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.



[Thinking Aloud] Changing habits


“Did you read the book I gave you?”

“Nah, reading is not my thing.”

“Good, stay naive.”


Just a few days ago, our donor for the Sustainable Home Project, Jim Norgate (Dreams to Beams), visited Urubamba. While at dinner one night, we had a conversation of how keeping one’s own finances can be beneficial. This conversation led to a discussion of having a good habits. Next day, I talked with Jim about how I am struggling to get into the habit of reading. Although many people have repetitively mentioned the importance of reading books, I was never able to get into the daily habit of reading.

Jim responded “so many people think they can change their behaviour or habits easily, but it’s not easy. We must think logically and identify what is the consequence of your habit.” He mentioned the incident that triggered him to gain his habit of reading his early 20’s. It was when his friend told him, “Good stay naive”. He was frustrated at first, but then, this comment motivated him of not wanting to be ‘naive’, and changed his attitude towards reading.

Why is it hard to change habits? When we try to change behaviour, there are limiting beliefs that prevent us from changing our habits. It is a reason which we create internally that we can’t do something. For example, I cannot read because I need to work on other tasks, I do not have time, or simply I do not like reading. These excuses have a higher priority within myself than my will of acquiring a new habit. Indeed, the desire of Jim not want to be ‘naive’ has overcome all these limiting beliefs in himself. Usually there needs to be a triggering event which causes the person to realize the negative habits of their habit to motivate them to change their behaviour.

Nonetheless, my research has indicated that perhaps motivation is not enough to acquire a new habit. There are three R’s principals of habit change: Reminder, Routine, and Reward. The Reminder is the trigger that initiates the behaviour. It is effective to initiate ‘new habit’ in a relation to other already existing habits. For example, in my case, I have started to read a book for 15 minutes before going to bed. ‘Going to bed’ is the already existing habit, and the action of ‘reading book’ is the new habit that I am trying to link with it. Although 15 minutes seems to be a short time for reading, the task is simple and manageable for me to repeat. The Reward is my satisfaction, getting rid of discomfort of knowing “I need to read more…” or “I need to get into the habit of reading”.

This notion of behavious change can help me in forming desired habits in the future. I am in the process of changing my behaviour. The success of changing habits is that I will able to adapt the same strategy to obtain other desired habits. At the same time, this understanding of behavious change is also related to our work at Nexos Comunitarios. One of ways to promote community development is to influence behaviour change in the community. By understanding how a person successfully acquire a new habit, it can show others how to gain a new habit. For example, our objective of traveling soap is to foster proper handwashing behaviour amongst children. Knowing this concept of limiting beliefs and the 3R’s of habit have helped me develop the project design.

First, we must thoroughly explain to the children why they should wash their hands with soap (with a specific demonstration). This demonstration and explanation seeks to stimulate children’s internal motivation to change their behaviour, acknowledging the both benefits and negative consequences of not washing their hands on daily basis. Then, we will install the poster in front of dining room at the school to remind the students to wash their hands with soap, so that the new habit of “proper handwashing” will link with the existing habit of “eating lunch”. To maintain their routine, the ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’ could be set up at dining room so that children would be prompt to do the handwashing to receive checkmark every day. At the end of every month, for children who have completed their ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’, they may receive small rewards such as candies or cookies. This is just an idea of how we can implement traveling soap to successfully influence children to obtain new habits.

Gaining a new habit is not an easy task. It involves high motivation, and 3R of habit principals. As an organization working with community members, seeking to provide a positive influence to stimulate behavioral change to better lives, and learning the psychological aspects of how one can acquire habit, is worth paying attention to. Understanding of the acquisition of habit change may not only help us to develop our desired habits, but also be useful tool for designing community development projects.



[Trabajo en Marcha] Ajustando el diseño del proyecto

Cada falla es un hito que nos lleva al éxito.

A pesar que estamos contentos con el progreso del proyecto, no todo ha ido como lo habíamos planeado. Es importante ser flexibles en ajustar el diseño del proyecto y eso lo hemos aprendido a través de las lecciones del trabajo de campo. Nuestro proyecto de FotoVoz* con niños y niñas de Cuncani es un ejemplo perfecto. En este blog, quisiera compartir con ustedes algunas lecciones que hemos aprendido con el proyecto FotoVoz.

Lección Nº1: Buscando un horario ideal para enseñar a las niñas y niños cómo usar el equipo. 

