[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.


PAR with the families of Cuncani

By Alice Ebeyer (NC Intern –  McGill University)


Currently, the main focus of Nexos Comunitarios is the Malnutrition issue in the community. The Nutrition program is focusing on the children but in reality, we are lacking in the knowledge concerning the feeding process, as we are working as external actors in this assistance procedure. The work that has been done so far is valuable but we need to get more intimate details about the daily lives of the inhabitants of Cuncani to be genuinely efficient. This would include the input from as many members of the community as possible.

That is why recently, we are trying to develop a research approach inspired by the Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology. We have been adapting several ideas taken from various academic sources to create a useful research method for Cuncani. Indeed, nothing would be perfectly applicable to the community as it is an interesting case with a peculiar culture coming from the Incan people. Therefore, we had to create a framework with precise steps and accurate templates to build a PAR method that would fit the needs of Cuncani.

Why choosing participatory research would you ask? This quite new method is generally used by anthropologists, and it has been demonstrated to be more effective than using the traditional interviews or focus groups methodologies. The whole goal is to empower the participants by working with them to find solutions and solve various issues in a non-hierarchical way.  As in every PAR method, we consider an important step dedicated to the establishment of a relationship and trust between all parties.

For the project, the first step that we will do is we will continue with the Photovoice project, but this time with the entire family. We will provide cameras for a couple days and ask each member of the family to take pictures of what they are doing for food-related activities. The second activity will be a walk in Cuncani, accompanied by the fathers of the community. They could show us the places where they are keeping their animals, where they are planting the potatoes or vegetables, and hopefully, casually explain to us through the walk about the feeding process from their perspective, more in details.

Again, the goal of this research would be to understand as completely as possible how the people of Cuncani feed themselves. The final step of this made up PAR method will be a closing discussion, where we can go over the whole project and figure out what we have found, what is missing, but also discuss with the participants: how do they feel, what are their thoughts, and ask if they are still comfortable with the process. The term participatory is key and it demonstrates how important it is that all the parties can feel comfortable enough to be part of the project. It truly is a team work.

Besides, we have had the opportunity to talk with Saturnina about this idea; she is an important link between NC and Cuncani. From there, she knows her community and understands it more than we will ever do. And if we know that gathering enough families to be part of the project can be complicated, she seemed triggered by the idea and told us she could help us found enough persons to conduct Photovoice and accompany us with the walk. However, she also told us that we can have many ideas, many projects, and many researches; but it will probably take a lot of time before we can see real changes happening in the community.


During our working days in Cuncani, we were able to observe how the parents take care of the children. But, surely our short observations during our trips could not make us comprehend the whole situation as most parts are still hidden from our eyes. There is still so much more that we need to learn from this community; their culture and their tradition. The ‘sad truth about my community’ as Saturnina said, ‘is that people are not so motivated to make drastic changes in their lives.’ But, we should not be too quick to judge, as we have to consider that the culture of this community depends on maintaining their traditions and their values.

Therefore, this demonstrates an example of the complications that can come into play in trying to bring support to impoverished and isolated communities despite the health and economic challenges that they face. Still, it will never mean that Nexos Comunitarios will give up; no matter the complications, we will always be here to work with the community of Cuncani, and together we will always try to address various problems and more specifically now, to solve the malnutrition issue, even if it takes years before it will be eradicated. This is our job: and it requires persistence and patience.


El problema ‘poco atractivo’ de la desnutrición

Maricarmen Valdivieso (Fundadora de NC)

Hablar de desnutrición es hablar de un tema nada atractivo para todos, sin embargo, no podemos negar que el impacto de éste en la vida de cada uno de nosotros, determina nuestro futuro. A pesar que todos sabemos acerca de la importancia de estar bien nutridos, a veces, y debido a la extensa lista de problemas que debemos resolver, colocamos el apoyo a iniciativas contra la desnutrición, muchas veces, en la última posición. O quizá, se debe a que cuando tenemos comida suficiente (en varios casos: abundante), nos olvidamos que existen otras personas que tienen muy poco, o, incluso, nada.

