[Testimonials] Connecting

Ronny Bao, Western University

Tourism, similar to a coin, has two sides. One of its faces showcases beautifully alluring imagery of a foreign destination that attracts travellers from all over the globe whereas its second face hides a darker side of tourism that is rarely seen by tourists on vacation. While travelling can be enjoyable, enlightening, and life changing, it can also have a huge negative impact on the residents of the host country where vacationers travel to. Therefore, I have always been cynical towards travelling without a beneficial cause to others; however, this year I came across the opportunity of a lifetime when I applied to the Alternative Spring Break program at my university. My school had a pre-established partnership with Nexos Comunitarios, a Peruvian non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on assisting isolated populations in Cusco, Peru. Our week-long trip was spent through engaged learning while working with the NGO in one of the projects. The focused population of our trip were the residents of the high altitude community of Cuncani.

Traveling to Cuncani to build chicken coops with Cuncani residents while learning from them and building connections has opened my eyes in ways that I could have never expected. The residents of Cuncani live in a harsh but stunningly beautiful environment amongst the mountains at 4,000 meters in the air. To reach the homes of our hosts we were required to hike up part of a mountain after a bus ride that took us to the end of the highest paved roads in that region. Our entire group took three times as long as it would have taken our host  to make the climb; furthermore we all had sturdily manufactured shoes whereas she wore simple, open-toed, leather sandals with poor grip. Despite her footwear, our host and guide nimbly navigated her way up the mountains while pausing frequently so that we could both catch up to her and our breaths. Although the hike was hard, it was certainly worth it. The view outside the home of our hosts were absolutely captivating, the majestic peaks of the mountains were starkly contrasted against their precipitous sides that plummeted to the base of the mountains. Cuncani was truly a hidden gem that was masked by the poverty in its region, as a matter of fact it was even on the way to the world renown tourist destination Machu Picchu.

One of the short and long term goals of Nexos Comunitarios is to stimulate tourism in Cuncani. Given the depths of poverty and exclusion that many of its residents live in any amount of economic stimulation can vastly improve their standard of living. The biggest barrier in the way of tourism growth in Cuncani is its isolation and misinformation and lack thereof. Many people have never heard of Cuncani, therefore increasing traffic through those mountains require travellers who have experienced the beauty of Cuncani to spread the word. This is where my team and myself come in, we are energetic and curious young adults who seek to travel the world in an ethically appropriate manner. After travelling to Cuncani we are keen to introduce others to its charm and elegance.

Creating international information links to Cuncani and Peru to help its excluded citizens is only one of the various projects that Nexos Communitaros is working on. The NGO brilliantly combines tourism and programs such as #BeTheChange and InternLink and work into a perfect consolidation that appeals to post-secondary students such as myself. My trip to Peru has certainly changed my life by opening my eyes to the power that small actions have in the lives others. If given the opportunity I truly implore you to visit Cuncani under the guidance of Nexos Communitaros.



[Testimonial] #BeTheChange

Mathias Nilges, St. Francis Xavier University

Even after half a dozen very thorough showers, there is still Cuncani dirt in my callouses and underneath my fingernails. Cuncani refuses to let go. The same is true of my feelings and thoughts. Here, too, Cuncani, its people, its animals, and its landscape have left traces that, I hope in this case, will remain with me for a long time. And in some ways, I sense that some parts of me are still there. It is impossible not to be deeply moved by this part of the world and its people, people who live and work in a region that is both stunningly beautiful but also harsh and unforgiving. In conditions that had us shivering and huddling together for warmth in our cushy down sleeping bags at night, the people of Cuncani work to support their families and communities with few resources and little outside support.

Life in Cuncani is hard. And yet Señor Martin and his family welcomed us with such great warmth and with constant smiles and kind assistance that we felt not just humbled but often also embarrassed–embarrassed about how little we could do to help, embarrassed by the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of our host that showed in every action how easy and antiseptic our own lives ordinarily are. We left deeply touched and impressed by the people of this region, people who want and need support, but people who are also immensely proud of their heritage and culture, their region and way of life and who fight to preserve these aspects of their existence. We went to Peru to visit and work with people in some of the most remote areas of the country, those people who have been forgotten by the nation’s otherwise so successful poverty relief efforts. After having spent some time with some of these families, I wonder how I, or anyone, could ever forget them.

Addendum: I must add that no aspect of our amazing trip would have been possible without the help and support of the wonderful people of Nexos Comunitarios. Their organization deserves our attention and support, and I encourage everyone to look them up, support them, to work and collaborate with them. What a wonderful, inspiring, generous, and all around impressive group of people. Thank you, Maricarmen, in particular. You’re an inspiration.