Photovoice Nexos

Es necesario encontrar un tiempo y espacio ideales para enseñarles a los niños cómo usar la cámara. El plan original consistía en que el coordinador debía visitar la escuela una vez a la semana y enseñarles a los niños y niñas. Sin embargo, debido a la huelga de profesores en la región de Cusco, que duró más de dos meses, no pudimos llevar a cabo nuestro plan original. Bajo estas circunstancias, fue difícil programa nuevamente el horario porque la comunidad tiene formas muy limitadas para comunicarse (Cuncani no tiene teléfono o servicio de internet). Para arreglar este problema, y asegurar el avance del proyecto, coordinamos un horario en base a la disponibilidad de cada alumno/a para hacer los talleres. También, con ayuda de la comunidad, decidimos llevar a cabo el taller de una hora en el Centro Comunitario.

Lección Nº2: Mayor énfasis en el propósito del proyecto 

Durante los talleres,  hemos enseñado a las niñas y niños a tomar fotografías de sus comidas durante un periodo de una semana. A pesar que los/las estudiantes han puesto en práctica lo aprendido, no han podido tomar fotos de todo lo que comen cada día. Analizando la situación hemos visto que es necesario explicar el proyecto de manera más extendida a las madres y padres de familia para que ellos puedan, si están interesados/as, aportar al éxito del proyecto. Fue claro que necesitamos explicar con más detalles y pedir su ayuda. Dedicaremos más tiempo a este aspecto.

Lección Nº3: Proceso de selección de los/as participantes

Empezar un proyecto requiere también flexibilidad, pero nos dimos cuenta que quizá hemos sido demasiado flexibles.  Hemos trabajado con niñas y niños de 7 a 11 años. Cada uno de ellos ha estado interest en el uso de la cámara pero en la práctica, no todos podían hacerlo cómo se debía.  Por ello, hemos decidido enfocarnos en 5to grado, quienes tienen algunas habilidades más desarrolladas para poder usar la cámara. Al mismo tiempo, trabajar con un pequeño número de niños y niñas ( hay 9 niñas y niños en el 5to grado) nos permite completar el proyecto de manera menos difícil en el tiempo planificado, involucrando de manera correcta a las niñas y niños interesados.

Basado en los retos del diseño original del proyecto, hemos podido ajustar su diseño. Es un proceso de aprendizaje, pero una parte muy buena como Gerente de Proyectos de NC, es que tengo la posibilidad de hacer las modificaciones que son necesarias. Con la responsabilidad de llevar a cabo el proyecto, y tengo la experiencia de primera mano desde el trabajo de campo. Pienso que un buen trabajado de campo es alguien que aprende de sus errores, para poder mejorar la situación que muchas veces cambia constantemente. Nuestro proyecto de FotoVoz es un Proceso En Marcha y estamos realizando los ajustes necesarios para encontrar el mejor método que puede ser ajustado en Cuncani. A pesar de todos los restos, creemos que este proyecto tiene el potencial de ayudar a medir el nivel de nutrición de la comunidad, mientras establece una mejor relación de trabajo con las personas involucradas.


* NC usa FotoVoz como un indicador adicional para conocer el nivel de nutrición de la comunidad. El objetivo de este proyecto es capturar a través de una fotografía que come cada familia diariamente.

[Trabajo En Marcha] Nueva iniciativa: El jabón viajero

Hace unas semanas, tuve una conversación muy interesante con nuestra ex-pasante noruega, Madeline Moe, acerca de su simple pero buena iniciativa llamada:  El jabón viajero. El objetivo es conectar a los niños de Cuncani con los niños de Oslo (Noruega) mediante un intercambio internacional de jabones hechos a mano. Entre los beneficios de este iniciativa, me gustaría compartir cuatro ventajas en esta publicación:

1: Aumenta el nivel de higiene en la comunidad

 Kenji lavándose las manos con niñosEl gran beneficio de esta iniciativa es que permite que los niños y niñas usen jabones para lavar sus manos, lo cual es muy importante para la mejora de la higiene. En nuestra sociedad actual, tomamos el jabón como un producto básico sin prestar mucha atención. Sin embargo, el uso del jabón tiene un efecto significativo en mejorar la higiene, especialmente en Cuncani. Por ejemplo, de acuerdo con la “Water and Sanitation Indicators Measurements Guide (Guía de Medidas de Indicadores de Agua y Saneaminto)” de USAID, un mejor comportamiento de higiene puede disminuir la exposición de patógenos, lo que conduce a la reducción de enfermedades diarreicas y parásitos intestinales. Al mismo tiempo, puede aumentar la absorción de nutrientes y mejorar la resistencia a las enfermedades. Uno de los indicadores en la medición del nivel de higiene en la guía es  ‘el porcentaje del comportamiento adecuado de lavado de manos’. Por lo tanto, esta iniciativa tiene potencial para estimular a los niños en el hábito de lavarse sus manos y asignar el tiempo suficiente para enseñar técnicas adecuadas de lavado de manos para niños en Cuncani y en Oslo, a través de actividades de aprendizaje-acción que pueden tener un impacto determinante en mejorar la salud general. entre ellos.

