[Work in Progress] New Initiative! The Travelling Soap!

TBy Kenji Misawa (NC Project Coordinator)

This Monday, I had a very interesting conversation with our former Norwegian intern, Madeline Moe about a simple but great initiative ‘travelling soap’, which she has come up with. It aims to connect children in Cuncani and children in Oslo (Norway) by a pure international exchanging of handmade soaps. Amongst many benefits of this ‘travelling soap’, I would like to share four advantages of this plan in this blog post.

1: Increase the level of sanitation and hygiene in the community

The greatest benefit of this initiative is that it allows for the children to be engaged with the use of soaps, which plays a pivotal role in hygiene. In our current society, we pay little attention to soap as we take it for granted. However, the use of soap has a significant effect in improving the sanitation and hygiene situation, especially in a community such as Cuncani where people regularly eat food with their hands. For example, according to the USAID ‘Water and Sanitation Indicators Measurements Guide’, improved hygiene behaviour can decrease the exposure to pathogens, which leads to the reduction of diarrheal diseases and intestinal parasites. At the same time, it can increase the nutrient absorption and improve disease resistance. One of the indicators in measuring hygiene levels in the guide was “the percentage of the appropriate handwashing behavior”. Therefore, this traveling soap has significant potential in prompting children to wash their hands while simultaneously teaching kids in Cuncani and Oslo proper handwashing techniques through action-based learning. Such activities can ultimately have a positive impact on improving the overall health status amongst students.

2: Promotes the interculturality amongst the children.

This activity also facilitates international interactions between children in Oslo and the children in Cuncani. Two groups of children will have the opportunity to learn about one another’s culture through fun activities. This type of cultural interaction is mutually beneficial for both groups as it allows them to understand and respect the similarities and differences between them, and to expand their knowledge and perspectives. Children in Oslo can learn about the community in a remote Andean community, while students in Cuncani will have the chance to observe the lives of children in Northern Europe, which they have never seen before. Their abundant curiosity can be geared towards learning about a different race, practices, history, geography, or food by interactions with children that are the same age.

3: Demonstrate the community through their own voice

This initiative does not only include travel soap but also travel children’s voice. During my discussion with Madeline, we have agreed to create soaps that are unique to their local community. For example, one of the ideas was to make a soap by mixing the available local plants, herbs, or flowers. We are also thinking about making a video of children explaining their handmade products and its relationship to their community. This is especially important for the children in Cuncani because the kids often lack the opportunities to present their community to others due to its severe isolation. By making a video, children can provide answers to questions like; what does your community look like? What do you do every day? What are the things you like about your community? These simple questions can be very important for the Peruvian and Norwegian children to reflect on, perhaps encouraging them to broaden their own perspective and view of the world.

4: Fun and exciting art and craft activity

Last but not least, children love to do a variety of arts and crafts. These types of activities are a useful tool for enhancing kid’s imagination and artistic abilities. Depending on the shape, ingredients, or color, a simple soap making activity can be a great opportunity for the children to express themselves and to develop their creativity skills. An additional benefit exists through the joy the children get from being involved in the production of soaps while also receiving a gift from that of another culture. From my point of view, one of the most important elements of the kind of initiative that it be appealing to the kids.  I believe this ‘travelling soap’ has clearly satisfied this requirement.

Such efforts represent the first planning phase of this new initiative. There are still many steps to go such as logistical processes, framework, timeline, indicators, evaluation methods and etc. We look forward to developing this initiative in an engaging way that contributes to the betterment of the children’s hygiene habits, while also learning about a different culture.



Access to Purified Water: a long-term challenge for Cuncani

By Jessica Gamez (Lund University)

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.

Nexos Comunitarios Development ModelConsidering 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 Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 5.44.16 PMto 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.

Jessica gathering information on water services in Cuncani with members of the community