Chasqui challenge: accepted and applauded

By Nicholas Bruce (Journalist, Nexos Comunitarios Advisory Board)
In this picture: Andrew, Nico & Kenji. Nico is one of our partners from Cuncani, who kindly joined the challenge on the first day.

A challenge is meant to be just that. Extra ordinary. Extra demanding. In the end, extra rewarding. Hiking 13 straight hours at over 10,000 feet above sea level is no easy task. Cycling 11 consecutive hours is a feat at any altitude. The efforts of Kenji and Andrew were phenomenal and we applaud them. Not just because of these numbers, but the persistence to continue even after a trip to the health center. Even after a nagging knee injury. Even after a bicycle with a single working gear. Even after a long delay and hours past the projected finish. Still the duo continued, persisted, sweated it out.

Beyond that, and the whole purpose of this challenge, was not to focus on the foolhardy foreigner. Not to show off and showcase. The purpose was to bring some light, shed some awareness that when all is said and done, this was two days, one weekend. Extra ordinary efforts of energy are being made and consumed and created and challenged and met every day by very ordinary people. Residents of Cuncani. Their chasqui descendants. Their enthusiastic offspring. Generations have made treks high in the isolated communities of the Andes, in and around Cuncani, for ages. As we applaud Kenji and Andrew for no small feat of their own, we aim to bring attention and praise on those who do this most every day in slightly different manners. Well done all around.
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Agape

It has been a month since I’ve moved to Peru and started working with Nexos Comunitarios and I can confidently say that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

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A year ago, I was struggling with an existential crisis during my final year of university until I came upon one word. ‘Agape’. ‘Agape’ means unconditional love in Greek and the word has become a foundation to who I am. Friends who know me are aware that I have a tattoo of the word to symbolize a lifestyle I strive to base my life upon. To show love to those unloved and neglected.

In this past month, I have been repeatedly challenged on how hard unconditional love really is. I have been constantly exposed to the extent of brokenness, division, and injustice that exists in this world. At times it seems that all our efforts are hopeless; that no matter how hard we try these ugly things will continue to persist. In my time here, I was struggling with the question of how dire a situation needs to be to be considered hopeless; and that if I knew it was hopeless, would I still try. I realized that the fact I even tried to rationalize this meant I’ve already failed at unconditional love. Loving others shouldn’t be dependent upon whether others will receive or appreciate it, rather you love regardless of the results.

By no means is this an easy task. I’ll admit that I am nowhere close to perfecting it, nor do I think I ever fully will. So why am I trying so hard?

Because among all that ugliness lies so much hope. I’ve seen people with self-sacrificial compassion go to boundless lengths to reach the unloved. I’ve seen people come together, in spite of their differences, to fight for what’s right. I’ve seen the worst of people make 180- degree transformations once someone took the time to show them their true worth and potential. I believe that everyone deserves to be loved and has the capacity to love. I try because I believe that a better world is possible, and I want to do whatever I can to get a little closer to it. Yes, sometimes it can be tough and our efforts may seem useless, but sometimes a single smile can make it all worth it.

16 days to go…

Hi everyone!

We are raising money for our POWER Lunch Program and two of our members have a challenge: 37 km hike and 100 km bike ride from Urubamba to Cuncani.

This is one of the post written by Kenji! Please, read it, share it and support our cause: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/power-lunch/

aintnomountainperu

nilda casa (1 of 1)-2

Aside from me being an international development worker, and willing to promote community development, there is another very strong reason why I want to raise money to implement this POWER Lunch. That is my personal connection with children. I have always enjoyed being with children and from some point, working with and for kids became one of my Ikigai, a Japanese term that has been recently been recognized internationally. It is often translated as “meaning of being” but more accurately, it is the combination of “your values”, “things you like to do”, and “things you are good at”.

This picture was when I visited one of the families in the community Nilda (older sister) and Grizelda (little sister). I gain great pleasure when I am with them (and I hope they enjoy time with me as well…. crossed fingers). Being a field worker and working with a group of people…

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The 2030+ Agenda: Peru’s Opportunity to (Truly) Achieve Zero Hunger

Carly Hayes, University of Waterloo (Nexos Comunitarios intern)

2030 seems to be the year that everyone can’t stop talking about. The year, far enough in the future, when we can eliminate poverty, achieve zero hunger, and reduce inequality, among a number of other important, lofty goals. The 2030+ Agenda, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, took over where the Millennium Development goals somewhat disappointingly left off. The stakes are high, especially for nutrition: the stated goal is to achieve zero hunger in 15 years, and we’re already a year into the challenge.

