My unforgettable stay in Cuncani

By Kenji Misawa (Carleton University)

Internship Programs with Nexos ComunitariosWorking for Nexos Comunitarios was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Our goal was to build the foundation of a program that aimed to promote human rights in small communities in Cusco, such as Cuncani. During our stay in Peru, we had a chance to visit many incredible and historical places such as the city of Cusco, Incan ruins, and the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu. Although seeing these places was amazing, my 4 day stay in the small Andean community of Cuncani was the most memorable part.

Firstly, I was shocked to see the difference in lifestyle in Cuncani in comparison to life in Canada. There are approximately 70 households that make up this small community located in the middle of the Andes Mountains, isolated from other communities. Cuncani lacks access to the basic services and infrastructures that we take for granted in Canada. There is no clean water, streetlights and very limited access to electricity; there are only few households that had electrical appliances.

The houses in the community are all made of earth and rocks. Most of households depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Moreover, not a single market exists in the community and one has to visit the closest city, Lares (2 to 3 hours walk from Cuncani) to purchase goods or necessary foods, which they cannot harvest.

Kenji y WilmaEven though we only stayed for 4 days, it was obvious that people did not have sufficient amount of food to feed their family members. Furthermore, most of the children in the school were wearing exactly the same clothes for 4 days. It suggests that they are lacking access to personal items. There are number of other things that surprised me and made me think how luxurious our living in Canada is and the need to improve living standards for these families.

Secondly, my stay in Cuncani was unforgettable because of the great time I had with the people in the community. Despite the lack of basic needs and lower quality of living, people were very nice and kind and seemed to be happy with their community. They were warm-hearted, welcoming us and more importantly, they smiled a lot, which made me very comfortable being with them.

Our group had a chance to visit the primary school and play with the children. Although some of them were wearing old and dirty clothes, they were adorable and beautiful. On the first day of my stay in Cuncani, I was out in the schoolyard, playing with the ball that I had. Later on, one girl joined me. After ten minutes another girl joined. And after that, another boy and his sister… I ended up playing with 5 kids for about 2 hours just running around and throwing a ball. Even though I was not able to speak their language (Quechua), I could somehow communicate with them. They are always happy to see new things and the smiles that they had on their faces were priceless. I thought that the kids probably did not  have much chance to play with a person in my age (since all the young people leave the community to find work) and I was really happy that I was able to provide some time to them to enjoy and have fun. Also seeing their smiling faces made me really happy. Even though these are very small things, I felt satisfied that I could somehow contribute to the community.

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However at the same, I was a little sad to see the reality of their living. When I imagine children’s future life, there would not be able to have the same opportunities that we do. I felt we must help them to have better lives. Even though our group did not have enough time to make a profound change in their lives, it was really important for us to know people and understand who they are and what they need. I believe the first step for an individual to help communities is to see the reality of the people in order to create a realistic plan, rather than an optimistic plan.

Overall, I believe I was at the right place at the right time with the right people to experience incredible moments. After this internship, I hope to come back to Peru and work to help small indigenous communities in Andes where they need our helping hands.

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Healthy Meals Program

By Addie Catchall (McGill University)

Choquecancha, Lares, Calca, Cusco, Peru

HMP (English)Relationships are the foundation of everything. Until coming to Peru, I never truly understood the importance of something seemingly so innate. I’ve had the pleasure of working in the remote Andean communities of Cuncani and Choquecancha, where the people’s relationships with one another and the land are so powerful they permeate every conversation, every manner of being. Without this understanding, development in these microcosms has no hope for sustainability. As the Healthy Meals Program (HMP) is just beginning, the relationships we are forming now in Choquecancha will allow us to grow and learn alongside the community while we work towards our goal of promoting Responsible Human Development.

Therefore, the first steps Nexos Comunitarios has taken in Choquecancha are focused on building alliances with actors such as employees of the Health Center, farmers, and local authorities. A few weeks ago, Carlos and I attended a town assembly, where we sat among the council and introduced the HMP and ourselves. As the program aims to improve the nutrition of pregnant mothers and children from 0-2 years of age, I assumed our presence would be directed towards the mothers of the community. However, I have found that one can never simply “assume” in development, as they are frequently proved wrong. While the men expressed their concerns regarding town matters, the women were sitting isolated across the square, hardly ever providing input. Being a woman, this image has left me with some questions.

