¿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.



[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!

[Visitors] Community Life at 4000 Metres: a Sociologist’s Experience.

By Dave Holmes

The village of Cuncani, which is four hours to the north-east of Cusco, was once the centre of the Incan Empire. We were here to support the NGO Nexos Comunitarios (NC) and understand how remote Cuncani is by hiking the paths linking it to larger towns. First impressions are of a rustic settlement with several houses dotted along the floor of a beautiful highland valley. A school, which is one of the most recently-built buildings, is found right at the beginning of the village where the road ends. The inhabitants of the community wear brightly coloured hats and tunics. We were greeted by Saturnina who is the local coordinator for NC.

NC has been operating in Cuncani since 2013, working alongside locals on various projects to support the community. Currently as part of the Sustainable Homes project, they are implementing composting toilets, a greenhouse and a chicken coop. As well as these projects, the village has become more connected to the national network, with partial electricity in the last decade, telecommunication services and the previously mentioned school are all key examples of development in the region.

Despite these changes, Cuncani is still very isolated. There is only one track connecting it to the nearest settlement Lares, which has a medical post, hot springs and other amenities. Many children who attend secondary school have to walk to and stay in other towns from Monday to Friday and return to Cuncani over rough and mountainous terrain for the weekends. It is not only the students who have arduous days, any kind of health or municipal issues have to be done elsewhere too. When the only regular transport is once a week on market day, opportunities to use regional services are severely limited and walking is the most common way to get from A to B.

This is where our trip’s goal becomes clearer. Our aim was to hike to Urubamba, the nearest moderately sized town, and thus truly understand the effort involved and experience what locals have to do many times a year. Our journey on foot began from the end of the road to Cuncani, going over a 4800 metres pass on the way. We had the help of pack llamas and planned to stay the night after crossing the highest point.

The route is a delight to the eyes, the variety of fauna and flora is truly incredible and this is without even mentioning the sweeping views of the Andes. From rivers winding down valleys where llamas and alpaca graze on the lush grass to lofty glacial mountains with huge birds circling the peaks, the experience is truly a feast for the senses. We passed beautiful mountain lakes, high wooded slopes and stunning valley meadows with trout filled rivers meandering through boulder fields and trees. However, all this beauty did not distract us from the effort involved.

Climbing up and over a pass is always strenuous. When the air gets thinner, it becomes very hard work due to shortness of breath, headaches and nausea. Even with the help of llamas and not carrying full packs, our progress was slow and cumbersome. This was partly to be expected as we were not as acclimatized as the locals but it still surprised me that what took us 2 days, the locals could do in just a few hours of fast walking. They were extremely agile over the ground and carried heavy loads with no modern rucksacks or footwear, just a cloth tied over their shoulders and sandals on their feet.

During the walk I had some time to get to know the residents of Cuncani and I was impressed with their friendliness. They were quick to help and understood our needs for breaks, photos and questions. One person I spoke to helped me understand how the community operates and gave me a little insight into their lives. I learnt about issues facing the community, its form of governance and family customs. The time I shared with them has left a strong memory and I know I will return to build upon this connection and experience their home and lives once more.

If you want to support NC efforts, please consider making a donation to the Sustainable Homes Project and follow their work on social media.

Aprender a caminar (otra vez)

Dámaris Herrera Salazar (Estudiante de Facultad de Sociología, PUCP)

Cuncani fue una experiencia retadora y transformadora en mi vida. Significó la oportunidad de vivir con las familias en las alturas de Cuncani, de compartir su día a día, conociendo de cerca sus costumbres, sus carencias y sus sueños.

Soy Dámaris, estudiante de Sociología y voluntaria del IDEHPUCP. Junto a un grupo de estudiantes de diferentes carreras y en coordinación con Nexos Comunitarios,  fuimos a realizar un diagnóstico comunitario y talleres de identidad para los niños y niñas y adultos de la comunidad

Durante mi estadía en Cuncani,  viví en la casa de Damiana, ella es madre y padre de su hija, Michelle. Damiana quiere que Michelle vaya a la universidad, ella solo terminó secundaria. Damiana y muchos pobladores tienen el mismo grado de instrucción y los mismos sueños para sus hijos e hijas.