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When looking at the country level, it certainly seems that Peru is up to that challenge. The government of Peru has been praised in a multitude of forums for its commitment to reducing rates of stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for age). Currently, Peru holds the top spot on the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI), primarily due to the political commitment espoused by leaders to tackling this problem through multi-sectoral, multi-departmental approaches. This achievement was based on Peru’s relative commitment to the other countries in the index, measured through Borda scores of commitment to access, availability, and utilization of food and key nutrients. Peru is also listed in the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Nutrition Report as the country with the fourth-greatest budget allocation to nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, at 4.64 percent of general government expenditures, of those 24 countries that provided data.

While these international measurements demonstrate positive progress, geographic inequalities persist, especially for those living in the jungle and High Andean communities such as Cuncani. Data on the malnutrition problem of Cuncani is not easily available, nor consistently collected by municipal of regional governments for reporting. This omission of the poorest communities can skew results positively, and reduce the amount of social resources available for these communities. Further, while Peru has demonstrated such high levels of both political and financial commitment, it is unclear as to whether these commitments are translating into outcomes for the poorest communities. The HANCI  itself is a measure based on the decoupling of commitments from results-based measurements. When we look more closely at the data on budget allocations, we can see that the majority of budget spending focuses on nutrition-sensitive programming, rather than nutrition-specific. These problems highlight a critical factor for achieving true advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals – the development of appropriate and holistic measures of progress. This will require indicators that go beyond increasing Gross Domestic Product to indicators that are culturally relevant and measure impact at the community level. In order to make meaningful strides towards achievement of the SDGs, Peru will need to look inward towards addressing these inequalities and adapting social programs to prevent remote communities from being left behind.

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Source: International Food Policy Research Institute Global Nutrition Report, 2016

However, the SDGs represent an important feature that the MDGs lacked – an understanding about the inter-linkages between a multitude of development goals, including those between nutrition, clean water and sanitation, good health and well-being, sustainable cities and communities, and quality education. This feature has long been something that Nexos Comunitarios has built into our hypothesis of change, recognizing how quality education and economic growth depend on achieving good health for all community members, and vice versa. That is why NC has chosen to focus on identifying the root causes of malnutrition, in order to uphold the human right of Cuncani citizens to safe, adequate, and nutritious food that will pave the way for the achievement of future goals, while keeping principles of interculturality and human rights at the forefront of everything we do. It is our hope that with the driving motivation of the SDGs, Peru will continue to be an international example by extending their efforts to the most vulnerable communities.

A meeting to remember

Daniel Baptiste (Nexos Comunitarios)

As a student of International Development I have always taken what I now view to be a somewhat naïve view of grassroots development initiatives. I was under the impression that NGOs worked with their host communities in relative harmony. I thought that while finance could be a perennial difficulty for NGOs, the work itself would be straightforward and universally rewarding. Halfway into my time with Nexos Comunitarios, I can honestly say that I was right about the rewarding nature of the work, trekking up a mountain to visit Cuncani, knowing many of the families and their children by name, and seeing familiar yet otherworldly sights is rewarding. Being part of  an organisation with a proven record of achieving and implementing development roles is also rewarding. There are however, huge challenges associated with working in communities like Cuncani.

Cuncani Nexos ComunitariosOn June 23rd I was had to go to Cuncani to participate in a meeting with the community to discuss about the next steps of our work together. After arriving in the community I found myself in a room with many  community members. As few of them speak Spanish, Saturnina, our local coordinator, was there to talk to the parents too, and to translate. Quickly, I realised that the meeting would not go as I expected. I explained everything as planned, but people just did not seem interested. At least, that what I thought that time.

