By Dr. Marie-Eve Monette (eNCounter Program, Nexos Comunitarios)
It is 2010, and it is my first time in Peru, my first time in the Andes. I am in grad school, and I just completed my first year as a student and teaching fellow in the Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies at McGill University. Although I have been learning about Peruvian history and literature for years, for the past six months I have been complementing this knowledge with literature about the education system in Peru, the Intercultural Bilingual Education program being implemented in indigenous communities in the Andes, and about the oral practices Quechua-speakers use to teach their children, all in preparation for my 5-week internship in Urubamba.
When I arrive in Urubamba, there is only one other graduate student there. Every other person on site is enrolled as an undergraduate student at an institution in North America or Europe. Although my main focus is teaching English to craftsmen and women in the Urubamba Valley so that they can better negotiate with tourists, my 5 weeks are also spent observing these undergraduate students as they go about their activities. What is born in that trip is not only a strong desire to keep working in the Andes but also to better prepare students for experiences abroad.
Fast forward 9 years, and I am still working in the Andes and with Nexos Comunitarios. Since my first experience in Urubamba, I graduated from my Ph.D. program. I was also an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Alabama for four years, where I completed a Faculty Fellowship in Service-Learning at the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility. During my Ph.D. and my four years as an Assistant Professor, Maricarmen Valdivieso – the founder of Nexos Comunitarios – and I shared various conversations about how to better prepare students for service-learning and field-work in the Andes, and how to create equal partnerships between the organization, the communities it serves, and the students who come to support its programs. As a result of these conversations, and several others that Maricarmen has had with former interns and participants, she and other Nexos Comunitarios staff members created the eNCounter Program, a model that fills the gaps we observed in the student experience in the Andes and in North America.
During the eNCounter Program, students:
- Gain hands-on experience in development and nonprofit management by job shadowing Nexos Comunitarios staff members
- Complement this experience with academic knowledge about Peruvian histories, cultures, societies, development models, etc., taught by Peruvian and foreign academics
- Receive language training in Spanish, with an additional option in Quechua
- All while participating in workshops on intercultural dialogue and engagement.
The objective of the eNCounter Program is to teach students that development work is a combination of knowledge in policy expertise, planning and operations, and project management; academic research and its implementation through field-work; and partnership development and relationship building, all of which cannot succeed without linguistic capacity and cultural sensitivity.
Next year, I will once again be joining the Nexos Comunitarios team, this time to accompany students in their journey of intercultural engagement as they begin their participation in eNCounter. I could not be happier to contribute to this program, and to pass on what Nexos Comunitarios offered me in 2010: the opportunity to build the foundations for what will hopefully be long-lasting relationships and projects with people in the Andes.