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”.

 

 

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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.”

 

 

[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.

 

Applying the SDGs in a remote Andean community

Kenji Misawa, NC Project Coordinator

During my undergraduate studies in international development, our classes often focused upon understanding the approaches used in the international community to confront the problem of on-going global poverty. In 2015, world leaders assembled at the United Nations and executed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG’s represent a global commitment by the international community to end poverty and to improve the lives of people in a sustainable manner for future generations. But how does this universal call to action fit into the context of a small community like Cuncani?

The SDG consists of 17 goals and 169 targets. Although the SDGs capture problems on a global scale, civil societies such as NC have a role to play in meeting the targets of the SDGs. Without the work of civil societies in promoting development at the community level, SDGs will never be realized. In the case of Cuncani, we see rampant malnutrition amongst children despite its abundant beauty and natural wonder.

If malnutrition rates in Cuncani do not improve by 2030, it implies that the SDGs failed to achieve their target of ending all forms of malnutrition in the world. Therefore, despite the small act of addressing malnutrition rates in Cuncani, our efforts to improve the health status of such a small community is contributing to the international community’s goals. In this article, I will discuss NC’s current project in Cuncani and its relationship with SDG targets.

Credits: Miguel Arreátegui Rodríguez

Since 2017, NC has initiated the Sustainable Homes in Cuncani (SHC) project which provides each household with a 1) greenhouse 2) chicken coop and 3) ecological toilet in an attempt to better nutrition, sanitation, and environmental health. First, the implementation of a greenhouse and a chicken coop significantly helps the community to achieve SDG2: zero hunger. Due to its exceedingly high altitude (4000m), the variation of the available vegetables in the community is limited. Its isolated location makes it difficult for families to purchase food from other communities. A lack of regular intake of various nutrients causes vulnerable children in Cuncani to suffer from health problems such as malnutrition, stunting and anemia. The construction of a greenhouse and chicken coop will ultimately allow indigenous families to have greater access to different types of vegetables and animal proteins. This increase in access to a variety of foods will help the community to reach the SDG target of ending all forms of malnutrition and stunting in children under the age of five. At the same time, such efforts also support the UN’s target, outlined in the SDG’s to further resilient agriculture practices that increase food productivity.

The construction of an ecological toilet is related to SDG6: clean water and sanitation of the community. By replacing the current latrine, which pollutes the ground water and the land of the community, the ecological toilet would decrease the level of water contamination. At the same time, the new toilet has the capacity to properly compost human waste, eliminating any pathogens and viruses, converting it to nutrient-rich fertilizers for farming, keeping the local land intact. This approach corresponds with SDG6’s target of improving water quality, reducing pollution, and increasing the level of sanitation and hygiene.

Furthermore, unlike the former NC Lunch Program, this new initiative of  SHC project helps to achieve SDG11: sustainable cities and communities. Until 2016, NC visited the community every Monday to provide enough food for the week to feed the children at school. Although local families appreciated this initiative and it had a positive impact upon the health status of the children, the community was dependent on NC and lacked sustainability. In other words, without the financial support of NC, the community was not able to continue the program. To overcome this challenge, NC developed the SHC project which aims to raise the level of nutrition for future generations in a way that is self-reliant. Unlike the former Lunch Program, the creation of the SHC will improve the health standards of households while allowing families to enjoy such benefits without NC involvement in the future.

It is amazing to think that a single project of an NGO in a small community still counts as a step in achieving SDG2, SDG6, and SDG11. A big accomplishment is an aggregation of the small successes. Meanwhile, there are other important targets of SDGs in Cuncani that have been left out, for now, from NC projects. In the next series of blog posts, I look forward to discussing the relationships between Cuncani, NC and other SDGs in more detail (particularly SDG13: Climate Action, SDG9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, and SDG17: Partnerships for the goals).

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.

Sustainable-Homes-Option-3-English-2

 

 

Strengthening ties within Cuncani

Marjorie Díaz Redolfo, IDEHPUCP

Hi Everyone!

We are a group of 17 young students from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) in Lima and are on different programs of study. We’re looking forward to arriving to Cuncani in Cusco in order to work with the community on a project named ‘Strengthening Ties within Cuncani’, that will contribute to forging a stronger sense of community and their intra-community relationships.

We believe that, in this way, we will help the community in identifying what they want to achieve for their future and that they feel they can propose their own solutions to the problems they face nowadays. All this is possible thanks to the partnership with Nexos Comunitarios.

