My ASB Peru Experience – Alec Popa

MIGUEL ANGEL ARREATEGUI RODRIGUEZ

My name is Alec Popa. I’m a third year Medical Sciences student from Western University and I participated on ASB Peru in May of 2018.

 

MIGUEL ANGEL ARREATEGUI RODRIGUEZ            From the beginning it became very clear that the overall theme of this trip was community. On our first day we met the amazing team at Nexos Comunitarios, who immediately made us feel part of their family. They also became our teachers, providing workshops throughout the trip and turning this ASB into an excellent cultural learning experience as well. Our adventure took place in the small town of Cuncani. Cuncani is a very isolated and underprivileged town. Their survival is dependent on the strong community they’ve created. And we were welcomed into this community the moment we arrived. When we arrived at the school where we would be staying for the week all of the children were lined up waiting to welcome us. They ASB May 2018-11introduced themselves and we made a high-five tunnel. It was a very fun way to break the ice and introduce us to the community. What I believe sets this ASB experience apart from the rest is how close we grew to the community. In a typical day I would wake up early, and the first thing I would do is hike one of the many incredible mountain peaks surrounding the village. Then we would start our day in the kindergarten class playing games and making art with the young children. Next, we ate a lunch that was prepared for us by the mothers of the community, made using ingredients pooled together by all the families in Cuncani. Many of these mothers had to walk an hour or more to make lunch for their children and for us, and they do it every day. I was very moved by the difficult lengths these mothers go through to ensure their child has a healthy lunch and I was very touched to be included in their lunch time preparations. This experience was ASB May 2018-4an excellent lesson in humanity. These people who have so little still work so hard and spend every last resource they have to improve the lives of their children. After lunch we moved to either a grade 3/4 or grade 5/6 classroom where we worked with the children on a science project. Funding for these schools is relatively low and as such science is a difficult subject to teach. We were able to bring with us inexpensive paper microscopes called “foldscopes.” With our foldscopes we taught the children about germs and they were even able to visualize them for the first time in their lives.

 

MIGUEL ANGEL ARREATEGUI RODRIGUEZ

Our trip was defined by a sense of community unlike any I had ever experienced before and an unrelenting work ethic in the face of adversity. A week in isolation and seeing how much these parents do for their children put so much in perspective. Throughout the trip we had excellent group reflections on technology, privilege, wealth, education, health and so many other topics that we take for granted living in Canada. Overall, the trip was incredibly rewarding and we felt part of a larger project that makes a real difference in the lives of these children. If you wish to learn about another part of the world and volunteer for a truly community-driven organization then this is the trip for you.

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Alternative Spring Break with Nexos Comunitarios – Colleen Martin

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My name is Colleen from Western University and I was a participant of Western University’s Alternate Spring Break (ASB) in May 2018. During that time, we travelled to Peru and had the privilege of working with Nexos Comunitarios! Alternate Spring Break is a program that travels worldwide and aims to teach participants about the community’s’ ways of life, common challenges, understanding their long-term goals and engaging with community members. This means each experience is different and uniquely rewarding.

 

MIGUEL ANGEL ARREATEGUI RODRIGUEZ

During my time in Peru, we spent a week in Cuncani working with children as young as 2 up to age 12 to teach the importance of washing your hands. We did this by teaching the kids about germs through a play, asking them to draw what they thought germs looked like and using foldscopes (paper microscopes) to show what germs actually look like for them to compare results. Once we had samples under the foldscopes the kids were eagerly looking over each other’s shoulders to get a turn and see the germs. It was a relief to see the project go over well because this was the first time it had been done in the community. After this project, our ASB group went to community members homes to see how they live. Both projects had reports written to communicate our findings that Nexos will use as they continue with their initiatives. Our community partner, Nexos also provided us with cultural workshops to understand Peruvian culture and society better. This really amplified the cultural significance of the trip.

ASB May 2018-7This trip allows participants to gain invaluable learning opportunities from beingoutside the classroom and in a new community, being immersed in a different culture and working with a community partner to be a helping hand in the initiatives. Each initiative is based on current community needs which makes this trip so beneficial to the community.

MIGUEL ANGEL ARREATEGUI RODRIGUEZ

Cuncani 2018 – Suhaima Tunio


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I want to sincerely thank Nexos Comunitarios for allowing me to participate in life-changing service-learning opportunity in Peru. This experience was a challenging one, but it was extremely rewarding. Thanks to the enduring partnership that Nexos has with the community and the community-driven nature of the organization, we were able to assist this community in promoting health among their school-aged children.

MIGUEL ANGEL ARREATEGUI RODRIGUEZ
Students from Western University, including me, volunteered at a school in Cuncani. Cuncani is an extremely impoverished, isolated, and rural area without hot-water access and the nearest town being a 2-hour trek away. Through working with the children living in this region, I got the chance to apply my learning about global health, health promotion, and the social determinants of health from my lectures at Western University. I watched all of my textbook learning come to life and I understood the importance of so many different health concepts.

peru - 1 (58)This program was developed using certain facets of the health promotion framework including process documentation and effective program development. I was thrilled to have taken part in promoting health education and teaching the children about germs, health, and hygiene. Without the long-standing partnerships between Western University and Nexos Comunitarios, I would have never realized that such a beautiful community like Cuncani existed and that I could play a role, albeit small, in the health promotion of this community.

When we were there, we improved certain hygienic practices such as hand-washing and introduced low-cost microscopes, called Foldscopes, to allow children to explore the microscopic mechanisms of germ-spread. We were also involved in the pedagogical documentation of these children in order to track their development and learning. Finally, we developed marketing materials (such as photographs and testimonials) to promote tourism in Cuncani so that hikers and other adventurers who are exploring the Andes can stay in the houses of these families to help generate income within the families.

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Furthermore, I realized how difficult it was for me to live in the mountains, yet how accustomed such young children were to this area. It was truly inspiring to see their resilience towards the altitude and the lack of hot water. This experience taught me that so many different factors can play such a huge role in the health of a community such as the living environment, community social support, isolation, food-availability, and education. All these components must come together and be considered when aiming for health promotion.
Another notable feature of this community was that these families were almost entirely self-sufficient. Living in such an isolated and rural area, they had adapted to their environment by making their own clothes and farming their own food, in which many traditions were passed on since the spectacular culture of the Incan empire. Most of them had even made their own houses! They all owned animals including alpacas, chicken, and sheep and they utilized their resources in any way that they could. Manure was repurposed as fuel for the fire and also fertilizer for farming. The community in Cuncani taught me that the human-spirit is incredibly strong, and that people can tame the mountains to make it their home.

MIGUEL ANGEL ARREATEGUI RODRIGUEZ

After returning to Lima and going to a memorial regarding Peru’s recent political history, we learned about the horrific genocides from terrorist groups against Peruvian aboriginal communities. Coming out, I felt that this paralleled some of the aboriginal issues that Canada deals with. This experience further highlighted the importance to support Cuncani due to its aboriginal roots and the systematic isolation. In this way, I feel that I learned more about Canadian history and realized that human history is extremely similar worldwide.
This service-learning opportunity was truly remarkable and has allowed me to grow both academically and personally. Not only was I able to use what I had learned in class to assist in a community-driven project, ASB Peru helped me to learn valuable lessons about gratitude, resilience, and cultural competence.