkar could not live with his family anymore because of his low mobility; he was unable to complete the two-hour walk into the city each day with his siblings. We also learned Amilkars sister was the only source of income in family and had to support everyone’s needs. This was the first time on the trip I had become visibly emotional. I’m not entirely sure what it was about that day, but when it was time to get on the bus to go back down the mountain I began to cry. I was so unbelievably grateful for that experience and Amilkars family’s hospitality and kindness.

Nexos Comunitarios en UrubambaMafer and her family will always hold a special place in my heart.     We were sent there to build an accessible bathroom for her (she had cerebral palsy) and her family. At the time they were only using a hole in the ground. With everyone doing their part this project was completed, and the family now had a functioning bathroom for their children to use. Sadly, A few months ago, we were informed about Mafer’s death. It was extremely heart breaking and tragic. Her family and those in the community all loved her so much; she will never be forgotten by any of us.

My life in Canada compared to my experience in Peru was very different in many ways. However, one is not better than the other. In Peru I saw so much more interaction, kindness and love between people. There was no technology or social media splitting people apart, there were no video games keeping children from experiencing what the environment has to offer, there was no TV at the dinner table preventing families from communicating. There were genuine conversations, people were interested in what others had to say, people went above and beyond to help others and were not thinking solely about themselves. There was true happiness and kindness. We often have the impression that those in the Western world need to help the “less fortunate”, when in my opinion it is equally the other way around. We have A LOT to learn from people like the ones I met in Peru. They may not have as much in a materialistic sense, but in many ways they are much, much richer.

Coming back from the trip, I can honestly say that the people I met in Peru had a bigger impact on me than I did on them. On the last day at the rainbow house and while saying goodbye to Mari and Gabi at the airport there were tears streaming down my face. I was terrified I would never see these incredibly amazing people again. The time went by much to quickly and I wish I did not have to leave. All of the people I met in Peru made such a large impact on my life it will be impossible to forget them or what they taught me about life. I am forever grateful for what they did and I know that one day, I will see them again.

 

Humility, research and challenges: My first experience in the Andes of Peru

By Chloe Halpenny (Carleton University)

Aniceta & Victoriano (Cuncani members) and Roberto, Sharon, Ailan & me (Carleton University)
              Visiting the Community of Cuncani

In May of 2015, myself and five other students from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada boarded an airplane with little idea of what our summer had in store. Our end destination? Urubamba, a small Peruvian town nestled snugly in the Andean landscape, and the proud home of a Peruvian non-governmental organization Nexos Comunitarios. When I applied to this internship months earlier out of sheer curiosity, I had no idea what to expect. What I had certainly not known was that these six weeks in Peru would prove to be life-changing.

Nexos Comunitarios (NC) is a Peruvian non-profit organization that was created to continue the work initiated by Nexos Voluntarios in Urubamba (2008-2014). NC works closely with rural communities in the Microcosms of the Andes, with the goal of facilitating Responsible Human Development. Nexos Comunitarios accompanies the communities and helps them in building Human (health and education) and Social Capital Capital (institutions, relations, and more) in search of long-term sustainable solutions. As students of public policy, we were eager for the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the field collecting qualitative data. While the deliverable of our internship was to be a final report outlining the status of human rights in Cuncani – a village NC works closely with – we were required to support NC in many significant aspects of the exploration work within the community.

Upon arriving to Peru, our group of six was divided into three pairs. Each set of partners was assigned an organization to research and present a report on, with the aim of gauging which of the three would be best suited for a collaboration with NC.  While the other groups researched and interviewed Amnesty International and Centro Bartolomé de Las Casas, myself and my partner took a closer look at the initiatives offered in the region by Defensoría del Pueblo (the Peruvian Ombudsman).

The next step was the visits to Cuncani, where the organization has been working since 2013 implementing a Lunch Program to combat malnutrition. We wanted to know about many different aspects about the lives in Cuncani  – asking everything from the type of flooring in respondents’ homes to what they ate in a typical day – but ultimately aimed to measure the prevalence of basic human rights in the area and identify roots of discrimination. With the support of local Spanish – Quechua translators, four us were conducting interviews and surveys, while myself and another began the actual writing of the report back in Urubamba. On the final day of interviews, the six of us were reunited in Cuncani so we would all have the chance to experience interviewing. It was a challenging experience! If you want to know more about what we learned, I invite you to read the report: The Future of Cuncani. The importance of Human Rights & Interculturality. 

As interns, a common sentiment was that in our intention of helping others, we often ended up helping ourselves at the same time. “I went into Cuncani hoping to help the community through my knowledge and skills, as well as to learn some professional skills,” emphasized Roberto Chavez, one of Carleton’s six interns. “My experience in Cuncani was well beyond that.” Ultimately, our time in Cuncani consisted of a lot of work…but play was by no means forgotten. Kenji Misawa, another intern, holds fond memories of the children of Cuncani: “Although we did not share the same language, we had an amazing time laughing and playing at the schoolyard for hours. Smiles on their faces were priceless.”