 Credits: Miguel Arreátegui Rodríguez

Why is important to work with Cuncani?

Cuncani is a rural community located in the Andes of Peru, that has to face many difficulties within many areas of their everyday life:

  • According to official government statistics, they are one of the poorest communities in Peru.
  • The children are more likely to suffer malnutrition because families are not able to afford vegetables or fruit and provide a nutritious diet for their children.
  • They don´t have access to proper health services due to the distance between the community and the closest health centre.
  • The community has their own internal governing body and structure but community members do not actively participate fully in this structure.

What are we going to do with the community?

First, we are going to collect up-to-date information from the community so we are able to know more about the families with whom NC has been working. We will conduct research about basic topics like health, education, and the local economy. In addition, we want to know their perspective of development and community; the intricacies of their daily life and the ways they participate in their community.

After this, we want to organize some activities with the families of Cuncani. For example, workshops that will focus on strengthening the sense of community identity and the relationships between them and encourage them to think about what kind of development they envisage for the future. Furthermore, we want to help the members of the community recognize their  own inherent abilities so they can exercise their rights in different aspects of their daily life. Finally, we will work with the children of Cuncani, using playful interactive methods to learn how they identify with their community.

If you want to support our initiative, please visit this page and make your contribution. All the money donated will go towards supporting our trip from Lima to the community of Cuncani.

Thank you!

Overcoming the First Challenges of the Greenhouses

By Madeline Greenwood (McGill University)

Credits: Miguel Ángel Arreátegui Rodríguez

I arrived in Cuncani for the first time just four weeks ago, and was immediately in awe of the scenery, and the way of life. Life isn’t easy in the high Andes, and I admire the way in which people go about their days, hiking for hours just to get home from school, or bring their Alpacas to graze. At over 4,000m above sea level, the climate is cold, the soil is thin and the only crop that will survive outside is potato. I was impressed to learn that there are hundreds of types of potatoes being grown in each chakra, or plot of land, and the people of Cuncani have definitely mastered the art of growing, storing and cooking them. But, in reality, no matter the quantity or type, the nutritional value of this starchy vegetable is not enough to sustain a family. This is where the agriculture portion of Nexos Comunitarios’ Sustainable Homes project comes in.

My first glimpse of a Cuncani greenhouse was at Señor Martin’s house. We walked uphill from the community centre and found ourselves giving an out of breath introduction to the first patron of the sustainable homes project. He showed us around his property, and finally to the greenhouse and chicken coop which had been built earlier that month. The greenhouses in the project are simple adobe/rock structures, like any house in the region but with industrial white plastic for the roof and windows, which traps the heat from the sun, and moisture from the plants inside. The temperature is dramatically different between the inside and outside of the building, and I was fascinated at how easy it seemed to create a climate suitable for a wide variety of vegetables including lettuce, cauliflower, beets, chard and cabbage.

During my first visit, the plants were small and mostly unrecognizable green sprouts but, just two weeks later the mini versions of each plant were full-fledged. It’s exciting in itself to witness a feat of nature like growing plants where they shouldn’t naturally survive, but the greenhouses do not come without challenges. Without proper care, and foresight of potential problems, the plants inside don’t stand a chance, but at the same time we’re hoping that people will be able to complete extra work on top of all their other tasks.

Right now, it’s potato-harvesting season in Cuncani, and everyone has something to do. After school the children rush home to help their parents in the fields, and soon they will be busy preparing Chuño and Moraya. These traditional methods of preserving potatoes continue to be the main resource for surviving the winter in this community, and can feed families for months. With this in mind, it is easy to understand how the supplemental vegetables in the greenhouses could fall by the wayside and in this environment, even a small mistake like leaving the door open or watering the garden improperly could be detrimental. This winter will be an interesting learning experience for families to figure out what works for them in terms of delegating tasks between family members, and incorporating this new responsibility into their lives.

Although this project is still in its beginning phases, it’s looking very promising. Each week we return to Cuncani, the families seem increasingly comfortable using and maintaining their gardens and as a result, the veggies are healthy and growing consistently. For the families in Cuncani, the greenhouses mean subsistence agriculture that will actually serve its purpose of nourishment. It’s the newfound access to a wider variety of foods in their own backyards, and for free that will make a real difference to their nutrition everyday, but survival will always come first. The challenges they face within the project may not be over, but as a community and an organization, we can all learn from each experience, failure or success we encounter in the first months of the Sustainable Homes Project.