Applying the SDGs in a remote Andean community

Kenji Misawa, NC Project Coordinator

During my undergraduate studies in international development, our classes often focused upon understanding the approaches used in the international community to confront the problem of on-going global poverty. In 2015, world leaders assembled at the United Nations and executed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG’s represent a global commitment by the international community to end poverty and to improve the lives of people in a sustainable manner for future generations. But how does this universal call to action fit into the context of a small community like Cuncani?

The SDG consists of 17 goals and 169 targets. Although the SDGs capture problems on a global scale, civil societies such as NC have a role to play in meeting the targets of the SDGs. Without the work of civil societies in promoting development at the community level, SDGs will never be realized. In the case of Cuncani, we see rampant malnutrition amongst children despite its abundant beauty and natural wonder.

If malnutrition rates in Cuncani do not improve by 2030, it implies that the SDGs failed to achieve their target of ending all forms of malnutrition in the world. Therefore, despite the small act of addressing malnutrition rates in Cuncani, our efforts to improve the health status of such a small community is contributing to the international community’s goals. In this article, I will discuss NC’s current project in Cuncani and its relationship with SDG targets.

Credits: Miguel Arreátegui Rodríguez

Since 2017, NC has initiated the Sustainable Homes in Cuncani (SHC) project which provides each household with a 1) greenhouse 2) chicken coop and 3) ecological toilet in an attempt to better nutrition, sanitation, and environmental health. First, the implementation of a greenhouse and a chicken coop significantly helps the community to achieve SDG2: zero hunger. Due to its exceedingly high altitude (4000m), the variation of the available vegetables in the community is limited. Its isolated location makes it difficult for families to purchase food from other communities. A lack of regular intake of various nutrients causes vulnerable children in Cuncani to suffer from health problems such as malnutrition, stunting and anemia. The construction of a greenhouse and chicken coop will ultimately allow indigenous families to have greater access to different types of vegetables and animal proteins. This increase in access to a variety of foods will help the community to reach the SDG target of ending all forms of malnutrition and stunting in children under the age of five. At the same time, such efforts also support the UN’s target, outlined in the SDG’s to further resilient agriculture practices that increase food productivity.

The construction of an ecological toilet is related to SDG6: clean water and sanitation of the community. By replacing the current latrine, which pollutes the ground water and the land of the community, the ecological toilet would decrease the level of water contamination. At the same time, the new toilet has the capacity to properly compost human waste, eliminating any pathogens and viruses, converting it to nutrient-rich fertilizers for farming, keeping the local land intact. This approach corresponds with SDG6’s target of improving water quality, reducing pollution, and increasing the level of sanitation and hygiene.

Furthermore, unlike the former NC Lunch Program, this new initiative of  SHC project helps to achieve SDG11: sustainable cities and communities. Until 2016, NC visited the community every Monday to provide enough food for the week to feed the children at school. Although local families appreciated this initiative and it had a positive impact upon the health status of the children, the community was dependent on NC and lacked sustainability. In other words, without the financial support of NC, the community was not able to continue the program. To overcome this challenge, NC developed the SHC project which aims to raise the level of nutrition for future generations in a way that is self-reliant. Unlike the former Lunch Program, the creation of the SHC will improve the health standards of households while allowing families to enjoy such benefits without NC involvement in the future.

It is amazing to think that a single project of an NGO in a small community still counts as a step in achieving SDG2, SDG6, and SDG11. A big accomplishment is an aggregation of the small successes. Meanwhile, there are other important targets of SDGs in Cuncani that have been left out, for now, from NC projects. In the next series of blog posts, I look forward to discussing the relationships between Cuncani, NC and other SDGs in more detail (particularly SDG13: Climate Action, SDG9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, and SDG17: Partnerships for the goals).