Second addendum: though I will say this repeatedly at future public events, already at this point: I had the privilege to go on this ISL trip with the best group of students imaginable. They are all impressive young academics and some of the most kind, thoughtful, and caring people that I have met since coming to StFX. It was a joy to travel and work with this group, especially because they made everything so easy on me. Really, they didn’t need me around at all. And that’s probably the ideal impression a group leader should get: that no group leader is needed because the group members are so good at what they do and have grown into a unit of friends in ways that were heart warming to watch. Thanks for letting me witness the growth of your friendship, your work, and your analytical thought process over the course of this trip, Natasha, Laura, Emma, Elizabeth, Magie, Katie, and Carmen!

[Ambassador] What is good?

Alice Ebeyer, McGill University

Being a student, I have to go through a series of hopes, uncertainties and disappointments regarding the future of our planet (and mine). I am halfway through my international development studies as an undergraduate, and if I have solved some of the questions that the academy has posed to me, I confess to always being confused about the professional prospects that the development field has to offer. This tenacious feeling of having to help the so-called developing countries, tinged with a persistent post-colonial shadow. Today, the education we receive through this program urges us not to reproduce past mistakes. Yet new ones are committed; a clumsiness that reflects an ideology falsely focused on the common interest.

The realities within the university are contradictory, promoting an ideal of development that remains, in my opinion, a projection of capitalism in its entirety and its implementation. These economic ideologies are contingent to the power imbalance across the world: they imply an exponential enrichment which I believe can only be achieved by the relative impoverishment of an opposite. University then becomes a place where the distinction between professional aspirations and the idea of development aid fades. The personal interest is merged with the common interest, for better and for worse. Ideas are fusing: would I be a leader, what can I undertake, how can I participate in achieving the new goals of the United Nations? In a sense, this program conditions us and makes us want to achieve goals, to do good because we have been taught to do so. It is an automated form of applying knowledge that is not necessarily motivated by a genuine sense of spreading good around oneself. What is good? In my opinion, everything that minimizes the malaise of others. Everything is relative of course, but if these inter-relational fundamentals were re-examined in teaching, perhaps our vision of interculturality and co-working would be thorough and the need to be attentive to the people’s input would be further highlighted.

The result of these observations leads me to some form of confusion on the field. There is a somewhat hypocritical sentiment that knots my stomach when I think of the enthusiasm provoked by international studies. It has become so easy to volunteer, to travel with a purpose, to do Voluntourism or simply apply abroad for any kind of job. As a fashion, an ephemeral passion for the meaning of life that the journey grants. Opportunities to work in an organization that offers dialogue and connaissance as key principles are becoming scarce. They stress the complexity of reality: one that takes time, perseverance, strength but also a lot of love and humility to realize every new step. The ability of students to go around the world and/or work for this or that organization – for sometimes exorbitant amounts – in order to gain experience contradicts itself. We are offered a form of privilege of helping, to meet our personal needs. I finally come back to this vision of international development as a hand of post-colonialism, a rejuvenated version of the white man’s burden. To stem the yoke that the countries of the ‘South’ suffer subjectively, I think it would be a good idea to authentically support local organizations that encourage the participation of all groups concerned; no more no less. Clearly, if international studies are today quite trendy, I do not think they are reprehensible: simply flawed.

I find my international development program very complete in that it draws from various subjects and different disciplines. This allows us to learn a great deal and to absorb varied perspectives on development. Subjects such as sociology or anthropology offer a holistic view of global thought while economics or geography, among others, represent the development sector and the power gaps between countries in a more pragmatic way. We feel a deep criticism of Western ethnocentrism, the white man’s burden, or late twentieth-century development models that have contributed to the spread of neoliberalism. Theoretically, the focus is on our ability to know more about what is best for others or condemn invasive methods observed in research  as well as in development projects themselves.

The aim of future generations would be to find a balance, which will be done with time, education and the strengthening of collective consciousness. Do not misunderstand my criticism: I deeply believe that the involvement of institutions in promoting international development is a good thing. It shows that people are pacifying themselves, that new generations are adopting a different definition of happiness, including its global aspect. We must continue to spread the desire to improve human kind, in spite of its intricacy. I simply question the conflict of interest that development missions and the role of institutions bring to light: I am uncertain of their significant scope. We must continue to move forward and perpetually challenge ourselves so as to soften past tensions and, perhaps one day, offer a fair present.