La falta de buena educación no es el único problema en Cuncani, sus pobladores carecen de muchos servicios básicos y están trabajando arduamente por transformar esa realidad.  Con relación a la mejora en educación, actualmente, están trabajando en la implementación de un colegio de secundaria cercano, en la actualidad el colegio más cercano se encuentra en Lares, a 40 minutos en transporte (cuando está disponible) o 2-3 horas de caminata. Durante nuestro tiempo en Cuncani, aprendimos también que el servicio de salud es de muy mala calidad, no solo por las medicinas y atención médica sino por el maltrato de parte del personal de salud.

Asimismo, el cambio climático ha afectado sus principales actividades económicas: la agricultura y la ganadería. Ahora hace más frío y el sol sale antes, ocasionando que el pasto se seque y los animales no tengan que comer. Por otro lado, ellos cocinan con leña y el humo se encuentra en toda la atmosfera de la cocina. Este humo contamina a los pobladores como si fumaran 20 cajetillas de cigarrillos al día.

Sin embargo, a pesar de estos problemas, los pobladores de Cuncani valoran el lugar donde viven, su territorio forma parte integral de su cultura e identidad: la naturaleza y la tranquilidad de las alturas, sus productos oriundos y su vestimenta y lengua, todo ello heredado de sus ancestros.

Mis días en Cuncani se resumen en el reto de aprender a bajar y subir pendientes rocosas, respirar aire fuerte y puro, el mate de coca y las papas de siempre, participar en talleres y jugar con los niños y niñas, entender y aprender quechua; sobre todo entender que el afecto y el respeto pueden comunicar más que las palabras.

Como estudiante de sociología puedo afirmar que Cuncani te plantea la verdadera y transformadora experiencia del trabajo de campo. Mi trabajo fue más allá que una investigación cualitativa, fue un intercambio real. Así como Damiana me cuidó esos 5 días, quisiera hacer lo mismo por ella en un futuro.

Estudio sociología porque quiero ser parte del desarrollo de las numerosas comunidades nativas en el Perú, aquellas que se encuentran viviendo en situación de pobreza. La oportunidad de trabajar en la comunidad ha sido el primer paso de este sueño. Aprendí a caminar otra vez, y mis ganas de ser parte del desarrollo de comunidades andinas, hoy son más reales que nunca.

Getting professional and personal growth

By Alice Ebeyer (NC Intern 2016 – McGill University)


“Spending two months in Peru with Nexos Comunitarios has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Being immersed in a different culture and being able to witness particular traditions and customs was stirring. The organization offers an amazing context to achieve efficient work, but also personal growth. The job itself allows us to further open our minds by seeing, discovering, learning so many new things. Peru is a unique place and working with local people is the best way to experience the country. This internship was the occasion to learn more about primary research and more particularly Participatory Action Research methods. Thus, it has been enriching on a personal and professional level but also on an academic perspective.

International development and development in general is a long and complex process; it needs patience and persistence and this is what I learned at NC by trying to help and making a social impact.

What this internship also taught me is to never give up, because only small groups of people who attempted to change the world actually reached their goals.”

Expanding Knowledge and Making Societal Impact with Nexos Comunitarios

By Mackenzie Vozza , Western University – Alternative Spring Break 2016

#BeTheChange – NC Learning Program

Mackenzie Vozza.jpg

“If I could recommend anything to a university student looking to expand their cultural knowledge and make a significant societal impact, it would be working with Nexos Communitarios. The Nexos staffs not only ensured we had everything we needed pre-departure, but were also constantly in contact with us during our trip to ensure a flawless execution and unforgettable experience.

The project I had the privilege of working on, PhotoVoice, was an amazing initiative designed to change the mindset of children in impoverished areas in order to help them believe they can do anything they set their mind to. Partaking in this project was an eye-opening and wonderful experience as I made friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.”