My first and ongoing eNCounter with Nexos Comunitarios

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El poder del deporte ⚽

Por Denis  Margalik ( Western University)

¿Qué significa jugar? ¿Qué impacto aporta la naturaleza del deporte? Pregúntale a cualquiera, y la respuesta más común que recibirás es su capacidad para unir a otros. Con solo observar los Juegos Olímpicos, es evidente que el poder del deporte reside en su capacidad para unificar a las personas, ya que atletas de diversos talentos, culturas, países, valores y creencias se reúnen para ser observados y admirados y admiradas por todo el mundo. Luego está la Copa Mundial de la FIFA, donde solo por un momento, casi parece como si todos los conflictos del mundo quedaran en suspenso. Cada deporte tiene su propio conjunto de competidores, sus propios títulos para ganar y su propio tesoro de fanáticos y fanáticas leales y dedicadas. El deporte en sí mismo tiene la capacidad de influenciarnos a todos y todas, y crea un poder y emoción dentro de nosotros que rara vez es visto por otra cosa.

Al ser un patinador artístico que ha participado en competencias mundiales, he podido experimentar cómo los deportes pueden cambiar e impactar a una persona. Representando a Argentina, un país donde este deporte artístico, que se desliza en el hielo, da vueltas y salta, generalmente es desconocido, tuve la suerte de ubicarme a mí, y a mi país, en el mapa mundial de patinaje. A lo largo de mi carrera, he estado agradecido de tener oportunidades para hacer amigos y amigas en muchas partes del mundo con las que me mantengo en contacto hasta el día de hoy, y he desarrollado muchas habilidades en el hielo, que también puedo aplicar fuera del hielo. A pesar de la presencia de barreras lingüísticas y de diferencias culturales, pude comprobar, de primera mano, que la familiaridad con el deporte fue suficiente para alimentar y mantener amistades de por vida.

Recientemente, Nexos Comunitarios, ha implementado su programa “Kick-Off“, que es un nuevo enfoque educativo centrado en la generación de habilidades cognitivas y no cognitivas mediante el uso del fútbol en las comunidades que sufren pobreza. Nexos cree que a través del fútbol, ​​las habilidades como el liderazgo, el trabajo en equipo, la capacidad de recuperación, la imparcialidad, el esfuerzo, el respeto, la responsabilidad y la compasión, se fortalecen, y permiten la transferencia y la aplicación de conocimientos dentro del aula.

Durante mi tiempo en Cuncani, trabajé con Western University y Nexos, y se me dio la oportunidad de trabajar junto a los niños y niñas de la comunidad, ayudándolos a desarrollar estos importantes rasgos de carácter y tuve la oportunidad de estar más cerca de los miembros de su comunidad. Usando diferentes ejercicios de fútbol y juegos, observamos un rápido progreso. Desde que sus habilidades en el fútbol mejoraron notablemente, hasta la forma en que interactuaron entre sí, aumentaron su forma de poder trabajar mejor en equipo para lograr el objetivo principal de anotar un gol. Las burbujas creadas entre los grupos de amigos y amigas se expandieron para incluir a más de sus compañeros de clase, y el espíritu de deporte se volvió contagioso. Finalmente, estos rasgos se observaron directamente en el aula y, en última instancia, mejoraron su capacidad para aprender en el interior, de la misma manera que lo hicieron en la cancha. Y aunque no hayamos hablado el mismo idioma, pudimos usar el fútbol para transmitir el lenguaje universal del juego y la risa, lo que resultó en una conexión fácil con cada uno de ellos y ellas para que todos podamos pasar un buen rato, aprendiendo.

Llegar a Cuncani generó en mi un choque cultural para recordar. Desde el estilo de vida, hasta su falta de recursos, pero todo lo que quería hacer era ayudar tanto como pudiera. Fue inspirador ver su luz y energía, que ayudó a fortalecer el vínculo entre ellas y ellos, una de las metas de Kick-Off.

A través de experiencias personales, es fácil para mí recordar las muchas maneras positivas en que fui capaz de integrar lo que aprendí a través de los deportes en mi vida diaria; me hizo tratar mejor a los demás y me ayudó a ser una mejor persona en general. Con la ayuda de Nexos y el programa Kick-Off, espero ver el mismo impacto y las oportunidades que los deportes me han brindado, en las vidas de  los niños y niñas y las familias de Cuncani. Al ganar muchas nuevas habilidades transferibles, amistades y sentidos de unidad, sé que el poder de los deportes ofrece mucho más que la oportunidad de competir. Y ver la chispa de alegría en los ojos de los niños y niñas cada vez que veían un balón de fútbol cerca, me permitió darme cuenta que el poder del deporte tenía al menos un regalo más que ofrecer: la felicidad.

