[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)

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“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

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“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.”

ASB is the perfect chance to get a life-changing experience

By Monika Volz (Alternative Spring Break 2015) – #BeTheChange

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“ASB was the most rewarding, fun, and life changing experience I’ve ever had! I will never forget the amazing memories I made in Peru with all of the wonderful people I became so close with. It opened up my university experience to so many new opportunities and meaningful friendships. Everyone should be able to have an experience like this at least once in their lives, and ASB is the perfect chance! This program is highly organized with incredible projects and wonderful objectives to help people around the world. ASB has an assortment of different objectives such as health and nutrition, community involvement, and education among many. I went to Peru to work with an organization called Nexos Voluntarios (now called Nexos Comunitarios) where I volunteered in many of their projects. I was involved in building a bathroom for a young girl with Cerebral Palsy, volunteering at an orphanage, working with children with disabilities, teaching English, and much more. ASB is also a great program because they carefully choose really great locations and organizations to work with. When I went to Peru, I thought that I would be making a big difference in the world. I do believe that I made a difference while I was there, however, what I wasn’t prepared for was that the people in Peru made an even bigger impact on my own life. I learned so much about compassion and selflessness; everyone around me was always so loving. They taught me to be genuinely kind to everyone and treat everyone with love and respect. They made me realize that we are all connected, even if it’s not by blood. They taught me to be unselfish and to help other people. If everyone in the world would embrace the people around them like the people I met in Peru have, the world would be a much happier place. This experience has truly shaped who I am and what I believe in. Everyone should have a chance to experience a program like ASB!”

Amazing Internship Opportunity

By Kenji Misawa (NC Intern – Ottawa, Canada. Carleton University)

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This internship opportunity was one of the most amazing experience of my life. The internship is itself is well organized and the members of the organization were very warm and welcoming. The activities were related to the human rights issues and promoting sustainable development in the small Andes communities. The most valuable experience for me was to visit the communities and interacts with communities’ members. I believe in any development works, understanding the reality of the people’s life and building the trust among communities’ members are the most important elements. I believe working for NC is an amazing opportunity since it provides us with chances to conduct field works, as well as practical skills of planning and analyzing the developing program. Also, besides the actual work, NC provided us with various trips and workshops where we could learn interesting Peruvian culture, traditions and histories.