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Getting ready to work in the field of International Development (I)

Maricarmen Valdivieso 
Founder and CEO
Nexos Comunitarios

I might have met more than 700 young people who participated in our programs. Grosso modo, I would say that about 30 % of them are still somehow involved in the development field. I also know that some of them are feeling frustrated about profound problems in international development thinking that the foundations of it could be wrong and, hence, maybe, giving up after a realization of other challenges. With the permission of the person who wrote this post, let me share one post I found on social media of one of our most committed former interns:

Kibera Slum, Nairobi. I’ve been studying and working in development for seven years now, yet this was the first time I’ve spent an entire day in an urban slum. I felt disgusted, not for what I saw but for what I’ve become, i.e. a development practitioner. I felt ashamed for increasingly becoming part of this so-called “development community”, which in many ways continues to optimise Kipling’s theory.   

In a couple of weeks from now, I’ll be in (…) writing my thesis in libraries funded by those who have seeded this system of international oppression. I start believing that international development is nothing else than a monstrous sham, a self-perpetuating beast. “The White Man’s Burden” will continue to prevail unless international development is deinstitutionalised.

After reading it I had a mix of feelings. I was concerned about the possibility of him losing his motivation and perspective to do a great work in the development area, but, at the same time I was relieved to see that he still keeps his critical mind. Either I agree or not with his statement, I know it is not easy to be like this, after years of learning, training, working.   He is on his way to finish his second master degree from one of the top 5 universities in the world, his career is a list of accomplishments since his graduation of undergraduate school, also in a world-renowned university. Moreover, his achievements are not just in academia, but I witnessed first-hand his commitment to fieldwork and his success during his time with us.

During the last decade, international ‘volunteer’[1] programs have increased its number and from what I see, participants are being more honest whenever they join them. Nowadays, in our internship program, many of them tell us they participate in this type of programs to gain experience and learn so they can use this experience in their resume to find a job or to get into a graduate program.   I must admit that I used to struggle with the design of our initial programs years ago when we were offering ‘volunteering’

opportunities for young people.  I was not sure if our approach was the best one and was not sure about the real impact of them. By impact, I refer not just for our local community partners, but also for those ‘volunteers’ who came to participate with us. What did they learn? Do they remember what they learned when they go back to school? Do they believe what they learned in the field it is helpful in their future work or do they only want their participation to be on their resume?   We have received feedback and we were able to verify the participation of ‘volunteers’ was positive for our community partners. However, we haven’t been able to follow the 30% of participants currently plying their trade in the development arena. I’m happy to still receive emails from former participants with their news and sometimes with a request for a recommendation letter. I rest assured that they are still doing great work. But emails come from only about 5% of former participants, mostly from the people who knew what they were doing here and why they were doing it.   Since 2015, our approach changed and I’m more satisfied with the changes we are implementing little by little. Based on the idea that our programs are opportunities to learn, my perception has changed of what is most beneficial for our local community partners and for our programs’ participants. I once thought experience in travel and duration of program determined a successful program, but I realized this was not the case.   We have been able to develop programs with universities that share similar goals as we do as an organization. For example, our short-term programs of 1-2 weeks, we have received very positive feedback on the projects and on the strength of development ties between community partners and the participants’ experience. Where can we attribute the resounding success? Perhaps to a few factors:

–       Mutuality and transparency in the relationships: the university and NC are in charge of organizing short-term programs. Typically, programs are organized and confirm 6 – 9 months before the start. The organization of a program requires a great deal of logistics and discussions about the projects, including conversations on expectations, limitations, and the overall duration of each aspect of a given program. Built on mutual trust, we are able to communicate our concerns, and after the program, we provide feedback to each other, to improve the next experience. Working in this environment, is beneficial for all parties – the community, the participants, the university and us at NC. More people are supporting our projects like the Sustainable Homes in Cuncani, started by two wonderful groups of Alternative Spring Break last February in Cuncani.

       Focus on the needs of the community partner: the needs of the community take priority, built into the design and implementation of the program. This is the true indication of the success of a program, equal to, if not more than the satisfaction of the volunteer participants. After all, the primary component of a program done well is the impact on the beneficiaries, the target audience.

       Adequate orientation and supervision of the participants: this responsibility must be shared between the university and NC, and based on the results, the success of this step is the success and satisfaction of the two other actors: community partners and the program’s participants. While talking to a former colleague, we came to the conclusion that it is common to believe that for short-term groups like the Alternative Spring Breaks, participants require a more profound orientation whilst the participants of an internship program, do not need it because they are aware of what they are learning through books and lectures. This is not true. We have witnessed how orientation sessions for all participants to be more empathetic, build trusting and lasting relationships, maintain an open mind regarding culture and respect for customs deemed “weird” when they are just different.

