A meeting to remember

Daniel Baptiste (Nexos Comunitarios)

As a student of International Development I have always taken what I now view to be a somewhat naïve view of grassroots development initiatives. I was under the impression that NGOs worked with their host communities in relative harmony. I thought that while finance could be a perennial difficulty for NGOs, the work itself would be straightforward and universally rewarding. Halfway into my time with Nexos Comunitarios, I can honestly say that I was right about the rewarding nature of the work, trekking up a mountain to visit Cuncani, knowing many of the families and their children by name, and seeing familiar yet otherworldly sights is rewarding. Being part of  an organisation with a proven record of achieving and implementing development roles is also rewarding. There are however, huge challenges associated with working in communities like Cuncani.

Cuncani Nexos ComunitariosOn June 23rd I was had to go to Cuncani to participate in a meeting with the community to discuss about the next steps of our work together. After arriving in the community I found myself in a room with many  community members. As few of them speak Spanish, Saturnina, our local coordinator, was there to talk to the parents too, and to translate. Quickly, I realised that the meeting would not go as I expected. I explained everything as planned, but people just did not seem interested. At least, that what I thought that time.

After my relatively brief outline of our activities in Cuncani, the school director took over the meeting. I was not expecting the changes within the meeting after his participation. After hours of discussions, participation from parents, another teacher and the principal I understood he was upset and frustrated due to the fact  that the government was not paying on of the teachers in the school, to the poor test results of students. The feeling in the room became tense, there was yelling, screaming, arguing, it disintegrated fast. Perhaps I was shielded from the events as the entire meeting was in Quechua, and aside from what my limited Quechua skills could ascertain, the translations to Spanish from our local coordinator were all I could understand.

When the meeting was over, I came back to Urubamba and had a meeting to reflect on what just happened. There were many things to take into account! The dynamics between the principal and the parents, as well as the impact this could have on the initiatives we are developing concerned me. This was not simply because the the PhotoVoice Project takes place in the school, our Lunch Program and the future initiatives.

Cuncani NCDespite the gravity of the issues at hand, and the difficulties posed by these, I wittness through it all, there remains a palpable desire by community members to keep working together to effect positive change. Last week we had our first walk as part of the ‘Participatory video’ we are working on, together, it was a great sucess! Maybe we all need to remember that, We, at NC, believe that ever challenge leads to a great success!

This meeting was a very important lesson to me, one that I didn’t learn from a book or a class, but one that I learned from the field and won’t ever forget.

Poverty and its Dimensions

Sierra Matis, Carleton University (NC intern)

With the expiration of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s) in 2015, the United Nations (UN) has introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), which seek to enable people around the world to improve their lives and living conditions.[1] It is through these goals that the United Nations Working Assembly see’s eradicating poverty in the next generation as being feasible. In the context of Peru, the report on progress for the MDG’s put Peru on track for achieving their goals, as the country has been able to cut the number of people living in extreme poverty by half as a result of economic growth.[2] However, despite such progress spurred by economic growth, major social and geographic inequalities have persisted, as rural areas continue to be neglected.[3] I have witnessed this reality first hand through my internship with Nexos Comunitarios, an organization that promotes Responsible Human Development and is currently focusing on eradicating malnutrition in Cuncani, as children are not receiving the nutrients required for healthy growth. Thus, while recent gains are undoubted, it is evident that income growth and economic development in Peru alone is not enough to address the issue of poverty. Thus, efforts should be directed towards progress in the other dimensions of poverty eradication, such as culture and nutrition. This is because many complex factors such as cultural attitudes towards food and nutrition, maternal education, community isolation, and effectiveness of social programs all play a central role in understanding the causes and effects of poverty.

"Include to Grow" - MIDIS
 “Include to Grow” – MIDIS

In light of persistent inequities between rural and urban areas, the Peruvian government has attempted to shift its focus from economic adjustment strategies to promoting the fundamental rights of women and vulnerable groups through Peru’s Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion (MIDIS). MIDIS is ultimately responsible for managing  social programs through the adoption of the “Include to Grow” in 2013.[4]

However, the effects of such reforms have been minimal as shown through the 2013 Demographics and Family Health survey. This survey shows that infant mortality has increased from a national average of 16 deaths per 1000 live births in 2011 to 19 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013.[5] Neonatal mortality has also increased, rising from 9 deaths per 1000 live births in 2012 to 12 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013.[6]

Thus, the question becomes; how come infant mortality, neo mortality rates and hunger in rural areas have increased, despite strategies designed to address social, educational and nutritional gaps and other dimensions of poverty?

Part of the answer to this question can be seen through the effect cultural gaps have upon people’s access to quality health care services. For instance, a country report on Peru by the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that vertical birthing is preferred among women in the Andes. In order to address this cultural barrier, certain health facilities in Peru have adopted a technical standard for vertical birthing in 2005, thus allowing for the number of people with access to quality health services to increase.[7] However, the adoption of culturally appropriate health and delivery practices for users continues to be limited. [8]The report also notes that many health care professionals do not speak indigenous languages, thus deterring indigenous women from seeking an institutional delivery.[9]

In my visit to Cuncani, it was evident that community members have cultural practices similar to those identified in the WHO report. For instance, I learned from our local leader, Saturnina, that women in the community prefer to give birth vertically. Furthermore, Saturnina is one of the few Spanish speaking women, as the majority of community members speak the indigenous Quechua language. In observing these traits, it begs the question of whether language and birthing methods also deter women in Cuncani from using the Lares health care facility, the closest health center to Cuncani (located 1.5-2 hours away from the community).

In understanding the effect cultural gaps have upon access to quality health services, it caused me to question; do these barriers also have an impact upon malnutrition (NC’s current area of focus)? Institutional deliveries ensure that women receive antenatal health monitoring sessions as well as instruction on adequate feeding practices.[10] Such instruction communicates the necessity of initiating breast feeding within the first hour of life as well as the importance of introducing semi solid foods at the age of six months. Thus, it can be argued that health inequities caused by cultural gaps also contributes to the issue of malnutrition.

Ultimately, the identified effects of cultural gaps helps explain why economic development and income growth alone have failed to eliminate noticeable inequalities between rural and urban areas in Peru. With the creation of MIDIS, Peruvian government has improved its social policies, however  among other ministries has not delivered policies and programs flexible enough to accommodate the beliefs of its users, health inequities have been created, which has then had an effect upon malnutrition. Finally, such consequences brings to light how no one indicator can capture the many dimensions of poverty. Thus, the Peruvian government needs to ensure progress on the other dimensions of poverty eradication, as MIDIS needs to design programs programmes according to the cultural situation to combat persistent social and geographic inequities.



[1] “Achieving Zero Hunger the Critical Role of Investments in Social Protection.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015, iv

[2] “Success Factors for Women’s and Children’s Health.” The World Health Organization, 2015, 6

[3] Ibid

[4] “Success Factors for Women’s and Children’s Health,” 23

[5] Ibid, 28

[6] Ibid, 28

[7]  “Success Factors for Women’s and Children’s Health,” 20

[8]  Ibid, 30

[9]  Ibid

[10] Ibid, 20