Esos pequeños momentos: Cuncani 2019 (Aprendizaje Comprometido con la Comunidad)

Por Colette Benko (Western University)

Quisiera comenzar agradeciendo a la comunidad de Cuncani, por recibirnos con sus con corazones abiertos y tener mucha paciencia con nosotros y nosotras. También me gustaría agradecer a Nexos Comunitarios, su visión es inspiradora y nuestro viaje no habría sido el mismo sin el arduo trabajo de Maricarmen y Kenji.

Antes del viaje, me habían dicho que “no tuviera expectativas”, que “fuese flexible”, que “tuviera mente abierta”, así que antes de ir inté borrar todo lo que pudiera haber sabido sobre lo que estaba por venir. Cuando estaba subiendo al avión, pensé que estaba lista y, en cierto sentido, lo estaba: estaba feliz de hacer lo que fuera necesario para el proyecto, estaba emocionada de escuchar a la comunidad y aprender sobre una cultura completamente nueva. Sin embargo, no estaba muy preparada para el impacto que tendría sobre mí y hasta qué punto llegaría. Habiendo estado en un viaje de servicio anteriormente, tenía la expectativa de aprender mucho; sin embargo, este viaje llegó más allá de cualquier pensamiento inicial de aprendizaje, cambió la forma en que veía las relaciones, el aislamiento, la comunidad, el orgullo, el trabajo en equipo y la expresión de amor, entre otras ideas.

Tuvimos un par de días en Urubamba para aclimatarnos a la altura y aprender más sobre el proyecto, pero pronto nos encontramos en el camino sinuoso que conduce a Cuncani. Fue una gran diferencia en el estilo de vida al que la mayoría de nosotros  y nosotras estábamos acostumbrados, sin embargo, la conexión, casi sin procesar, nos permitió tener una experiencia como ninguna otra. Los increíbles paisajes  y los frescos paseos por la mañana a lo largo de la carretera en la comunidad valieron la pena. Todos los días trabajamos junto con los y las estudiantes utilizando el fútbol como nuestro método para desarrollar habilidades cognitivas y no cognitivas. A cada uno de los tres grupos se nos asignó 1 a 2 estudiantes para observar específicamente los cambios de esfuerzo, compromiso, trabajo en equipo, respeto, etc. Los entrenamientos podían enseñarse fácilmente a través de juegos, y la simple risa compartida nos ayudó a crear vínculos bastante fuertes. Fuera de jugar fútbol, ​​usualmente jugamos con las y los  estudiantes que eran demasiado pequeños para practicar ese deporte. Jugamos a los columpios o a hacer un poco de gimnasia, o crear historias con títeres (historias con solo dos personajes) tuvieron mucho éxito.

Fuimos muy afortunados y afortunadas de poder entrevistar a algunos de los maestros  para conocer su perspectiva. La humildad y la naturaleza imparcial que ejemplifican, fue inspiradora. Además, la pasión que muestran hacia la mejora de la educación para que sus estudiantes tengan mejores oportunidades, es asombrosa. La conversación con ellos, también me abrió los ojos sobre luchas que enfrenta la comunidad y también donde, en muchas ocasiones, la suya florece y mi propia comunidad tiene deficiencias. Uno incluso se tomó el tiempo de su noche para darnos una lección básica en quechua, su idioma nativo, y también nos dio la bienvenida a su casa para permitirnos aprender más sobre sus tradiciones y entrevistarlo para nuestro informe.

Cuando regresamos a Urubamba, pudimos reflexionar sobre el tiempo que pasamos en la comunidad y también analizar los datos que habíamos recopilado. Fuimos muy afortunados de poder visitar Machu Picchu y conocer la vasta historia que rodea al sitio. Sin embargo, lo más destacado del viaje fueron los pequeños momentos pasados ​​en Cuncani: compartir en un círculo con los niños y niñas de la escuela primaria y caer espontáneamente, correr detrás de pelotas de fútbol y contemplar el paisaje de montaña aislado.

