By Chloe Halpenny (Carleton University)
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.”
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.