–       Participants are genuinely interested in the program: Participants of our short-term programs are increasingly interested in participating in the program, learning about another culture, about their fellows, about themselves, about the world in general. Some of them might be interested in developing a career in international development in the future, but when they come for a shorter period, their main goal it is not to include the program in their resume or to gain more credits. There is nothing wrong in looking for experiences that would allow them to get better jobs or opportunities in masters programs but it is important to not lose the focus of the programs and to remember why the programs exist.

–       Genuine respect: much more than political correctness, there must exist a veritable respect towards all cultures and to each person involved.

There are other factors involved in the success of programs but I thought we could start our conversation with our short-term programs and the outlined factors, because short-term group programs are often criticized. For us, however, they have proven positive.   I believe these four factors can take us to profound discussions to what is needed to make this type of programs, an opportunity for all those young people who want to be more committed to a better world, those young people who want to use their opportunities and knowledge to do meaningful work and to have a positive impact on our society.

Thanks to the invitation of Dr. Neil Arya, last year I wrote a chapter for a book called: Global Health Experiential Education. From Theory to Practice that will be published soon. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to remember all the many experiences we have had throughout all these years, to analyse our mistakes and our successes and after them, been able to contribute to the improvement of our programs. As our ‘high-season’ for our programs has come to an end, I decided to share my thoughts with you because I know there are former participants and followers of our organization who are very talented and have the potential to be great assets in the development world.

Those very young people need to receive the best education they can from the universities they choose. If they are interested in becoming a development practitioner, they also require education and training in the field. The success of their time in the field is linked to their studies and the supervision they receive from their universities. Furthermore, universities need to recognize the importance of their learning from the field. Universities have the power to make their students, not just fine and efficient professionals but great ones, moreover, great committed citizens, with the potential to improve our world for everyone.

During the next weeks, we will be sharing posts written by our amazing program’s participants. We hope you enjoy them as much we have enjoyed their time in Peru.

Thanks for reading this long post and I hope this to be the start of an ongoing discussion of this subject. And perhaps lead to many more.

¿Por qué caminamos desde Cuncani hasta Urubamba?

Visitar y caminar desde Cuncani nos brindará un mejor conocimiento sobre nuestro Perú, nuestro país de residencia. 

No solo su diversidad natural, sino también su gente, sus tradiciones y costumbres. Además de ser una experiencia personal, ayudaría a poner en el map global una comunidad pequeña y podría construir puentes entre diversas culturas y personas, con el fin de tener un mundo que se preocupe más, que se conozca más y que sea más respetuoso hacia los demás.

Wendy and Dave Holmes (amig@s de NC)

Este setiember caminaremos 15 km desde la comunidad de Cuncani hasta nuestro hogar en Urubamba. Realizamos esta actividad por dos razones:

  • Para generar mayor conciencia del impacto del aislamiento de comunidades como Cuncani en sus procesos de desarrollo;
  • Para recaudar los fondos necesarios que nos permitan alcanzar nuestra meta de este año para nuestro proyecto de Hogares Sostenibles.

Si quieres hacer una donación, visita este link.

Why hike From Cuncani to Urubamba?

Visiting and walking to Cuncani will give us a greater understanding about the country Peru which we call home.

This will be not only in its natural diversity but also in its people with their varied traditions and lifestyles. Besides this personal experience, it will help to put a small community on the global map and could lead to building bridges between diverse cultures and people, ultimately with the goal of having a more caring, knowledgeable and respectful world. 

Wendy and Dave Holmes (NC friends)

 

This September we will be walking 15 km from the community of Cuncani to our home in Urubamba. We are doing this activity for two reasons:

  • To raise awareness about the fact that isolation has an impact on the development of communities like Cuncani;
  • To raise money that can allow us to accomplish the goal of this year for our Sustainable Homes Project

If you would like to make a donation, please visit this link.

Sustainable-Homes-Option-3-English-2