Además de la extensa lista de problemas, debemos ser conscientes que el mundo de las ONG/Start-up  exige el siguiente componente como un requisito para cualquier institución que quiera ser exitosa: la creatividad. Por favor, no me malinterpreten, me encantaría que nuestra organización estuviera en la posición de empezar con una iniciativa tan innovadora y creativa que pudiera erradicar la pobreza en Cuncani. Pero no hemos llegado a este punto, AÚN; para ello necesitamos seguir ciertos pasos, primero, para poder asegurar un Desarrollo Humano Responsable sostenible, en nuestro caso, poder implementar nuestro modelo de desarrollo.  Uno de esos primeros pasos es erradicar la desnutrición –  no sólo reducirla.



Cuando nos ‘mudamos’ a Cuncani, creo que ninguno de nosotros, supimos qué tan retante iba a ser este trabajo. Los desafíos son muchos, incluyendo el presupuesto que necesitamos para cada actividad, para cada visita. Como los expertos en desarrollo han dicho, las comunidades como Cuncani, que aún se mantienen pobres en Perú, son aquellas que sufren de un tipo de pobreza que es muy duro de combatir. Sin embargo, todos estos retos tienen una recompensa incomparable: la paz que encontramos en la comunidad y la felicidad especial que tenemos al terminar el día de trabajo, son únicas. Después de varios días duros de esfuerzo, el trabajo en Cuncani, las personas de la comunidad y los niños y niñas nos proveen una compensación sumamente especial. He hecho este vídeo muy simple en ‘Snapchat’ que resume un día típico de visita a Cuncani. Empezamos a las 4:30 a.m., yendo de Urubamba a Calca. Pueden ver el vídeo aquí.

Nuestro Programa de Nutrición en Cuncani: HAMBRE CERO, es el comienzo de nuestro trabajo en la comunidad y mientras los realizamos también trabajamos fuertemente para mostrar, más de la comunidad, para que las personas conozcan de ella y su realidad. El día 3 de junio, 10 de nosotros, incluyendo a pasantes de McGill University y Carleton University caminaremos desde Cuncani hasta Urubamba. Literalmente, estaremos cruzando montañas hasta que llegamos a nuestro lindo hogar en Urubamba. He hecho este camino antes y a pesar que tengo los mejores recuerdos de esta experiencia, recuerdo también que fue un día muy duro. Pero, ¿por qué hacemos esto?  Así como es importante recaudar dinero (nuestra meta es de US$ 3,000) también lo es, la promoción de la idea que el aislamiento de una comunidad no debe ser sinónimo de pobreza. La existencia de montañas de gran altura como las que envuelven a Cuncani (entre 3,800 y 4,800 m.s.n.m.) no deben ser limitaciones para que sus habitantes disfruten de los beneficios que incluye el Desarrollo Humano Responsable. Para conocer sobre nuestra campaña, y  compartirla, pueden seguir este enlace.

Cuando veo lo lejos que estamos de alcanzar nuestra meta: Promover el ejercicio de los derechos y libertades civiles a través del Desarrollo Humano Responsable en Cuncani, necesito recordar que debo enfocarme en pequeños pasos. Desde que hemos empezado a trabajar en la comunidad, ya no hay niños con anemia y, desde este año, el plan es añadir un componente de sostenibilidad al Programa de Almuerzos en Cuncani, a través de la implementation de biohuertos familiares, además de continuar con el trabajo en el biohuerto y la piscigranja escolares. Estoy muy orgullosa de lo que juntos (la comunidad, nuestros queridos padrinos y madrinas, los estudiantes y nuestro equipo)  hemos alcanzado, pero este logro, será muy pequeño en comparación a lo que alcanzaremos en unos años: cuando todos podamos ver que nuestra meta se convirtió en realidad y que la implementación de nuestro modelo se pudo alcanzar a través de un trabajo de toda nuestra comunidad.  Por favor, no dejen de ayudarnos para poder seguir celebrando juntos todos los logros que tendremos este año y los siguientes.