[Thinking aloud] The power of sports

94th minutes of the game, when the final whistle has been blown, whole country burst full of joys and tears. The 2-0 victory against the New Zealand has allowed Peru to secure the last ticket for the World Cup in Russia, making it for first time since 1982. Although ranked as 10th in the FIFA world ranking, world top class national teams such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Colombia have stood big in front of Peruvian’s dream for 35 years. But on the night of November 15th, the Peruvian national team, and the country, put an end to this bad luck streak and made history.

The whole country celebrated. The President of Peru even declared a nation holiday the day after the victory. As a sports fan, I have always believed in the power of sports. The excitement of the them can have an enormous power to unite people, and even lead to social change. In the field of international development, we tend to focus on the academic issues, such as national policies or economic theories. However, that social change is just a collective result of the change in every individual’s behaviour or perspective. In this case, the excitement of sports is something many people share and can lead to a greater effort in making change.

I would like to introduce one of my favorite soccer players, who has demonstrated to the world how the power of sports can change the world. His name is Didier Drogba from Ivory Coast. He is known world-wide not just for his glorious professional career in the Chelsea, but also by bringing peace to his country.

 Credits: thechive.com

On October 8th, 2005, the Drogba led the Ivory Coast to defeated Sudan by 3-1, qualifying for the Germany World Cup in 2006 for the first time in history. Nonetheless, while the team was full of happiness, a west African country was in middle of a deadly civil war between government-held south and rebel-held north. After the game, Drogba picked up the microphone in the locker room and through the live TV, he plead the country to end the war.

Men and women of the Ivory Coast.

From the north, south, center and east.

We have proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a shared objective to qualify for the World Cup.

We promise you that the celebration will unite people.

Today we beg you, please, on our knees.

Forgive. Forgive. Forgive…

This country in Africa, with so many riches, must not descend into war like this.

Please… lay down all the weapons.

Hold elections, organize elections.

All will be better.

(CNN “How Didier Drogba and his Ivory Coast teammates helped end the civil war”)

With the teammates, he asked the combatants to put down their weapons and cease the five year civil war. In addition to this, believing in the power of sports, Drogba negotiated with the government to hold international soccer matches in the north of Ivory Coast. Previously all the national matches had been hosted in the south. With the effort of this soccer player, he helped encourage the reunification of the south and north parts of the country, and the national match against Madagascar happened in 2007.

  Credits: depor.com

This is the power of sports. Drogba was able to bring peace to his country because of his fame and respect that he received from the population as a professional soccer player. All the excitement we have towards sports gave a player a great power to cease a civil war, which no one, not even president of the country, would have been able to achieve. And this says something to a country like Peru, where the social division still remains a major problem. The subjugation of the Inca’s by the Spanish, and tragedy of civil wars have left scars in the history of Peru. It still embraces a sense of discrimination and division amongst the ‘people from the coast’ and ‘people in the Andes’. Although the country has been trying to solve this issue, it is still a problem in today’s current society. However, just like the example in the country of the Ivory Coast, soccer helped unify the country. Two years ago, when Peru made it the quarterfinal of the Copa America (the most prestigious Latin American soccer tournament), the team captain Caludia Pizzaro tweeted the victory in Quechua.

“Ñoqanchis tucuyta churashanchis llapanchis cusisqa cannchispaq! Hatunllacta Peru!!, (We are giving it all, for everyone to be happy. Peru is a great nation!!).”

(Splinter: “Peru’s soccer captain tweets in Quechua to rally nation for Copa America quarterfinal”)

This Quechua tweet was retweeted 3.7K times, tackling the current social division and promoting the national unity and showing respect towards the Inca culture.

Sports is not just to provide entertainment, but also allows a possibility for making social changes, contributing to a sense of unity, and teaches team values. In the summer of 2018 in Russia, 32 countries will participate in the World Cup. Each team and player will be playing in honour of their country. I am sure it will bring the world joys, tears, excitement, and help unify nations!

It’s not where you go, It’s who you are with

Early on a Tuesday morning, 10 families gathered at the school yard in Cuncani, for the meeting of tourism project. In this meeting, NC explained the requirements and responsibilities of each family to promote the tourism circuit in the community. Although it can be long process until the community to receives many visitors, families are eager to prepare their homes and provide a good service to attract tourists in the near future. The family of Sr. Sergio and Sra. Ricardina is not an exception. He is one of the local partners of our sustainable homes and tourism project. Today I would like to tell a little bit about my visit at the house in Sra. Ricardina and Sr. Sergio this week and share some great experiences of staying in the community.

