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…
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.
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 theHunger 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 theInternational Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Nutrition Reportas 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 asCuncani. 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.
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.
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.
On 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.
Despite 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.
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. 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. However, despite such progress spurred by economic growth, major social and geographic inequalities have persisted, as rural areas continue to be neglected. 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.
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.
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. Neonatal mortality has also increased, rising from 9 deaths per 1000 live births in 2012 to 12 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013.
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. However, the adoption of culturally appropriate health and delivery practices for users continues to be limited. The report also notes that many health care professionals do not speak indigenous languages, thus deterring indigenous women from seeking an institutional delivery.
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. 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.
 “Achieving Zero Hunger the Critical Role of Investments in Social Protection.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015, iv
 “Success Factors for Women’s and Children’s Health.” The World Health Organization, 2015, 6
Time 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.
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
By 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.
Malnutrition is an unattractive subject for everybody and more than that, its impact on everyone’s life determines everyone’s future. While we all know how important it is to be nourished, sometimes, due to the list of many important issues we need to take care of, we place the support to initiatives against malnutrition towards the last position on a list of priorities. Or maybe, when we have food in abundance for ourselves, we can forget that there are others who don’t have any.
The NGO/Start-up world demands the following trait as a requirement from anyone who wants to be successful: creativity. Many times, this has been focused on as the necessity to come up with an idea that is so good that it could sell itself. Don’t get me wrong. I wish our organization would be in a position to start something that is so innovative and creative that would eradicate the poverty in Cuncani. But we are not there yet, there are few steps we need to do first, in order to assure a sustainable Responsible Human Development. One of those first steps is to eradicate malnutrition – not just reduce it- but this takes time.
When we ‘moved’ to work in Cuncani, I believe that none of my former colleagues, neither I, knew that it was going to be this challenging. The challenges are various, including the budget we have for every activity and every visit. As experts in poverty reduction say, communities as Cuncani, which still remain poor in Peru, are those that have a type of poverty that is very hard to combat. However, all these challenges have an amazing reward: the peace we find in the community and the special happiness that seems to permeate there when we finish with our working day with them. After several hard days and lots of effort, working in Cuncani provides its own unique and special compensation. I have made this very simple ‘snapchat’ video that chronicles a typical for us when we go to Cuncani. We start at 4:30 a.m, going from Urubamba to Calca. Watch the whole video here, to learn more about a typical day.
Our ZERO Hunger- Nutrition Program in Cuncani is just the beginning of our work with the community, but we need your help so that we can continue the program in collaboration with the community. On June 3rd, 9 of us, including NC staff, students from McGill University and Carleton University will be walking from Cuncani to Urubamba. We will be, literally, crossing mountains until we reach our lovely home in Urubamba. I have done the trek before and even though had the best memories, it remains quite a daunting task. But why are we doing this? As important as it is to raise money (our goal is US$ 3,000) it is to promote the idea that isolation shouldn’t be synonymous with a poor community. Neither should the existence of a high mountain range with all of its geographically imposing limitations it places on people mean that they shouldn’t be able to be involved in Human Development for themselves. Please, take the time to get more information about our campaign and we hope that you can support it. Find all the details here.
When I see how far we are from achieving our ultimate goal: To promote the exercise of rights and civil liberties through Responsible Human Development, in Cuncani, I need to remember to focus on small steps. Since we started working in the community, there are no children with anaemia, and from this year, we are starting to add a sustainable component to our Lunch Program in Cuncanithrough developing the school greenhouse and starting up the fish farm and initiating the family greenhouses with the parents of the children. I feel proud of what we have achieved so far but it will be nothing in comparison to the celebration in some years from now: when we all are able to realise our vision as reality and the implementation of our model, done with the support of the community. Help us to celebrate more accomplishments this year and make a donation. Every cent does count.
Let’s remind everyone that we all deserve the right to good nutrition and that in this century, and in a middle income country, like Peru, it is unacceptable that there exist communities that do not have their own access to their own better nutrition and food.
What is isolation, and why does it so often have a negative connotation? Why in development circles is isolation so often synonymous with impoverishment. It is a question that I have found myself pondering in the past few days.
This past Tuesday, myself, our director Maricarmen, and 7 interns from McGill and Carleton travelled to the community of Cuncani. To get to Cuncani we woke up at 5am and took two different buses for about 3 hours from our home base in Urubamba, (the village in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where we are based), to Lares, a remote village high up in the Andes. From Lares we walked for 4 hours, largely uphill, higher and higher into the High Andes at altitudes often exceeding 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level. The hike was far from easy, despite the extreme beauty of the rugged mountain peaks, and green fields teaming with wistful llamas and alpacas, most of our team was panting within 10 minutes of beginning the hike. Those who know me know that I am no stranger to hyperbole, so I will avoid characterising this hike as the most physically strenuous challenge I’ve ever put on my body. That said at those altitudes the thinness of the air makes even a short stroll feel more like a triathlon. Nevertheless, in the end we made it to Cuncani.
It was my first visit to Cuncani. As a coordinator with Nexos Comunitarios I was pleased to know that it certainly wouldn’t be my last. It was first time seeing the splendid green peaks that tower above the community. My first time hearing the locals proudly speaking their ancient and complex Andean Quechua language. It is difficult for me to understand how people can look down on these proud descendants of the Incas. How racism and inequality can still be so present not only in Peru, but all over our beautiful diverse world. I was fascinated by the traditional clothing, so well adapted to Cuncani’s unique high altitude environment. I was also enchanted by the energy of the children, some shy and reserved others embodying the effervescence of youth, if tempered somewhat by malnourishment.
The more I travel the more I realise that not only is every culture interesting, but every culture has something to offer to the world. Every human is fundamentally the same. That wealth is an artificial construct, which separates humans from each other. Unfortunately, racism, and economic inequality often make stalwart barrier to the realisation of a better world.
On June 3rd, our community will be walking from Urubamba to Cuncani. This will take up to 12 hours and will bring us to altitudes nearing 5,000 meters above sea level (well over 16,000 feet). We are doing this for two reasons: to show the community, and that world that the Ain’t no mountain high enough to stop us from fulfilling our commitment to partnering with communities like Cuncani, as equals to help promote Responsible Human Development, and meaningful cultural exchanges. We do not work in Cuncani to ‘fix the community’, or to ‘teach the locals’. In reality they have far more to teach us then we can teach them. Nevertheless, the issue of malnutrition persists. I proposed the idea of crowdfunding this project because I see it as a way to both bridge and conserve what I see to be Cuncani’s splendid isolation. To help the community with out imposing mass tourism our rapid uncontrollable change. Please take a look at our campaign, here. Just reading about the issues in Cuncani can help spread awareness about the Andean microcosms we work it. If you feel like contributing, even the tiniest contribution can help us to reach our fundraising goal.