Ayúdanos a recordarle al mundo, que todos merecemos el derecho a tener una buena nutrición y que en este siglo, en un país de ingresos medios como el nuestro, es inaceptable que aún existan comunidades sin acceso a una mejor comida, a una mejor nutrición.

Wilma, Yulisa and Pavel (adorable Kindergarten children)
Los niños y niñas en Cuncani son, usualmente, tímidos, PERO siempre adorables: Wilma,  Yulia  & Pavel 

En la cima de Cuncani: el hogar de Saturnina

Por Carlos Kamisaki (Nexos Comunitarios & UDEP)

Trabajar en Cuncani es la parte que más disfruto cuando viajo a Urubamba. Debe ser que  hay mucho por hacer y mi tiempo en el lugar queda corto. La organización de la que soy parte, Nexos Comunitarios, me permite conocer sobre la vida en las comunidades, o Microcosmos Andinos como nos gusta llamarlas. Puedo decir con mucho orgullo, que dentro de ellas, he logrado conocer a familias muy amables. Hace un par de meses, en enero de este año tuve mucha suerte, Saturnina (actual colaboradora de NC y miembro de la comunidad de Cuncani) nos acogió en su casa, a mi compañero y a mí. Hoy quiero compartir con ustedes mi experiencia.

Subir a Cuncani siempre es una experiencia especial, pero debo ser sincero que es un gran reto. Esta vez, el reto se acentúo desde Lares. Al llegar al distrito, empezamos nuestra caminata a  Cuncani. A nosotros, dos costeños jóvenes, nos costó 4 horas. Mi compañero y yo estábamos riéndonos de nuestra condición física y nos comparábamos con dos señoras que andaban con sus wawas en la espalda, caminando a paso ligero como si la altura y la lluvia fuesen cosas de todos los día. Y vaya que lo son.

Para la comunidades de Lares y las que están cerca; el comercio, el transporte, la atención médica y prácticamente toda actividad similar, se realiza en los pueblos más cercanos. Estamos hablando de distancias que toman media hora en auto, si tienes suerte de encontrar uno y puedes afrontar el gasto. La otra opción que queda es ir caminando, lo cual puede tomar entre dos y cuatro horas.

Cuando al fin llegamos a Cuncani, nos dimos cuenta que nuestro destino estaba aun más lejos. La casa de Saturnina es una de las muchas que se encuentra en la cima de la montaña. Si quieres llegar allí, tienes que seguir un camino que exige un último aliento para llegar a la cima. Así hubiésemos tenido un carro, la única manera de llegar hasta la meta, es caminando.

En las casas, por supuesto, no hay ni televisores ni computadoras. No hay rastro alguno de electrodomésticos. Es posible encontrar unas cuantas radios, que nos ayudan a mantenernos informados, y saber si hay algún comunicado para la comunidad. La radio es también un medio de entretenimiento para las largas horas de trabajo en el campo, cuando se cuida a las llamas o se prepara la comida.

Si bien en el momento que llegamos (con lluvia y todo) el clima está templado, en las noches el frío es intenso. A las 5:30 p.m. el sol se despide y se va notando su ausencia. Las familias suelen juntarse en la cocina para mantenerse calientes y compartir unos momentos antes de ir a dormir. En esta visita tuvimos mucha suerte, la amabilidad de Saturnina y su familia, nos hicieron sentir abrigados.

Tetsumi y yo, junto a Saturnina y su familia

En casa de nuestra compañera, cada integrante del hogar tiene una función determinada dentro de las labores diarias. Mientras su esposo Victoriano participaba de una faena convocada por la comunidad, su hija se encontraba en la parte alta de la montaña, donde se cuidan los animales durante todo el día (incluida la noche). Estas son tareas repartidas en todas las familias sin excepción. Yo no podía imaginar quedarme en otro lugar que no fuese en el que estaba instalado y no dejé de pensar en su hija de 12 años, ahí, sola. Pensé: ¡12 años! Seguía muy asombrado, cuando me contaron que esto lo hacen las niñas y niños desde…¡los 7 años! ¿Se imaginan? Mientras seguía asombrado, Saturnina y Victoriano, sonriendo, me dijeron: Estamos acostumbrados.