On our way back to Urubamba
              On our way back to Urubamba

Our “Peruvian experience,” so to speak, provided us with ample skills in research, report-writing, designing surveys and questionnaires, and interviewing both professionals and community members, which will no doubt prove incredibly useful in the years to come. Even more importantly, however, might have been the skills nourished that are harder to explain on a resume. “This was truly an experience in humility, hard work, and community enterprise,” explained Amy Lentini, another of Carleton’s interns. “I will be forever grateful for what I’ve learned.” I’m with you on that one, Amy.

 

 

 

 

 

PhotoVoice: The power of non-verbal communication

By Carmen Leung (Western University)

If I could describe my trip with one single word, it would be life-changing.

This was my first trip to South America, and though I initially felt nervous, I was also very excited about what was ahead. From the moment we landed (at 3 a.m.!!!), all the way to the end of our trip, the wonderful individuals at Nexos Comunitarios showed us an abundance of love. I will never forget their kindness and intense amount of energy from the moment we met. Gabo, Maricarmen, Eliana & Carlos did a wonderful job in helping us understand our surroundings, and integrating us into the culture. Not only were we able to hear stories about the history of Lima, but we were also taken to the Lugar de la Memoria and on a city excursion to see it all as well.

From my short week working with NC, I was able to see how dedicated and driven the minds behind the organization are. Though NC is a small organization, it is one that strives to make a huge difference. My time with NC was incredible; I was able to immerse myself within the organization, and felt as if I was truly making a difference in the community. I was able to spend time with the Peruvians directly, and got to see a side of Lima that most foreigners don’t. While it wasn’t always clear what we were doing next and I didn’t always have direction, I always knew I was safe and in good hands with NC.

Group activities were a great part of the PhotoVoice initiative.
       Group activities were part of PhotoVoice

While this trip was unquestionably wonderful overall, there was one particular challenge along the way; the language barrier was a hurdle I know myself and many others had trouble with. Thankfully, this PhotoVoice project emphasized a lot of non-verbal communication, and I know all of the participants were still able to make connections and jokes with the kids. Though they may not be very wealthy in terms of money, the children we worked with were some of the happiest and most loving I have ever met. They helped me see happiness in a different light, and reminded me what it feels like to be a child again.

My trip may have ended a week ago, but I will carry what I learned in Peru with me for the rest of my life. Whether it is lessons about giving more and taking less, or about the power of communication, compassion, and love, I feel empowered to make a difference in my own community and possibly abroad one day. I’m very glad to have experienced Peru the way I did. Peru, and the wonderful individuals I met will always have a place in my heart.

Words are not the only form of communication
                  The power of communication

Taking pictures…understanding stories

By Sarah Nartiss (St. Francis Xavier University)

My experience with Nexos Comunitarios in Peru has been life-changing. I have wanted to travel to Peru since as long as I can remember. The week has allowed me to deepen my interest in the culture and struggles that Peruvians faced during the internal conflict. During my week with NC we were able to work on a Learning Service Program at two different schools first in Ventanilla and second in Malambito, both in different districts of Lima. The children we got to work with ranged in age from  4 to 15 years.

Our time in Ventanilla
            Our time in Ventanilla

Working in Ventanilla was absolutely incredible. It was beautiful to see how excited and engaged the children were to be at school each day, and to be greeted by their smiling faces and a hug or a kiss. In Ventanilla we first participated in art activities with the children in which they were required to draw things they liked and didn’t like from their environment, capturing these ideas like a photograph. Next we were given real cameras, the children got to try them out taking action shots, and still frames as well as photos of people or objects around their school. Both activities were great because they really allowed us to learn about the students and connect despite the language barrier. I couldn’t get over how patient the children were when we did struggle to understand each other, and how eager and creative they were in finding ways to connect. Despite many of the children coming from homes that may be struggling financially, my group found that they were very happy and full of life.

Our second school placement was in Malambito which had a completely different vibe from that which we’d felt in Ventanilla. Ventanilla is located in the desert, up in a mountainous area and Malambito was in a busy area. This part of the project was a bit different, because we were switching places with another Canadian university involved there, and were required to complete the second portion of their project. We got to go out into the busy district with the children taking pictures of things that they liked and didn’t like from the map they created earlier in the week. Finally, we were to create a map with the children aspects of their city they liked and didn’t like all together. One thing that was different in Malambito from Ventanilla was that I was worried about the children’s security.

