There are big moments in life that come and challenge you without your express decision to engage in them. They sneak up, push you, and help you grow without much of a second thought. Then there are opportunities for challenge that require your express consent and even work to engage in. You must apply, register, or make contact just to begin a challenging experience. While both are valuable, the second type requires us to realize that the difficult option is worth it–that the trouble it takes to get there is worth the trouble there will be actually there. My internship with Nexos Communitarios was one of these challenges. More than the language challenge, more than cultural differences, more than the actual researching and writing, I was challenged to grow on a more personal level. I learned skills for interacting professionally and personally with individuals my age,older, and younger. I learned the importance of advocating for myself. I also learned thatI have limits–they can be pushed and moved but this takes time and effort.
My time in Peru was one of the first times I was truly challenged to make difficult decisions that balanced my own needs against others. I came home with more confidence in my decisions and also my own moral compass. When people ask me about Peru I can show them pictures, talk about my work, discuss human rights in Peru, and name places I visited but none of is feels like it fully sums up the experience. What made it so special, important, and even life-changing for me were the relationships I made with others and the relationship I made with myself. For me, to fully express the essence of the trip I need to delve into my own feelings and thoughts while I was there, good and bad. However, I cannot do this concisely because to shorten the experience to a few key lessons undervalues the importance of the journey to reach these values. It reduces the experience to a few trite proverbs that do little to encompass the magnitude of the experience. It ignores the steps that I took and the process because the journey truly is more important than the destination (to use such a proverb.)
Thus, any reflection requires a look to the entire 6 weeks, which is more than I have the time or mental preparedness to do at the moment. All I can say is that when I applied, I had no idea of the tremendous journey I would complete, from believing I was fully ready to realizing my limitations and working to overcome them. I am grateful for the time I spent in Peru with NC, the person it made me become, and the people I had the honor to get to know. Muchas gracias.
In January 2015, I became part of Media Luna’s Rural Tourism Association, which is where my involvement with our work began. Many of my responsibilities involved providing resources to the association so they could work towards self-sustainability, which has been NeVo’s goal for more than four years.
In order to work on this project, I was given the opportunity to travel to Cusco. As if this valuable trip and putting my work to practice was not enough, my colleagues and the Media Luna’s Association endlessly taught me daily lessons of patience, tolerance, respect for traditions, and pride for my roots. Every shared moment allowed me to realize that work pays off only when it generates positive impact for others. However, these lessons were not easy to face. I counted on the trust and friendship of the our (NC) family, which came in a very special way from each of its members.
I have already written an article about my experience with the rural tourism association, which is why I am going to focus solely on the importance of volunteering. Volunteering is a means of doing something about a situation that one sees as undesirable. My advice for those who are interested in volunteering is to focus on the desire to “do something” about a situation, while always keeping in mind that changes do not happen overnight. All coordinators’ work have been magnificent, but the time has come to start a new road with more ambitious goals and the same, if not more extraordinary, projects.
Nexos Comunitarios is now the leading organization. We are facing very important challenges for the coming years and are increasingly excited by the goals we are working towards. In Lima, we seek to earn a name that will identify our job with our ideals, obtaining sources of revenue through the participation of more Peruvians. The situation is complex in our country because there are many paradigms regarding the work of NGOs. However, nothing is impossible and with this way of thinking we have already seen pleasing results.
Our inexhaustible labor continues. In places that we have already started implementing our development projects, we will continue growing towards self-sustainability and the ideal that we aim to reach every community. Furthermore, we have extended our scope with the hope of including more Peruvian volunteers, alongside the help that we already receive from our international agreements. Note to self: I cannot thank Jean Gabriel Tarassenko enough, the most Peruvian English man I know. JG was the program director of NeVo and he is still an invaluable piece of all our organization’s efforts. Thank you JG for your friendship and your extraordinary work (as extraordinary as you are). I hope you come back soon and find us more capable than ever of serving more people. Success! I believe that we will smile at the end of the year while reflecting on our achievements and always maintain the optimism of facing the future with good desire and hard work.
