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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Amazing Internship Opportunity

By Kenji Misawa (NC Intern – Ottawa, Canada. Carleton University)

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This internship opportunity was one of the most amazing experience of my life. The internship is itself is well organized and the members of the organization were very warm and welcoming. The activities were related to the human rights issues and promoting sustainable development in the small Andes communities. The most valuable experience for me was to visit the communities and interacts with communities’ members. I believe in any development works, understanding the reality of the people’s life and building the trust among communities’ members are the most important elements. I believe working for NC is an amazing opportunity since it provides us with chances to conduct field works, as well as practical skills of planning and analyzing the developing program. Also, besides the actual work, NC provided us with various trips and workshops where we could learn interesting Peruvian culture, traditions and histories.

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.

 

The ‘unattractive’ problem of malnutrition

Maricarmen Valdivieso (NC Founder)

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.

Nexos Comunitarios' Development Model
Nexos Comunitarios’ Development Model

 

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 Cuncani through 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.

Wilma, Yulisa and Pavel (adorable Kindergarten children)
Children in Cuncani are often shy BUT always adorable: Wilma, Yulisa and Pavel 

 

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.
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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:
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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!