A la mañana siguiente, la luz nos despertó a las 4:30 a.m. pero el frío hizo que nos quedáramos en cama. Una cama que muy amablemente nos había prestado la familia. Recién a las 7:00 a.m. quisimos levantarnos y colaborar con el quehacer matutino. El desayuno en casa de Saturnina fue buenísimo y estuvimos muy agradecidos por su hospitalidad; sin embargo me di cuenta que no había fruta en el desayuno, ni leche, ni café, sino un gran plato con alto contenido de grasas y carbohidratos, el desayuno y la cena fueron similares. Aunque delicioso, me quedé pensando qué pasaría con mi salud si mi dieta consistiese en este plato o sólo en papas y té, como es común para varias familias en Cuncani.

Junto a Victoriano y su hija en Cuncani.
Junto a Victoriano y su hija en Cuncani

El día continuó con una conversación con Victoriano, quien ya se encontraba trabajando en los cultivos de su casa. Victoriano nos contó que antes que se sienta el calor del sol, hay una hora en la mañana en la que la sensación de frío es mayor, es como si el mismo sol tuviese que calentarse antes de salir a abrigarnos. Mientras pasaban las horas o días, crecía mi aprecio por vivir en una comunidad con Cuncani. Veo, por ejemplo, que cada uno aprecia el valor del trabajo del otro. Los integrantes de una familia funcionan realmente como una pequeña empresa. Finalmente, todo los esfuerzos van dirigidos a poder alimentarse y cubrir los gastos básicos de la vida diaria en Cuncani. Siempre me quedo admirado al ver el gran esfuerzo que realizan todos. Ahora más, porque entiendo lo que significa trabajar para sobrevivir.

De las muchas lecciones que adquiero en cada viaje, esta vez me quedo con una especial: siempre puedes hacer tu mayor esfuerzo por generar un impacto positivo en la vida de quienes te rodean. Así lo he aprendido de Saturnina y su familia. Dentro de la sencillez de su hogar y las limitaciones de una vida en un microcosmos andino, no hubo momento alguno en el que me sintiera incómodo de no encajar en el sistema que mantienen. Me hicieron parte de su familia por unas noches y eso es algo que no olvidaré.

Sé que lo que estoy compartiendo con ustedes pueden ser solo palabras. Pero sé también que es una decisión personal el honrar estas lecciones y el trabajo de familias como las de mi compañera Saturnina y de muchas otras alrededor del mundo. Las familias de Cuncani y de varias otras comunidades, están acostumbradas a vivir en un mundo difícil, muy difícil y muchas veces, hostil, y a acomodarse en un planeta cada vez más ajeno a su realidad.

En unos meses regresaré a Cuncani, veré a los niños y niñas de nuestro Programa de Almuerzos y seguiré aprendiendo con Victoriano y Saturnina. Mientras tanto seguiré recordando mi último tiempo en Cuncani y aquel (último) largo día, aquél en el que mis amigos y yo, manejamos 100 Km en bicicleta para recaudar dinero para nuestra organización…un día que nunca olvidaré.

Hasta pronto.
Cuncani: Microcosmos Andino
     Cuncani: Microcosmos Andino




Who knew that saying so little… could say so much (Urubamba 2015)

By Bailey LeBlanc (Western University)

Learning Service with Nexos ComunitariosAs I reflect back on my trip to Peru, I become overwhelmed with emotion. It has been the single greatest experience of my life so far. Prior to submitting my application to represent Western University abroad, I thought I had a good understanding of what to expect on a trip of this kind. I had some experience traveling to developing countries and volunteering with other organizations. I decided to apply for this trip because I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to change someone’s life. Thankfully, I was accepted. So caught up and determined to make change for others, I was completely unaware of the impact this trip would have on my own life.

