ASB is the perfect chance to get a life-changing experience

By Monika Volz (Alternative Spring Break 2015) – #BeTheChange

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“ASB was the most rewarding, fun, and life changing experience I’ve ever had! I will never forget the amazing memories I made in Peru with all of the wonderful people I became so close with. It opened up my university experience to so many new opportunities and meaningful friendships. Everyone should be able to have an experience like this at least once in their lives, and ASB is the perfect chance! This program is highly organized with incredible projects and wonderful objectives to help people around the world. ASB has an assortment of different objectives such as health and nutrition, community involvement, and education among many. I went to Peru to work with an organization called Nexos Voluntarios (now called Nexos Comunitarios) where I volunteered in many of their projects. I was involved in building a bathroom for a young girl with Cerebral Palsy, volunteering at an orphanage, working with children with disabilities, teaching English, and much more. ASB is also a great program because they carefully choose really great locations and organizations to work with. When I went to Peru, I thought that I would be making a big difference in the world. I do believe that I made a difference while I was there, however, what I wasn’t prepared for was that the people in Peru made an even bigger impact on my own life. I learned so much about compassion and selflessness; everyone around me was always so loving. They taught me to be genuinely kind to everyone and treat everyone with love and respect. They made me realize that we are all connected, even if it’s not by blood. They taught me to be unselfish and to help other people. If everyone in the world would embrace the people around them like the people I met in Peru have, the world would be a much happier place. This experience has truly shaped who I am and what I believe in. Everyone should have a chance to experience a program like ASB!”

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PAR with the families of Cuncani

By Alice Ebeyer (NC Intern –  McGill University)

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Currently, the main focus of Nexos Comunitarios is the Malnutrition issue in the community. The Nutrition program is focusing on the children but in reality, we are lacking in the knowledge concerning the feeding process, as we are working as external actors in this assistance procedure. The work that has been done so far is valuable but we need to get more intimate details about the daily lives of the inhabitants of Cuncani to be genuinely efficient. This would include the input from as many members of the community as possible.

That is why recently, we are trying to develop a research approach inspired by the Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology. We have been adapting several ideas taken from various academic sources to create a useful research method for Cuncani. Indeed, nothing would be perfectly applicable to the community as it is an interesting case with a peculiar culture coming from the Incan people. Therefore, we had to create a framework with precise steps and accurate templates to build a PAR method that would fit the needs of Cuncani.

Why choosing participatory research would you ask? This quite new method is generally used by anthropologists, and it has been demonstrated to be more effective than using the traditional interviews or focus groups methodologies. The whole goal is to empower the participants by working with them to find solutions and solve various issues in a non-hierarchical way.  As in every PAR method, we consider an important step dedicated to the establishment of a relationship and trust between all parties.

For the project, the first step that we will do is we will continue with the Photovoice project, but this time with the entire family. We will provide cameras for a couple days and ask each member of the family to take pictures of what they are doing for food-related activities. The second activity will be a walk in Cuncani, accompanied by the fathers of the community. They could show us the places where they are keeping their animals, where they are planting the potatoes or vegetables, and hopefully, casually explain to us through the walk about the feeding process from their perspective, more in details.

Again, the goal of this research would be to understand as completely as possible how the people of Cuncani feed themselves. The final step of this made up PAR method will be a closing discussion, where we can go over the whole project and figure out what we have found, what is missing, but also discuss with the participants: how do they feel, what are their thoughts, and ask if they are still comfortable with the process. The term participatory is key and it demonstrates how important it is that all the parties can feel comfortable enough to be part of the project. It truly is a team work.

Besides, we have had the opportunity to talk with Saturnina about this idea; she is an important link between NC and Cuncani. From there, she knows her community and understands it more than we will ever do. And if we know that gathering enough families to be part of the project can be complicated, she seemed triggered by the idea and told us she could help us found enough persons to conduct Photovoice and accompany us with the walk. However, she also told us that we can have many ideas, many projects, and many researches; but it will probably take a lot of time before we can see real changes happening in the community.

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During our working days in Cuncani, we were able to observe how the parents take care of the children. But, surely our short observations during our trips could not make us comprehend the whole situation as most parts are still hidden from our eyes. There is still so much more that we need to learn from this community; their culture and their tradition. The ‘sad truth about my community’ as Saturnina said, ‘is that people are not so motivated to make drastic changes in their lives.’ But, we should not be too quick to judge, as we have to consider that the culture of this community depends on maintaining their traditions and their values.

Therefore, this demonstrates an example of the complications that can come into play in trying to bring support to impoverished and isolated communities despite the health and economic challenges that they face. Still, it will never mean that Nexos Comunitarios will give up; no matter the complications, we will always be here to work with the community of Cuncani, and together we will always try to address various problems and more specifically now, to solve the malnutrition issue, even if it takes years before it will be eradicated. This is our job: and it requires persistence and patience.

 

Taking pictures…understanding stories

By Sarah Nartiss (St. Francis Xavier University)

My experience with Nexos Comunitarios in Peru has been life-changing. I have wanted to travel to Peru since as long as I can remember. The week has allowed me to deepen my interest in the culture and struggles that Peruvians faced during the internal conflict. During my week with NC we were able to work on a Learning Service Program at two different schools first in Ventanilla and second in Malambito, both in different districts of Lima. The children we got to work with ranged in age from  4 to 15 years.