2: Promueve el intercambio intercultural entre los niños y niñas.

Esta actividad también facilita las interacciones internacionales entre los niños de Oslo y los niños de Cuncani. Dos grupos de niños tendrán la misma oportunidad de aprender sobre la otra cultura a través de una actividad divertida. Este tipo de interacción cultural es mutuamente beneficioso para ambos grupos, ya que les permite entender y respetar las similitudes y diferencias entre ellos, y ampliar sus conocimientos y perspectivas. Los niños  y niñas de Oslo pueden aprender acerca de la comunidad en una remota comunidad andina, mientras que los estudiantes de Cuncani tendrán la oportunidad de ver la vida de los niños y niñas en el norte de Europa, algo que nunca antes habían visto. Su abundante curiosidad puede orientarse hacia el aprendizaje de diferentes razas, prácticas, historia, geografía o alimentos a través de las interacciones con otros niños de su misma edad.

3: Demostrar la comunidad a través de su propia voz

Esta iniciativa no es solo viaje a través del jabón, sino también un viaje a través de la voz de los niños. Hemos acordado crear jabones que son únicos para su comunidad. Por ejemplo, una de las ideas era hacer un jabón con la mezcla de las plantas locales disponibles, hierbas o flores. También estamos pensando en hacer un video de niños y niñas explicando su producto hecho a mano y la relación con su comunidad. Esto es especialmente importante para los niños en Cuncani porque las niñas y niños a menudo carecen de las oportunidades de presentar o expresar su comunidad a otros debido a su severo aislamiento. ¿Cómo es tu comunidad? Que haces todos los dias ¿Cuáles son las cosas que te gustan de tu comunidad? Estas preguntas sencillas pueden ser muy importantes para que los niños  y niñas peruanas y noruegas reflexionen sobre su comunidad y reevalúen sus valores en su vida.

4: Diversión y emoción a través del arte y actividad artesanal

Children in Cuncani

Por último, pero no menos importante, a los niños y niñas les encanta trabajar en proyectos artísticos y manuales. Tiene el beneficio de mejorar la imaginación y habilidades artísticas de los niños y niñas mientras pueden pasar tiempo divertido. Dependiendo de sus formas, ingredientes o colores, una simple fabricación de jabón puede ser un gran proceso de fabricación artesanal para las niñas y niños para fortalecer su creatividad. Además, al intercambiar el jabón hecho a mano, los niños y niñas no sólo ganan el logro de hacer su jabón original, sino también, pueden disfrutar de la emoción de recibir un regalo de otros de diferentes culturas. Desde mi punto de vista, uno de los elementos más importantes de la iniciativa con los niños y niñas es apelar a que ellos se comprometan con la actividad. Creo que este ‘jabón viajero’ ha satisfecho claramente este requisito.

Este es solo un primer paso de planificación de esta nueva iniciativa. Todavía hay muchos pasos que necesitamos definir para organizar más en detalle los procesos de logística, el horario, los indicadores, etc. Esperamos poder desarrollar la iniciativa de una manera atractiva que contribuya a que los niños y niñas tengan un mejor comportamiento de higiene, mientras aprenden acerca de una cultura diferente.

[Work In Progress] Adjusting project design

Every failure is a stepping stone that leads to success.

Although we are pleased with the progress of the project, not everything goes as planned. It is important for us to be flexible in designing the project from lessons we learn while doing the field work. Our photovoice project* with children in Cuncani is a perfect example of this. In this blog, I would like to share some lessons we have learned with the photovoice project.

Lesson 1: Planning a time to teach the children how to use the equipmentPhotovoice Nexos

We found it necessary to schedule a time and place to meet with the children and show them how to use the equipment. The original plan was for the coordinator to visit the school every week and show the children at that time. However, the teachers strike in the Cusco region, which lasted for more than two months, prevented us from carrying out this plan. Under these circumstances, it was difficult to reschedule the workshops, since the community has limited communication methods (Cuncani does not have phone service or internet). To fix this problem, and ensure the progression of the project, we coordinated with the students to create a schedule of training workshops based on their availability. Also, with the help of the community, we decided to carry out an hour-long after-school workshop in the community centre.


Lesson 2: Greater emphasis explaining the purpose of the project

During the workshops, we had instructed the kids to take pictures of all of their meals for 7 days. Even though the students have followed the guideline to take the photos of their meals, they did not take pictures of everything they ate. Our local coordinator, Saturnina, has indicated the need of NC to focus on explaining the project to the parents in order to have their cooperation. It was clear that we needed to explain in greater detail the importance of the project and enlist help from the parents. I will be sure in the future to allocate time in explaining to the children the purpose of the project and provide appropriate guidelines on how to make a food journal so that they will not miss a single meal of the week.