Despite them being safe and well cared for when inside the school, there was no control of what would happen when they left. Simple things like having the children walking in the streets alone made me worry. For this reason I was interested to see how the children themselves conceived of their role in the city through the negatives and positives they conveyed. These children were also so beautiful inside and out. They found joy in little things and really worked to connect and learn from us. I believe both sides were so appreciative about the new relationships we were forming and what we were learning from one another.

Despite some little bumps in the road like during any study, I think this initiative went well. I really hope that our efforts this week can be translated into something to improve the life and education of these amazing children, because they deserve it all so much.

My experience in Peru, I can honestly say, was life-changing. Learning about a new culture, new issues, practising a new language and making new friends was all what this week entailed. I had the opportunity to learn about myself in how I responded, engaged and learned in new situations. My time learning about the culture and people in Peru will definitely not be forgotten and I hope to return soon.

St. Francis Xavier University Group.
           St. Francis Xavier University Group

The eNCounter Program: Considering Your Future Every Step of the Way

By Justin Wood.

Entry level. They can be frustrating words for millennials these days.

When I finished university – part of the class of 2013 – I stepped into a job market that was full of opportunity, but not the kind I was expecting. More applications than I care to remember listed prior experience, sometimes years worth, as a requirement for full time, paid positions. I could never quite understand how graduates, fresh out of finals, were supposed to have experience under their belt – but so it was. In the meantime, employers eagerly filled unpaid internships and advertised volunteer placements. The internship seemed to constitute a new rite of passage that granted access to “entry level” career opportunities.

After completing my degree it quickly became clear that paid, full-time work was scarce in my particular sectors of interest. Having just finished four years of school, unpaid work wouldn’t be sustainable for long. So, as many graduates did, I too broadened my scope and took opportunities as they came, wherever they came from. I searched for paid work in related fields. I took unpaid work on the side. I tried to capitalize on every learning opportunity that presented itself. My goal was to build a resume of transferrable skills that, in time, would help me transition into the positions I was most interested in.

Sunny skies over Urubamba, Peru, home of the Nexos Comunitarios development office. December, 2015.
Sunny skies over Urubamba, Peru, home of the Nexos Comunitarios development office. December, 2015.

In the fall of 2015, after a brief stint with a research institute and a season in government, I took a position with a small development organization in Peru. Nexos Comunitarios provided me with my first exposure to development work and the day-to-day operations of a not-for-profit. As a development student, this was an opportunity I had been patiently waiting for.

Nexos Comunitarios (NC) is a Peruvian non-profit organization working in the High-Andean communities of South-Eastern Peru. NC, as an organization, focuses its efforts on fostering human capital in some of the most remote indigenous communities in the Andes. Currently, NC is working on community projects related to nutrition, food security and elementary education. To fund their work, NC provides foreign post-secondary students with opportunities to travel and learn with the organization on short-term exposure trips.

I arrived for my three-month placement with NC in October 2015. One of my tasks was to help develop a new program for foreign students; one that was longer in duration and offered a more comprehensive learning experience. Having studied development and public policy, I seized the opportunity to design a program that responded to a very specific need. It started with a couple basic questions: what experiences would be most helpful to students seeking careers in development, policy or non-profit work? What skills could NC equip students with to better position them for entry-level positions?

With these questions in mind, the eNCounter Program was formed. The eNCounter Program revolves around four components of active learning: 1) practical skill building in development and non-profit management 2) academic learning 3) language training, and 4) cultural exposure and engagement. Each component of the program is designed to be an asset; to appeal to future employers.

We wanted to ensure the fundamentals of non-profit management were covered; the importance of budgetary, financial, and contingency planning, for example, and the steps in a typical grant application. We wanted to open participants up to new perspectives in academia through study in South America, and simultaneously enhance students’ resumes by offering formal certificates for completed courses taught by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru. We recognized the importance of language as an asset in the workplace, and have coordinated with local, Peruvian instructors to offer intensive language training, and we have provided opportunity for both structured cultural engagement and leisure exploration to round out students’ experience in Peru. Together, we tried to ensure that every experience in the eNCounter Program would be helpful to students in launching their careers.

Interview photo in Cuncani during the exploration work with Carleton University students in June, 2015.
Interview photo in Cuncani during the exploration work with Carleton University students in June, 2015.

After nearly 10 years of work, both in student programs and development, Nexos Comunitarios is excited to continue building on the efforts and experience of its predecessor, Nexos Voluntarios, with the launch of the eNCounter Program. Through the sharing of knowledge and experience, NC hopes to provide future development workers, policy experts and non-profit leaders with the skills and experiences essential for success. Our mission was to create a program that would be an asset to participants launching their careers, and their futures. We hope your encounter with Nexos Comunitarios will be just that!

For more information please visit our website.