[Visitors] Community Life at 4000 Metres: a Sociologist’s Experience.

By Dave Holmes

The village of Cuncani, which is four hours to the north-east of Cusco, was once the centre of the Incan Empire. We were here to support the NGO Nexos Comunitarios (NC) and understand how remote Cuncani is by hiking the paths linking it to larger towns. First impressions are of a rustic settlement with several houses dotted along the floor of a beautiful highland valley. A school, which is one of the most recently-built buildings, is found right at the beginning of the village where the road ends. The inhabitants of the community wear brightly coloured hats and tunics. We were greeted by Saturnina who is the local coordinator for NC.

NC has been operating in Cuncani since 2013, working alongside locals on various projects to support the community. Currently as part of the Sustainable Homes project, they are implementing composting toilets, a greenhouse and a chicken coop. As well as these projects, the village has become more connected to the national network, with partial electricity in the last decade, telecommunication services and the previously mentioned school are all key examples of development in the region.

Despite these changes, Cuncani is still very isolated. There is only one track connecting it to the nearest settlement Lares, which has a medical post, hot springs and other amenities. Many children who attend secondary school have to walk to and stay in other towns from Monday to Friday and return to Cuncani over rough and mountainous terrain for the weekends. It is not only the students who have arduous days, any kind of health or municipal issues have to be done elsewhere too. When the only regular transport is once a week on market day, opportunities to use regional services are severely limited and walking is the most common way to get from A to B.

This is where our trip’s goal becomes clearer. Our aim was to hike to Urubamba, the nearest moderately sized town, and thus truly understand the effort involved and experience what locals have to do many times a year. Our journey on foot began from the end of the road to Cuncani, going over a 4800 metres pass on the way. We had the help of pack llamas and planned to stay the night after crossing the highest point.

The route is a delight to the eyes, the variety of fauna and flora is truly incredible and this is without even mentioning the sweeping views of the Andes. From rivers winding down valleys where llamas and alpaca graze on the lush grass to lofty glacial mountains with huge birds circling the peaks, the experience is truly a feast for the senses. We passed beautiful mountain lakes, high wooded slopes and stunning valley meadows with trout filled rivers meandering through boulder fields and trees. However, all this beauty did not distract us from the effort involved.

Climbing up and over a pass is always strenuous. When the air gets thinner, it becomes very hard work due to shortness of breath, headaches and nausea. Even with the help of llamas and not carrying full packs, our progress was slow and cumbersome. This was partly to be expected as we were not as acclimatized as the locals but it still surprised me that what took us 2 days, the locals could do in just a few hours of fast walking. They were extremely agile over the ground and carried heavy loads with no modern rucksacks or footwear, just a cloth tied over their shoulders and sandals on their feet.

During the walk I had some time to get to know the residents of Cuncani and I was impressed with their friendliness. They were quick to help and understood our needs for breaks, photos and questions. One person I spoke to helped me understand how the community operates and gave me a little insight into their lives. I learnt about issues facing the community, its form of governance and family customs. The time I shared with them has left a strong memory and I know I will return to build upon this connection and experience their home and lives once more.

If you want to support NC efforts, please consider making a donation to the Sustainable Homes Project and follow their work on social media.


Spare change… It can change the world!

Kenji Misawa (NC Project Coordinator)

If you were to ask to draw a mind mapping of how non-profit organizations work, what ideas would come up instantly? Perhaps, you would think about concepts such as humanitarian aid, grassroots, local community, interculturality. Probably, the word ‘money’ would not appear in your drawing.

We often disconnect the idea of ‘money’ from non-profit organizations, at least when we compare them with businesses. However, without adequate financial resources for the projects, they  could not be successful even with lots of good intentions or compassion. Thus, while dedicating multitude efforts in coordinating the projects with our local partners, NC also spends the same amount of work in generating and raising funds to support our initiatives and our organization.

Since its creation, NC covers all operational expenses and as much as possible of the projects expenses with  the fees receive from participants of our programs. Nonetheless, despite all changes we made since we started working in Cuncani, for example:  reducing the number of our staff in half, our operational expenses have increased tremendously. In comparison to our work from 2008-2013, one day transportation to our community partners is now 40 times more expensive than before. Yes, 40 times more expensive.

Before Cuncani, we were able to cover all aspects of NC institutional expenses and all projects ones with the fees we receive from the programs. Since Cuncani, donations have have been crucial to accomplish our goals. These donations have been used, exclusively, for the projects (salaries and all overheads are not covered by them). Although it has been challenging, we cannot be more grateful for all the donations we have received. For example, after the floods in Piura, we successfully raised more than US$4,000  to support the victims by providing first aid packages and food, with your donations, we were able to successfully implement the Lunch Program in Cuncani! Do you know that in few opportunities, government officers have asked us for help to reach the community? They did not have the money to pay for their own transportation.

Currently, we are finishing the details of another initiative that will allow us to be able, again, to cover all of our projects expenses and support our organization as well. Nevertheless, for now, we still need your support. As you know we are currently raising money for our Sustainable Homes in Cuncani project and the goal is US$ 5,000. Promoting this campaign has not been an easy task but, at the same time, we are convinced that our partners from Cuncani, especially their children, deserve all of our efforts and your donations as well. We know that one of our roles is to  to connect people outside the community to the reality in Cuncani and look for support so they, specially the children, can have real opportunities for their lives.

If we reach the targeted amount for this campaign, we will be able to buy all the materials needed to implement the three technologies for each of our partners within the community: a greenhouse, a chicken coop and a composting toilet.  All donations will exclusively be used to purchase the materials for them. The materials include roofs, windows, doors, toilet seats, bags of cement, wood planks, plastic for the greenhouse roof and others. Not all materials are extremely expensive. For example, a $8 donation would help us buy 1 of the 2 bags of cement for the composting toilet. Would you consider making exchanging a beer this week for a $8 donation to help reach our goal? A composting toilet would help them to have a better hygiene, hence, less parasites and that means, better chances to combat malnutrition! You don’t have US$8, what about US$2? That amount of money would allow us to buy the nails to build a chicken coop for one family! Your generosity would help NC extensively to implement life transforming projects which ultimately support the vulnerable children in the community and improve their health standards.

Unfortunately, significant inequality still exists in today’s world. The family you are part of and the place you are born in are decisive to determine your future opportunities. Have you ever imaged to be born in a beautiful but isolated community like Cuncani? This is my second time in Peru and since my first, I  realized how privileged I am. I’m able to receive proper education, live a healthy life and have the freedom to pursue my career aligned with my interests. But this privileges should not be privileges anymore, every child in the world should have equal opportunities for their lives. Please, help us so we can continue with our work in Cuncani. I cannot lie to you, it is hard to work there but I love to be there, to work in this country, to play with the kids, and that’s more than enough for me to do some shameless work promotion, to ask you to make a donation for our project.



¿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.