We all know how fundamental water is for our health and for every single activity we carry on everyday. However, in spite of the fact that access to clean water was declared by the United Nations (UN) in 2011 as a human right, approximately 24 million people living in rural areas in Latin America and the Caribbean region still lack access to safe and permanent water services. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide 1.8 million people die every year due to diarrheal diseases even though approximately 94% of these deaths could have been prevented through access to safe water, sanitation services and proper hygiene practices within every household.
Considering the importance of health as an essential pillar for human sustainable development, in order to work towards the development of our Latin American region is fundamental to develop initiatives towards the improvement of access to clean water in rural communities. Given that Nexos Comunitarios is aware of the importance of health within a responsible and sustainable development, as part of my Masters Thesis, in January 2015 I had the opportunity to start my work with them within the scope of access to safe water in a rural community; in this case my work was carried on in Cuncani, which is a community located in the Lares District but officially within the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Urubamba.
My work as member of Nexos Comunitarios consisted in evaluating the current status in terms of water services provision in Cuncani; this in order to determine the main barriers constraining its inhabitants to have access to safe and sustainable water services. To achieve this, participation of stakeholders and relevant actors within water services provision was fundamental; In this regard, aiming to obtaining a deeper understanding of the current situation and the responsibilities allocation when it comes to water services provision in Cuncani, interviews and a focus group activity were carried on with representatives from the Municipality of Urubamba, the Lares Health Center, different NGOs, private businesses and community members.
On the other hand, I had the opportunity to live the wonderful and enriching experience to stay in Cuncani while I was carrying on a survey to community members to gather their perspectives on the current problematic in terms of water access, the importance given to this resource within their daily activities and most important, their health affectations due to poor water quality. During this time, I was able to actually perceive the different problems affecting rural communities living under the conditions they live; fighting against tough weather conditions, poverty and different health affectations, these people do their best to survive and sustain themselves. Climbing mountains under rain or under the typical scalding sun from the High-Andean areas, watching adults, older people and children walking long distances to perform their daily activities such as going to school, work in their land or just to buy food in Lares town; to closely witness this was definitely a life experience that made me appreciate and admire even more people having the strength to resist such living conditions.
After gathering all the required information and data, I concluded that even though Cuncani has the required infrastructure to have access to water services, there are important cultural and political barriers constraining this. In this regard, the current water treatment method used (chlorination) is not culturally accepted by Cuncani’s members due to the possible health affectations of chlorine as a chemical. As a consequence, there is lack of willingness from community members to properly operate and maintaining their water systems. Furthermore, local authorities are not proper monitoring and guaranteeing the provision of safe water services for this community.
On the other hand, lack of education is a fundamental element within our High-Andean communities; in spite of the many health affectations coming from poor water quality, most of community members are not actually aware of the relationship between water quality and health. This fact promotes a decrease in people’s willingness to encourage initiatives towards the improvement of their water services and thus their health.
Finally, it is highly essential for public authorities and the different organizations working towards sustainable development to understand and be aware of the importance of promoting proper hygiene practices within every household from rural communities. Efforts in this sense are vital given the strong linkage between safe water, sanitation and hygiene; in this sense, if living conditions are to be improved and benefits from any water-related initiative are to be completely perceived, it is necessary to encourage initiatives towards hygiene and sanitation as well. Non-governmental organizations such as Nexos Comunitarios have the great challenge of participating on the improvement of health conditions in vulnerable communities like Cuncani. It is important to highlight that given the high trust communities have on NGOs, these have a great potential as facilitators and mediators between communities, local authorities, private businesses and organizations; thus improving effectiveness and efficiency of different institutions and people’s living conditions as well.
Working 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.
Even 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Along 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:
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.
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:
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.