Una de las partes más desafiantes fue dejar la comunidad. Es difícil dejar un lugar donde hay tanto potencial pero con muchas carencias de oportunidades y de derechos básicos a los que  también estamos acostumbrados. La felicidad de los y las estudiantes es contagiosa, y nos enseña mucho más. Como dijo uno de los profesores: “los estudiantes son personas que generan luz” y hay una expresión quechua que tiene la siguiente idea para referirse a ellas y ellos: “son como las primeras estrellas que salen al atardecer y dan  forma a las constelaciones”.

 

 

The Small Moments: Cuncani 2019 (Community Engaged Learning)

By Colette Benko (Western University)

I would just like to start by thanking the community of Cuncani, they welcomed us with open hearts and much patience. I would also like to thank Nexos Comunitarios, their vision is inspiring, and our trip would not have been the same without Maricarmen and Kenji’s hard work.

Leading up to the trip I had been told to “not have expectations,” “be flexible,” “be open,” so before going I was trying to erase anything I might have known about what was to come. As I was stepping on the plane I thought I was ready, and in a sense I was: I was happy to do whatever was needed for the project, I was excited to hear from the community and learn about an entirely new culture. However, I was very unprepared for the impact it would have on me and the extent to which it would reach. Having been on a previous service trip, I did have the expectation that I would learn a lot; however, this trip reached far beyond any initial thought of learning, it changed how I viewed relationships, isolation, community, pride, teamwork, and the expression of love just to mention a few.

We had a couple days in Urubamba to acclimatize to the altitude and to learn more about the project, but soon we were on the winding road leading to Cuncani. It was quite a difference in lifestyle from what most of us were used to, however, the almost raw connection allowed us to have an experience like no other. The breathtaking views and the crisp morning walks along the road in the community were worth the early start.  Every day we would work alongside the students using soccer as our method of developing cognitive and non-cognitive skills. We were each assigned 1-2 students from the 3 groups to specifically observe for changes in effort, engagement, teamwork, respect, etc. One of the lessons learned early on is the lack of language actually needed to communicate. Drills could easy be taught through overdramatic skits, and simple laughter and smiles can build pretty strong bonds.  Outside of playing soccer, you could usually find us playing with the students who were too young to play. Activities such as swinging and doing gymnastics on mats while simultaneously playing chase after the ball, while also running a puppet show (that really only consisted of two characters) were quite big hits.

We were very fortunate to be able to interview some of the teachers to learn their perspective. The humility and unbiased nature they exemplify was inspiring. Furthermore, the passion they show towards enhancing education for their students to provide them with the most opportunities is astounding.  It also opened my eyes to the struggles the community faces and also where on many occasions, theirs flourishes, and my own community has shortcomings. One even took time out of his evening to give us a basic lesson in Quechua their native language, he also welcomed us into his home to allow us to learn more about their traditions and interview him for our report.

When we returned to Urubamba, we were able to reflect on the time we spent in the community and also analyze the data we had collected.  We were very fortunate to be able to visit Machu Picchu and learn the vast history surrounding the site. However, the highlight of the trip was the small moments spent in Cuncani: galloping around in a circle with the primary school kids and spontaneously falling down, running after rogue soccer balls, and looking out over the isolated mountain landscape.

One of the most challenging parts was leaving the community. It is hard to leave a place where you see so much potential that just lacks the basic opportunities and privileges we are accustomed too. The happiness from the students is contagious, and there is still more to learn. As the one professor stated “the students are people who generate light” and there is a Quechua expression used and the idea of the phrase is “they are like the first stars that come out at dusk and how they form the constellations.”

 

 

The power of sport ⚽

 

By Denis  Margalik ( Western University)

What does it mean to play? What impact does the nature of sport provide? Ask anyone, and the most common answer you will receive is its ability to unite others. Just by observing the Olympic Games, it is evident that the power of sport lies in its ability to unify people, as athletes of various talents, cultures, countries, values, and beliefs are brought together to be watched and admired by the entire World. Then you have the FIFA World Cup, where just for a moment in time, it almost seems as if all the World’s conflicts are put on hold. Every sport has its own set of competitors, its own titles to be won, and its own hoard of loyal and dedicated fans. Sport itself has the ability to influence us all, and it creates a power and emotion within us that is rarely seen by anything else.