[4:30 pm] Visiting the house and taking photos

As I arrived at the door, Sr. Sergio, Sra. Ricardina and their three children, Alex (14 years old), Jessica (12 years old) and Rolando (10 years old), welcomed me into their home. After putting my bags on my bed, I decided to teach the children how to take photos since all three kids seemed to be interested in my camera. First, I took a photo of Rolando to show them how to do it. After that, I asked Rolando to take a photo of Jessica, and then Jessica to take a photo of Alex. Lastly, Alex took a photo of me. Although they struggled to take good photos at first, their photography skills improved over time.

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[5:00 pm] Soccer Time!

At around 5 pm, Jessica went to pasture the sheep. The two boys and I were in the yard, and naturally we picked up a ball and start playing soccer. It was me against the two brothers (Alex and Rolando). We all enjoyed playing soccer but the condition was far from being good. I was wearing my hiking boots, there were many rocks, bumps and slopes, and more than anything, we were playing at the altitude of almost 4000 m. Although we only played for 20 ~ 30 min, I was exhausted and needed to call the game off… By the way, the boys won by 5-4. Afterwards, I showed them some soccer juggling tricks. They were eager to learn and spend almost an hour practicing doing a neck stall (where you control the ball behind the neck). It was great idea since it gave me some time to rest.

[6:30 pm] Homework & Cooking

After playing soccer, the kids started to do their homework. Having nothing to do, I went to Kitchen to spend some time with Sra. Ricardina and Sr. Sergio. Although Sra. Ricardina only spoke Quechua, my ‘Quechua phrase book’ made us have a good/fun time. I picked a sentence from the book and try to say in Quechua to see if she would understand (I believe I pronounced the words properly more than 70 % of the time).

As the children finished their homework, they joined us and it became like a little Quechua class. At the same time, I taught them some Japanese as they were interested in my language. During this time, we found that there were some words that have a meaning in both Quechua and Japanese. For example, ‘ku-chi’ means a ‘pig’ in Quechua, while it means a ‘mouth’ in Japanese. Also, ‘ma-ki’ signifies a ‘hand’ in Quechua, and ‘firewoods’ in Japan. It was great way for both of us to share our culture and language.

[7:00 pm] Dinner and tik-tak-toe

When the food was ready, we all gathered around the table and started to eat. The dinner was rice with vegetables and variety of potatoes grown in their land. It was delicious! I forgot the name of the dish, but they said it was one of the typical plates they have in their community.

As we finished eating, I asked the kids if they wanted to play a simple game of tik-tak-toe. For the first 10 minutes, we took turns playing. However, since no one wanted to wait, we decided to arrange some rules and made it so that all of us can play at the same time. We expanded the grid and set the rule that one needs to have four of their marks in a row to win. I was not sure how it would work but it turned out to be a very interesting game. Although we did not count how many times each of us won, I believe Alex won the most. We all enjoyed ourselves!

[8:00 pm] Bed Time

People in Cuncani go bed at around 8pm since they need to wake up at 5:30 am every day. I’m always excited to sleep at Cuncani since I am used to going bed much later time. Even though the temperature of Cuncani can get very low at the night, a comfortable bed and layers of blankets keeps me warm during the night.

[5:30 am] Morning

As the outside starts to get brighter, every one of the family member wakes up and starts preparing for their day. Sra. Ricardina made breakfast for everyone. This day, Sr. Sergio needed to go to the farm to cultivate the land (Yapui), which he said it would take him 2 hours to get to. Alex and Jessica left the house by 6:30 am to hop on the truck from Cuncani to their secondary school in Lares. The person who has most relaxing time in the morning is Rolando, who only needed to leave the house at around 8 am to go to primary school in Cuncani. I woke up at around 6 am and left the house at 6:45 am to the school for the meeting at 7 am at the school yard. It was a pleasure for me to stay at their house.

I always enjoy staying with families in Cuncani. It is a great opportunity for me to be out of a city, relax, enjoy beautiful scenery, and experience the life in Andes (weaving, cooking, agriculture etc.) But more than anything, the delightful part of the visit is to get to know the people and spend time together. Surrounded with a welcoming environment and sharing our lives and cultures is what makes my visit to Cuncani so special. It is not where you go, it is who you are with that makes your visit memorable. I believe this human exchange is something not many tours can offer. The tourism circuit NC is currently promoting is not only to allow the families to increase their income, but also aims to enrich both visitors and local families’ lives by this valuable human exchange.