After my relatively brief outline of our activities in Cuncani, the school director took over the meeting. I was not expecting the changes within the meeting after his participation. After hours of discussions, participation from parents, another teacher and the principal I understood he was upset and frustrated due to the fact  that the government was not paying on of the teachers in the school, to the poor test results of students. The feeling in the room became tense, there was yelling, screaming, arguing, it disintegrated fast. Perhaps I was shielded from the events as the entire meeting was in Quechua, and aside from what my limited Quechua skills could ascertain, the translations to Spanish from our local coordinator were all I could understand.

When the meeting was over, I came back to Urubamba and had a meeting to reflect on what just happened. There were many things to take into account! The dynamics between the principal and the parents, as well as the impact this could have on the initiatives we are developing concerned me. This was not simply because the the PhotoVoice Project takes place in the school, our Lunch Program and the future initiatives.

Cuncani NCDespite the gravity of the issues at hand, and the difficulties posed by these, I wittness through it all, there remains a palpable desire by community members to keep working together to effect positive change. Last week we had our first walk as part of the ‘Participatory video’ we are working on, together, it was a great sucess! Maybe we all need to remember that, We, at NC, believe that ever challenge leads to a great success!

This meeting was a very important lesson to me, one that I didn’t learn from a book or a class, but one that I learned from the field and won’t ever forget.

Poverty and its Dimensions

Sierra Matis, Carleton University (NC intern)

With the expiration of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s) in 2015, the United Nations (UN) has introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), which seek to enable people around the world to improve their lives and living conditions.[1] It is through these goals that the United Nations Working Assembly see’s eradicating poverty in the next generation as being feasible. In the context of Peru, the report on progress for the MDG’s put Peru on track for achieving their goals, as the country has been able to cut the number of people living in extreme poverty by half as a result of economic growth.[2] However, despite such progress spurred by economic growth, major social and geographic inequalities have persisted, as rural areas continue to be neglected.[3] I have witnessed this reality first hand through my internship with Nexos Comunitarios, an organization that promotes Responsible Human Development and is currently focusing on eradicating malnutrition in Cuncani, as children are not receiving the nutrients required for healthy growth. Thus, while recent gains are undoubted, it is evident that income growth and economic development in Peru alone is not enough to address the issue of poverty. Thus, efforts should be directed towards progress in the other dimensions of poverty eradication, such as culture and nutrition. This is because many complex factors such as cultural attitudes towards food and nutrition, maternal education, community isolation, and effectiveness of social programs all play a central role in understanding the causes and effects of poverty.

"Include to Grow" - MIDIS
 “Include to Grow” – MIDIS

In light of persistent inequities between rural and urban areas, the Peruvian government has attempted to shift its focus from economic adjustment strategies to promoting the fundamental rights of women and vulnerable groups through Peru’s Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion (MIDIS). MIDIS is ultimately responsible for managing  social programs through the adoption of the “Include to Grow” in 2013.[4]

However, the effects of such reforms have been minimal as shown through the 2013 Demographics and Family Health survey. This survey shows that infant mortality has increased from a national average of 16 deaths per 1000 live births in 2011 to 19 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013.[5] Neonatal mortality has also increased, rising from 9 deaths per 1000 live births in 2012 to 12 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013.[6]

Thus, the question becomes; how come infant mortality, neo mortality rates and hunger in rural areas have increased, despite strategies designed to address social, educational and nutritional gaps and other dimensions of poverty?

Part of the answer to this question can be seen through the effect cultural gaps have upon people’s access to quality health care services. For instance, a country report on Peru by the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that vertical birthing is preferred among women in the Andes. In order to address this cultural barrier, certain health facilities in Peru have adopted a technical standard for vertical birthing in 2005, thus allowing for the number of people with access to quality health services to increase.[7] However, the adoption of culturally appropriate health and delivery practices for users continues to be limited. [8]The report also notes that many health care professionals do not speak indigenous languages, thus deterring indigenous women from seeking an institutional delivery.[9]

In my visit to Cuncani, it was evident that community members have cultural practices similar to those identified in the WHO report. For instance, I learned from our local leader, Saturnina, that women in the community prefer to give birth vertically. Furthermore, Saturnina is one of the few Spanish speaking women, as the majority of community members speak the indigenous Quechua language. In observing these traits, it begs the question of whether language and birthing methods also deter women in Cuncani from using the Lares health care facility, the closest health center to Cuncani (located 1.5-2 hours away from the community).