Being a World-competitive figure skater myself, I have been able to experience how sports can change and impact a person. Representing Argentina, a country where this ice-gliding, jump-twirling, artistic sport is usually unheard of, I was fortunate enough to put myself, and my country, on the World skating map. Throughout my career, I have been grateful to have opportunities to make friends in many parts of the World that I keep in touch with to this day, and I have developed many skills made on the ice, that I can apply off the ice as well. Despite the presence of language barriers and cultural differences, I was able to witness, first-hand, that the familiarity of sport was enough to fuel and maintain lifelong friendships.

Recently, Nexos Comunitarios, has implemented their “Kick-Off” program, which is a new educational approach focused on generating both cognitive and non-cognitive skills by using soccer in communities suffering from poverty. Nexos believes that through soccer, skills such as leadership, teamwork, resilience, fairness, effort, respect, responsibility, and compassion are strengthened, and allow for the transferring and application within the classroom.

During my time in Cuncani, I worked with Western University and Nexos, and was given the opportunity to work alongside the children there, helping them develop these important character traits and presented them with the chance to become closer with their community members. Using different soccer drills and game scrimmages, quick progress was observed. From their soccer skills noticeably improving, to the way they interacted with each other, they incremented their way in better being able to work as a team in order to achieve the main goal of soccer-to score. Their friend bubbles expanded to include more of their classmates, and sportsmanship became contagious. Eventually, these traits were observed directly in the classroom, and ultimately improved their ability to learn inside as equally as they did out. And although we may not have spoken the same language, we were able to use soccer to convey the universal language of play and laughter, which resulted in easily connecting with each of them for all of us to have a great time.

Arriving in Cuncani gave me a culture shock to remember. From the state of their living, to their lack of resources, all I wanted to do was help as much as I could.  It was inspiring to see how the only thing they needed to bring light and energy into their lives, was the bond with their friends, which through the Kick-Off program was shown to be strengthened.

Through personal experiences, it’s easy for me to remember the many positive ways I was able to integrate what I learned through playing sports to my everyday life; it made me treat others better and helped me become a better person overall. With the help of Nexos and the Kick-Off program, I look forward in seeing the same impact and opportunities sports has provided to me to the children and families of Cuncani. From gaining many new transferable skills, friendships and senses of unity, I know that the power of sports provides much more than just the chance to compete. And seeing the spark of joy within the eyes of the children every time a soccer ball was spotted on sight, allowed me to realize that the power of sport had at least one more gift to offer: happiness.

¿Han visto el mar? Sí, en el mapa

Por María Bravo Ortega (Nexos Comunitarios)

Yo tenía un sueño, vivir con una comunidad alto-andina. Este sueño me trajo hasta Perú, en concreto, hasta Cuncani, una comunidad alejada en medio de un paisaje paradisiaco, altísimas montañas de un verde especial, mezcla del pasto con flores y musgos de tonalidades verdes, amarillas y ocres. Los nevados parecen tocar la neblina que se desplaza como jugando al escondite, aparece y desaparece entre los picos; las cascadas de agua se precipitan por las laderas con devoción, su juego acaba en el rio estrellándose por las rocas, cantando la canción que solo el agua, al precipitarse, sabe cantar.

Ahí, en ese lugar están los niños y niñas en la escuela, desconocedores de las tecnologías y de la vida que transcurre más allá de su Cuncani, como mucho llegaron hasta Lares, la población más cercana a ellos a la cual llegan, principalmente, tras dos horas de caminata ya que no disponen de transporte público.

Ahí, en ese lugar me encontré con la esencia más pura, niñas y niños inocentes, limpios de alma, desconocedores de la vida que hay más allá de su mundo, un mundo que mostrado a través de fotografías les abre los ojos; hace poco les pregunté: ¿han visto el mar? Si, en el mapa, contestaron alegres, con una inmensa sonrisa.

Cuando les mostré fotos del mar y les dije que se podían bañar, no daban crédito a lo que oían, ¿bañarse en el mar? Noooo…. decían con caritas de asombro y esa mezcla de incredulidad que solo da la inocencia.

Llevar a estos niños a ver el mar pues no saben lo que es una ola, es un sueño para Nexos Comunitarios, un sueño quizá para esta Navidad 2018. ¿Qué te parece la idea?

Quizá juntos podemos cambiar la respuesta a esta pregunta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[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.