Lesson 3: Process of selecting participants

Embarking on a project as this requires flexibility, but we learned our original method of selecting participants was too flexible. We have worked with children ranging from 7 to 11 years old. Each one is curious about the use of camera and wants to be involved in the project. However, a 7-year-old boy, who was competent with the camera during the workshop, but could not take the pictures while at his home. Therefore, we decided to focus on students in grade 5, who are old enough to understand the project’s purpose, and be capable of using a camera to take pictures of their meals. At the same time, working with a small number of kids (there are 9 students in grade 5 at Cuncani’s primary school) allows us to complete the project more easily in the planned timeframe versus involving all children who are interested.

Based on the challenges from the original project design, we were able to adjust it easily. It’s a learning process, but the great part of working as a project coordinator for NC is that I have the ability to make these modifications. With the responsibility to carry out the project, and I have experienced the first-hand issues at the ground level. I believe a good field-worker is a someone who makes the most out of their mistakes and uses them to improve the situation. Our photovoice project is still a work in the process of finding a method that works best in Cuncani. Despite all the challenges, we believe this project has the potential to help measure the nutrition level of the community, while establishing a working relationship with all people involved.


* NC uses the photovoice as one indicator to measure the nutrition level of the community. The objective of the project is to capture with photography what family’s daily meals are really like in the community.

[Work in Progress] New Initiative! The Travelling Soap!

TBy Kenji Misawa (NC Project Coordinator)

This Monday, I had a very interesting conversation with our former Norwegian intern, Madeline Moe about a simple but great initiative ‘travelling soap’, which she has come up with. It aims to connect children in Cuncani and children in Oslo (Norway) by a pure international exchanging of handmade soaps. Amongst many benefits of this ‘travelling soap’, I would like to share four advantages of this plan in this blog post.

1: Increase the level of sanitation and hygiene in the community

The greatest benefit of this initiative is that it allows for the children to be engaged with the use of soaps, which plays a pivotal role in hygiene. In our current society, we pay little attention to soap as we take it for granted. However, the use of soap has a significant effect in improving the sanitation and hygiene situation, especially in a community such as Cuncani where people regularly eat food with their hands. For example, according to the USAID ‘Water and Sanitation Indicators Measurements Guide’, improved hygiene behaviour can decrease the exposure to pathogens, which leads to the reduction of diarrheal diseases and intestinal parasites. At the same time, it can increase the nutrient absorption and improve disease resistance. One of the indicators in measuring hygiene levels in the guide was “the percentage of the appropriate handwashing behavior”. Therefore, this traveling soap has significant potential in prompting children to wash their hands while simultaneously teaching kids in Cuncani and Oslo proper handwashing techniques through action-based learning. Such activities can ultimately have a positive impact on improving the overall health status amongst students.

2: Promotes the interculturality amongst the children.

This activity also facilitates international interactions between children in Oslo and the children in Cuncani. Two groups of children will have the opportunity to learn about one another’s culture through fun activities. This type of cultural interaction is mutually beneficial for both groups as it allows them to understand and respect the similarities and differences between them, and to expand their knowledge and perspectives. Children in Oslo can learn about the community in a remote Andean community, while students in Cuncani will have the chance to observe the lives of children in Northern Europe, which they have never seen before. Their abundant curiosity can be geared towards learning about a different race, practices, history, geography, or food by interactions with children that are the same age.

3: Demonstrate the community through their own voice

This initiative does not only include travel soap but also travel children’s voice. During my discussion with Madeline, we have agreed to create soaps that are unique to their local community. For example, one of the ideas was to make a soap by mixing the available local plants, herbs, or flowers. We are also thinking about making a video of children explaining their handmade products and its relationship to their community. This is especially important for the children in Cuncani because the kids often lack the opportunities to present their community to others due to its severe isolation. By making a video, children can provide answers to questions like; what does your community look like? What do you do every day? What are the things you like about your community? These simple questions can be very important for the Peruvian and Norwegian children to reflect on, perhaps encouraging them to broaden their own perspective and view of the world.

4: Fun and exciting art and craft activity

Last but not least, children love to do a variety of arts and crafts. These types of activities are a useful tool for enhancing kid’s imagination and artistic abilities. Depending on the shape, ingredients, or color, a simple soap making activity can be a great opportunity for the children to express themselves and to develop their creativity skills. An additional benefit exists through the joy the children get from being involved in the production of soaps while also receiving a gift from that of another culture. From my point of view, one of the most important elements of the kind of initiative that it be appealing to the kids.  I believe this ‘travelling soap’ has clearly satisfied this requirement.

Such efforts represent the first planning phase of this new initiative. There are still many steps to go such as logistical processes, framework, timeline, indicators, evaluation methods and etc. We look forward to developing this initiative in an engaging way that contributes to the betterment of the children’s hygiene habits, while also learning about a different culture.