In understanding the effect cultural gaps have upon access to quality health services, it caused me to question; do these barriers also have an impact upon malnutrition (NC’s current area of focus)? Institutional deliveries ensure that women receive antenatal health monitoring sessions as well as instruction on adequate feeding practices.[10] Such instruction communicates the necessity of initiating breast feeding within the first hour of life as well as the importance of introducing semi solid foods at the age of six months. Thus, it can be argued that health inequities caused by cultural gaps also contributes to the issue of malnutrition.

Ultimately, the identified effects of cultural gaps helps explain why economic development and income growth alone have failed to eliminate noticeable inequalities between rural and urban areas in Peru. With the creation of MIDIS, Peruvian government has improved its social policies, however  among other ministries has not delivered policies and programs flexible enough to accommodate the beliefs of its users, health inequities have been created, which has then had an effect upon malnutrition. Finally, such consequences brings to light how no one indicator can capture the many dimensions of poverty. Thus, the Peruvian government needs to ensure progress on the other dimensions of poverty eradication, as MIDIS needs to design programs programmes according to the cultural situation to combat persistent social and geographic inequities.

 

 

[1] “Achieving Zero Hunger the Critical Role of Investments in Social Protection.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015, iv

[2] “Success Factors for Women’s and Children’s Health.” The World Health Organization, 2015, 6

[3] Ibid

[4] “Success Factors for Women’s and Children’s Health,” 23

[5] Ibid, 28

[6] Ibid, 28

[7]  “Success Factors for Women’s and Children’s Health,” 20

[8]  Ibid, 30

[9]  Ibid

[10] Ibid, 20

For the children, with the children and by the children

By Alice Ebeyer (NC Intern –  McGill University)

IMG_2265Time flies in the High Andes… It has already been four weeks since I have arrived in the Sacred Valley, meaning that I have also had the occasion to visit Cuncani three times. So far, it has been a wonderful experience, where I could spend unique and intense moments with the people I have met there, but more specifically, the children.

I have mentioned it in my last post; my participation in Nexos Comunitarios initiative will be focused on the 2nd chapter of the Photovoice project. This tool is part of Participatory Action Research methodology and is based on storytelling method that aims to illustrate firsthand representation and perceptions of the community[1].

This Photovoice chapter is focused on the children, and my role is to assist on develop or strengthen the ties with them, so they can feel more comfortable with us. The whole project is supposed to be fun for them : the more they are comfortable and enjoying the process, the best they will express themselves in a natural manner. The process of the project clearly states that they have to be considered as equals and peers. All forms of superiority expressed by the age difference must be avoided. As NC claims, this research project is made “for the children, with the children, and by the children”. Thus, the more I am accepted, the more I can be efficient in my work. Indeed, the High Andean people as a whole may be considered more introvert than people from the North. This characteristic can be reflected through the kids’ behaviour toward strangers. Consequently, I have to pay more attention to some of the children who are shyer than others. In the end, I hope that they will consider me trustworthy.

As part of my responsibilities , I have to help with the design of the class activities, which include creative workshops. For instance, for the first class, they had to draw what they liked the most in Cuncani. I was touched and surprised because all of them drew animals, the mountains or the river in priority. Where I live, I feel like the children would have paid a lot less attention to this basic thing that is yet so beautiful and essential : nature. For the second workshop, we made them play with frames; the goal was for them to act like it was a camera. They had to capture what they liked the most in their community. Almost all of them took ‘pictures’ of the river; they then had to decorate their frames as they liked.

At the end of each activity, we have to gather their work and at home, write a general report about the workday but also a child by child report. Recording the Photovoice project process like this allows us to verify if the children are getting more confident, if they are ready to share more feelings and thoughts; essentially, to analyze the evolution of our work

13288327_1014211505331045_344411949_oBy the end of my time here, we will have to help them create their own camera made out of cardboards so they can get familiar with real ones. In August, a group of psychology  students will come and work with Nexos Comunitarios. At this moment, the kids will be given actual cameras and they will have to take them home so that they can take pictures of items and places that are relevant for them.

I am in the early stage of this relationship with the children, but I already feel really connected to them and I cannot wait to establish genuine links with them, hopefully beyond the internship work context, in a way that is good for both of us.

 

 

[1] Nexos Communitarios, 2016, 35-36