The women of Choquecancha during a town assembly
The women of Choquecancha during a town assembly

This project is vital for aiding early childhood development in a community where 50% of the children are living with anemia and parasites, stunting their physical and mental development. However, it is also an opportunity for gender empowerment. As we have the funds to complete the agricultural component of the program, we plan to include women in the construction and maintenance of greenhouses that will serve to fill their nutritional gaps by providing products previously inaccessible to the region. In order to see this through, we must have an in depth knowledge of the women themselves and the structural forces they face to accessing proper nutrition. The development of our program, also includes learning activities about the community, not just about their income but also about all the aspects that have an influence on their lives. Our organization will be using the  Multidimensional Poverty Index to get a complete picture of their current position.

Addie haciendo entrevistas en Choque

Carlos and I recently had a discussion with a local doctor about this multidimensional approach to development. At the end of our conversation he told us a story about someone learning Quechua. He said learning to speak Quechua is only part of the effort. That learning to think Quechua is the real intention. I don’t know this doctor very well but his statement embodies everything about my time with Nexos and in Choquecancha. These highland communities are such spirited places with immense systems of knowledge one can never fully grasp unless one is born into them. However, my aim is to learn as much as I can from their ways of thinking and reflect what I learn back into my work on the Healthy Meals Program.

Do you want to know about our Program? Click on this link and help us fund for the medical tests needed to start the program. We are not asking for a lot of money but the impact will be big on the evaluation of the Program, moreover, will contribute to the lives of  pregnant women and children of the Program.

How we understand poverty

By Yusra Uzair (Nexos Comunitarios)

Nexos Comunitarios Development ModelAlong with the implementation of our development model focusing on building human development through the support of health, education, and economic empowerment, it is necessary to have complementary monitoring and evaluative processes which will help Nexos Comunitarios measure progress and changes due to the presence of our organization and our efforts within the communities.

The dynamics of a community are ever-changing, especially considering inter-culturality and human rights are the foundations enabling sustainability.

In the 2010 Human Development Report, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) published the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI acknowledges that an individual or community can experience multiple deprivations at the same time, which demonstrates the varying realities of households in a community. Poverty is further contextualized through the MPI than monetary-based measures such as the income gap and the headcount ratio fail to do. While the data collected through these measures is important, the MPI allows us to alter and include indicators that are most relevant to communities in the Andes.

The Multidimensional Index is calculated using information on the intensity and prevalence of deprivations across health, education, and standard of living. The indicators are reflective of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), further tying together global indicators and objectives to combat poverty.

In regards to the communities, Nexos Comunitarios’ works in, MPI is especially beneficial because it allows for policy makers to target resources more effectively and design policies address the needs of communities, specific to ethnic groups, urban/rural locations and other community-based characteristics. For example, Cuncani is located in the Province of Urubamba, but the access and services available to the community are extremely limited in comparison to the other cities within the same jurisdiction. Furthermore the statistical data available for the province does not reflect the actual realities of the region because of the extreme situations on both ends of the scale of development.

Since its introduction in 2010, the MPI has undergone changes and has been positively received by the international community. Countries such as Colombia and Mexico have adopted the MPI and altered it to be incorporated as part of their national poverty measures.

The adoption of MPI in monitoring and evaluating our programs will help to identify the impact and progress of Nexos Comunitarios’ work in advocating and supporting sustainable community development. It is our belief that poverty is multidimensional and we aim to demonstrate the unique realities experienced by microcosms in the Andes.