Our time in Ventanilla
            Our time in Ventanilla

Working in Ventanilla was absolutely incredible. It was beautiful to see how excited and engaged the children were to be at school each day, and to be greeted by their smiling faces and a hug or a kiss. In Ventanilla we first participated in art activities with the children in which they were required to draw things they liked and didn’t like from their environment, capturing these ideas like a photograph. Next we were given real cameras, the children got to try them out taking action shots, and still frames as well as photos of people or objects around their school. Both activities were great because they really allowed us to learn about the students and connect despite the language barrier. I couldn’t get over how patient the children were when we did struggle to understand each other, and how eager and creative they were in finding ways to connect. Despite many of the children coming from homes that may be struggling financially, my group found that they were very happy and full of life.

Our second school placement was in Malambito which had a completely different vibe from that which we’d felt in Ventanilla. Ventanilla is located in the desert, up in a mountainous area and Malambito was in a busy area. This part of the project was a bit different, because we were switching places with another Canadian university involved there, and were required to complete the second portion of their project. We got to go out into the busy district with the children taking pictures of things that they liked and didn’t like from the map they created earlier in the week. Finally, we were to create a map with the children aspects of their city they liked and didn’t like all together. One thing that was different in Malambito from Ventanilla was that I was worried about the children’s security.

Despite them being safe and well cared for when inside the school, there was no control of what would happen when they left. Simple things like having the children walking in the streets alone made me worry. For this reason I was interested to see how the children themselves conceived of their role in the city through the negatives and positives they conveyed. These children were also so beautiful inside and out. They found joy in little things and really worked to connect and learn from us. I believe both sides were so appreciative about the new relationships we were forming and what we were learning from one another.

Despite some little bumps in the road like during any study, I think this initiative went well. I really hope that our efforts this week can be translated into something to improve the life and education of these amazing children, because they deserve it all so much.

My experience in Peru, I can honestly say, was life-changing. Learning about a new culture, new issues, practising a new language and making new friends was all what this week entailed. I had the opportunity to learn about myself in how I responded, engaged and learned in new situations. My time learning about the culture and people in Peru will definitely not be forgotten and I hope to return soon.

St. Francis Xavier University Group.
           St. Francis Xavier University Group

Perú

By Ailan Holbrook (Carleton University)

On our way back to Urubamba
On our way back to Urubamba

I sit here reflecting on my time in Peru and tears start leaking from my eyes. I’m smiling, but I’m crying. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be an intern representing Carleton University in Peru. I knew about the internship when I started my program but I never thought I would be chosen. Before going to Peru, I hadn’t really left Canada, and now… I can’t wait to leave again. My experience in Peru opened my eyes to many things, sometimes even when I thought they were open. Growing up with stories from family that has traveled and worked for various NGO’s, I thought I had some understanding of what life was life in poorer countries and of the difficulties they faced. I knew the way of life would be different in Peru and I thought I knew what to expect. I quickly learned that hearing about something, reading about something or researching something can never fully prepare you for the reality of living it and seeing it first hand.

 

It is more than safe to say that I changed from the start to the end of my time in Peru. Looking back, it’s funny how completely normal the “different” things were to me at the end of my short six weeks. At the beginning I looked at how some of the locals in Urubamba lived, in little houses with tin roofs, hand-washing clothes, only a little market, minimal hot water, so simplistically… and I didn’t think I could permanently live like that. I had trouble with not being about to drink the water and hated cold showers. I shamefully missed silly luxuries like that and sometimes wanted to go home. By the end of the trip… I really didn’t want to leave. I would have been more than happy owning and living in my own little one room sized house/apartment room in Peru, having only what I really needed. I realized how much of a materialistic life I live in Canadian society and I felt guilty for the way I lived and felt ridiculous that I missed it at the beginning. After a few weeks I didn’t mind the hot water issues or the non-potable tap water. Furthermore, I could care less if I ever had the foods I once missed again, and I realized that clothes and material goods should not have anything to do with real happiness. The people in Peru may run on “Peruvian time”, but they enjoy life! It is in others, in friends and families and making memories that happiness lies. In being thankful for what you have and sharing it with others. I find Canadians are so busy, always in a hurry, going from one thing to a next, too tired at the end of the day to anything but watch T.V. They often buy happiness. But happiness should not be bought, I saw the happiest people living life like it should be lived, and these people hardly had anything. It is something that has to be experienced to be fully understood and I am so thankful I got the chance to experience it.

 

Con el árbol en CuncaniThe human rights research we conducted in the Cusco region made me realize how difficult it actually is to make a difference. The world has become so globalized, so innovated and connected yet poverty and discrimination are still very prevalent. When a large portion of a society holds one belief, such as that indigenous are lesser for example, it is very hard to change their view. Perhaps the best solution I saw was to start changing societal views by targeting the children who become the future generations. Nevertheless, many NGO’s do not have large resources and can only focus on promoting human rights and discouraging discrimination in one small town or village. I furthermore realized that processes of development are very complicated and take a lot of time to unfold. I wanted to be able go to Peru and to make a change but I realized it was not that easy. Knowing I possess human rights and knowing discrimination is very wrong is like knowing the sky is blue… it is just accepted and known to me. Therefore, I sometimes felt like I was trying to explain why the sky was blue, or that the sky was blue and why.

I fell in love with Peru. I love the culture, the music, the dancing, the people, the celebrations and the festivals. I love the mountains, the scenery, their way of life, and the happiness and the generosity I experienced. For me, Peru was unlike any place I had ever been. I realized how big the world is, and how there is so much left for me to discover. I know I can’t change the world, but I know I’m going to try my hardest to make the biggest difference I can. Peru was a life changing experience and I will be forever thankful and in its debt.