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.