[Thinking Aloud] Changing habits

 

“Did you read the book I gave you?”

“Nah, reading is not my thing.”

“Good, stay naive.”

“…”

Just a few days ago, our donor for the Sustainable Home Project, Jim Norgate (Dreams to Beams), visited Urubamba. While at dinner one night, we had a conversation of how keeping one’s own finances can be beneficial. This conversation led to a discussion of having a good habits. Next day, I talked with Jim about how I am struggling to get into the habit of reading. Although many people have repetitively mentioned the importance of reading books, I was never able to get into the daily habit of reading.

Jim responded “so many people think they can change their behaviour or habits easily, but it’s not easy. We must think logically and identify what is the consequence of your habit.” He mentioned the incident that triggered him to gain his habit of reading his early 20’s. It was when his friend told him, “Good stay naive”. He was frustrated at first, but then, this comment motivated him of not wanting to be ‘naive’, and changed his attitude towards reading.

Why is it hard to change habits? When we try to change behaviour, there are limiting beliefs that prevent us from changing our habits. It is a reason which we create internally that we can’t do something. For example, I cannot read because I need to work on other tasks, I do not have time, or simply I do not like reading. These excuses have a higher priority within myself than my will of acquiring a new habit. Indeed, the desire of Jim not want to be ‘naive’ has overcome all these limiting beliefs in himself. Usually there needs to be a triggering event which causes the person to realize the negative habits of their habit to motivate them to change their behaviour.

Nonetheless, my research has indicated that perhaps motivation is not enough to acquire a new habit. There are three R’s principals of habit change: Reminder, Routine, and Reward. The Reminder is the trigger that initiates the behaviour. It is effective to initiate ‘new habit’ in a relation to other already existing habits. For example, in my case, I have started to read a book for 15 minutes before going to bed. ‘Going to bed’ is the already existing habit, and the action of ‘reading book’ is the new habit that I am trying to link with it. Although 15 minutes seems to be a short time for reading, the task is simple and manageable for me to repeat. The Reward is my satisfaction, getting rid of discomfort of knowing “I need to read more…” or “I need to get into the habit of reading”.

This notion of behavious change can help me in forming desired habits in the future. I am in the process of changing my behaviour. The success of changing habits is that I will able to adapt the same strategy to obtain other desired habits. At the same time, this understanding of behavious change is also related to our work at Nexos Comunitarios. One of ways to promote community development is to influence behaviour change in the community. By understanding how a person successfully acquire a new habit, it can show others how to gain a new habit. For example, our objective of traveling soap is to foster proper handwashing behaviour amongst children. Knowing this concept of limiting beliefs and the 3R’s of habit have helped me develop the project design.

First, we must thoroughly explain to the children why they should wash their hands with soap (with a specific demonstration). This demonstration and explanation seeks to stimulate children’s internal motivation to change their behaviour, acknowledging the both benefits and negative consequences of not washing their hands on daily basis. Then, we will install the poster in front of dining room at the school to remind the students to wash their hands with soap, so that the new habit of “proper handwashing” will link with the existing habit of “eating lunch”. To maintain their routine, the ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’ could be set up at dining room so that children would be prompt to do the handwashing to receive checkmark every day. At the end of every month, for children who have completed their ‘handwashing checkmark calendar’, they may receive small rewards such as candies or cookies. This is just an idea of how we can implement traveling soap to successfully influence children to obtain new habits.

Gaining a new habit is not an easy task. It involves high motivation, and 3R of habit principals. As an organization working with community members, seeking to provide a positive influence to stimulate behavioral change to better lives, and learning the psychological aspects of how one can acquire habit, is worth paying attention to. Understanding of the acquisition of habit change may not only help us to develop our desired habits, but also be useful tool for designing community development projects.

 

 

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[Work in Progress] First Official Group Trip to Cuncani!

Credits: Kenji Misawa

If you google Cuncani-Peru, you will find out that the community is recognized as a good destination for camp and to do trails in the High-Andes in Cusco. Indeed, Cuncani is a beautiful destination for it. However, Cuncani does not receive the benefits they deserve. This is the reason that for a year, we have been talking to some families of the community on whether or not to start an Experiential Tourist Circuit . Although, we were began the planning in January we decided to work with them and support them in the implementation of their own Experiential Tourism circuit and it is finally ready!

This October 23rd and 24th, we expect to have a small group of tourists visiting the community. Despite the fact, that individual tourists have done the tour already, this is the first time we are organizing a group trip to the community. Besides all the interesting activities included in the circuit, these dates are special as well, as it will be the celebration of the “Siembra” season of the potato! This important event is called: Yapuy. The tradition of Yapuy has been maintained since the time of the Incas . Yapuy is an opportunity to appreciate the physical strength of the Andean men.

Saturnina mostrando papas por Miguel Arreátegui
Credits: Miguel Arreátegui
Señores trabajando en Yapuy, uno saltando por Jorge Carrillo
Credits: Jorge Carrillo

You can find information of this first group trip to Cuncani, here (in Spanish). If you are visiting Cusco these days or if you have friends/family that are, feel free to share it.

This is the beginning of what we expect to be a genuine opportunity for the economy of the community of Cuncani and a good opportunity to prove that tourism is good to combat poverty only when local communities are really included.

 

[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.

 

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.

 

 

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).