*You can learn more about Multidimensional Poverty Index at:

http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/multidimensional-poverty-index-mpi

AND

http://www.ophi.org.uk/policy/multidimensional-poverty-index/

BIG News (Lunch Program in Cuncani 2015)

Throughout these three years, we have learned a lot regarding the health of the children, including how we should evaluate it and how we can improve it. In addition, we have discovered that there are other factors, aside from nutrition, which influence the health of the children. When we began this program, we found that of the total number of participants (68), 9% suffered from severe anemia, 60% suffered from moderate anemia, and 31% were healthy.
Graphic 1

Since the beginning, we have conducted 3 health checks annually. During the first year, our results depended on the season, as it was harder to provide better nutrition to the children during cold months. Other factors also played a role in these results, which require a more in-depth investigation.
Nevertheless, the health of the children has improved in the last 12 months. In July of last year, the Minister of Health did a respective check (due to the low temperatures registered throughout the region in previous years), and unlike past years, all of the children in Cuncani were healthy. Perhaps in other regions of the country this situation is not surprising, but for the standard of living in Cuncani (and nearby communities) this news is rare and encouraging.
A few weeks ago, we did the second annual medical check for children of the Lunch Program and these are the results:
Graphic 2
That’s right! 96% of the children are healthy! 4% of the children still require treatment to battle anemia; a situation which will be controlled in the coming months. Isn’t this great news?!
We still have 5 months to complete the Lunch Program in Cuncani and have important things to accomplish:
  • Continue improving the health of ALL the children of the Lunch Program in Cuncani
  • Adequately prepare (mitigating the risks that will appear) the changes in the Lunch Program for 2016

We would like to thank all of our sponsors for their constant support throughout our work, all of the people that have helped us raise funds, and all of the parents of the children in Cuncani, who have respected their commitment to prepare the lunches for the program.

Thank you so much!

Una GRAN noticia (Programa de Almuerzos en Cuncani 2015)

A lo largo de estos tres últimos años, hemos aprendido mucho sobre la salud de l@s niñ@s, cómo debe evaluarse, cómo puede mejorarse y que además, existen otros factores, además de la nutrición, que influyen en ella.
Cuando iniciamos este programa, encontramos que del número total de participantes (68), el 7% de ell@s sufrían de anemia severa, el 61% de anemia moderada y el 31% estuvieron sanos.
Gráfico de estado de salud de niñ@s en Marzo de 2013
Hemos realizado 3 chequeos de salud por cada año y durante el primer año, los resultados dependían de la estación en la que se encontraban, mientras más frío hacía, más difícil era proveer una mejor nutrición a l@s niñ@s y de otros factores que aún requieren una investigación más profunda.
Sin embargo, l@s niñ@s del Programa, han mejorado su salud en los últimos 12 meses. En julio del año pasado, el Ministerio de Salud hizo el chequeo respectivo (debido a las bajas temperaturas que se han registrado durante los últimos años en la zona), y a diferencia de otros años, tod@s l@s niñ@s  de Cuncani estuvieron sanos. Quizá en otras regiones del país, esta situación no es tan sorprendente, pero para el nivel de vida de los habitantes en Cuncani (y en comunidades cercanas), esta noticia es bastante alentadora y poco común.
Hace unas semanas hemos hecho el segundo chequeo médico de este año, a l@s niñ@s del Programa de Almuerzos y estos son los resultados:
Gráfico de estado de salud de niñ@s en Julio de 2015
¡Sí! ¡El 96% de l@s niñ@s se encuentran sanos! El 4% de niñ@s que requieren de tratamiento contra la anemia, se encuentran en una situación que será controlada en los próximos meses. ¿No es esta una gran noticia? ¡Es una GRAN noticia!
Nos quedan aún, 5 meses para terminar el Programa de Almuerzos en Cuncani y tenemos retos muy grandes:
  • Seguir mejorando la salud de TOD@S l@s niñ@s del Programa de Almuerzos en Cuncani.
  • Preparar adecuadamente (mitigando los riesgos que aparecerán) los cambios en el Programa de Almuerzos en Cuncani para el año 2016.

Quisiéramos agradecer a tod@s nuestras madrinas y padrinos por su apoyo constante en esta tarea, a tod@s las personas que han asistido a nuestros eventos de recaudación de fondos durante estos años y por último, pero no menos importante, a todas las madres y padres de l@s niñ@s de Cuncani, quienes han cumplido disciplinadamente con su compromiso: preparar todas los almuerzos del Programa.

¡Muchas gracias!