Before leaving for Peru, I was filled with excitement. I couldn’t wait to embark on what would be an incredible journey. Upon arrival in Urubamba (a small town in Peru), our group was welcomed graciously into the home we were going to be staying in for the next two weeks. Gabriela and Maricarmen (Nexos Comunitarios) opened their doors and showed us a kindness that was truly remarkable. At this point I was completely unaware of how much these sisters were going to mean to me in such a short period of time. Gabi and Mari, along with  others,work for Nexos Comunitarios, a non-profit organization founded in 2014 in Lima, Peru. Their mission is to promote the exercise of rights and civil liberties though Responsible Human Development, alongside the populations that live in poverty and social exclusion.

Learning Service with Nexos ComunitariosWe arrived in Urubamba in May 2015 and the organization was supporting Kiya Survivors Rainbow House, an organization that supports children, some of which have mental or physical disabilities. Most of the children living there were not related, and through various circumstances, had been separated from their parents. A woman named Luisa lives with the children and takes care of them every day, treating them like her own. The house was small for the amount of people living in it, but it was decorated with drawings and crafts the children had made and contained many donated toys and school supplies. Comparing this to my childhood, these children had a fraction of the luxuries that I had grown up with. Despite all of this, I saw a family. Everyone offered to help without complaint and worked together in the ways a family should. I saw huge amounts of love, kindness, and true happiness. Everyone was interacting with each other, there was no television, video games, or cell phones to distract anyone from being together. The kids would play together and with us, we would all help cook and reorganize the school supplies. They would help us learn some Spanish, and in return we would teach English. My favorite part was painting the outside of the home yellow and orange, so it was as bright as the people inside.

There was an obvious language barrier between us. However, I was amazed at how easy it was to communicate without using words. A smile, a laugh or a hug is universal and understood in any language. We were able to play games for hours without understanding what anyone was saying. We got to know each of the children on such a personal level. Who knew that saying so little could say so much. I would have never expected to make such tight bonds, or care so much about someone I couldn’t communicate with. It was incredible.

In addition to the work we did at the rainbow house, we were invited to Amilkar’s (one of the older children at the rainbow house) home in the mountains to meet his family and also to Mafers home to build an accessible bathroom. Both of these experiences were extremely moving in very different ways. Amilkars family prepared a traditional meal for us, only made on special occasions. We learned that Amilkar could not live with his family anymore because of his low mobility; he was unable to complete the two-hour walk into the city each day with his siblings. We also learned Amilkars sister was the only source of income in family and had to support everyone’s needs. This was the first time on the trip I had become visibly emotional. I’m not entirely sure what it was about that day, but when it was time to get on the bus to go back down the mountain I began to cry. I was so unbelievably grateful for that experience and Amilkars family’s hospitality and kindness.

Nexos Comunitarios en UrubambaMafer and her family will always hold a special place in my heart.     We were sent there to build an accessible bathroom for her (she had cerebral palsy) and her family. At the time they were only using a hole in the ground. With everyone doing their part this project was completed, and the family now had a functioning bathroom for their children to use. Sadly, A few months ago, we were informed about Mafer’s death. It was extremely heart breaking and tragic. Her family and those in the community all loved her so much; she will never be forgotten by any of us.

My life in Canada compared to my experience in Peru was very different in many ways. However, one is not better than the other. In Peru I saw so much more interaction, kindness and love between people. There was no technology or social media splitting people apart, there were no video games keeping children from experiencing what the environment has to offer, there was no TV at the dinner table preventing families from communicating. There were genuine conversations, people were interested in what others had to say, people went above and beyond to help others and were not thinking solely about themselves. There was true happiness and kindness. We often have the impression that those in the Western world need to help the “less fortunate”, when in my opinion it is equally the other way around. We have A LOT to learn from people like the ones I met in Peru. They may not have as much in a materialistic sense, but in many ways they are much, much richer.

Coming back from the trip, I can honestly say that the people I met in Peru had a bigger impact on me than I did on them. On the last day at the rainbow house and while saying goodbye to Mari and Gabi at the airport there were tears streaming down my face. I was terrified I would never see these incredibly amazing people again. The time went by much to quickly and I wish I did not have to leave. All of the people I met in Peru made such a large impact on my life it will be impossible to forget them or what they taught me about life. I am forever grateful for what they did and I know that one day, I will see them again.