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  • Writer's pictureMark Maxwell

The Peru Project

We had such big plans before the Coronavirus pandemic. We had trips back to Mexico City and Ecuador. We were scheduling marriage workshops at a local church. We were holding regular meetings with our partners in South Africa with plans to engage in numerous communities in the Cape. With the quarantine, all of that went on hold. It seemed everything went on hold. How to do what we do without travel?

To be honest, I was a bit down. I was stuck in thinking about how to make old plans work rather than adapt to the new circumstances and explore new possibilities. I questioned whether Conexa could even exist for the time being. And then I received and email from Dana Kaasik of Nature and Culture International.

Dana and I had met at the Nonprofit Academy at the University of San Diego and connected around our mutual work in Ecuador. In a shocking discovery, unbeknownst to either of us, Dana was the niece of our partner Carmen Morrison of Reclaim Life. Dana shared with me that her organization had many people suffering from COVID-19 and they wanted to give them some sort of help therapeutically. One phone call later with President Matt Clark, and the collaboration was born.

Conexa endeavors to follow a model of community transformation. At the heart of that model are important principles when it comes to engaging community. The first is step-down learning. We want to first take a learning stance and we do it from a place that attempts to honor those we are learning from. We do not want to parachute into a community like colonizing, imperial gringos to save the day with our amazing wisdom and expertise. No. Rather, we seek to connect, learn and understand from a community first. The people of a community are the experts in regard to their lives, their culture and their needs. We must work first to learn and understand from them. Only then can we explore how to work together with ideas.

The second is collaboration.

Courtesy of Nature and Culture

Conexa always seeks to work with organizations already at work in their community. Whether it be an existing nonprofit, NGO or a church, they often know how the community works and they have a passion for it. Our philosophy is that by aligning with an existing organization’s mission with the shared values and goals they have, we can empower them and the people of their community through our relational and mental health work.

Such is the case with Nature and Culture International, an organization that is successfully empowering and sustaining communities in places where the environment, and important diverse biological ecosystems, are being lost. In a similarly shared philosophy, NCI believes those communities know best how to live and caretake their home if their livelihood is sustained. Collaborating with NCI means helping their communities where we can in relational and mental health that also furthers the NCI mission.

In this particular case, their communities in Peru have been ravaged by the novel Coronavirus. In one of our first meetings in the step-down learning process, we listened to powerful stories of people isolated in their homes without any assistance, feeling very helpless and trapped as people in their community became sick and even died. “You don’t go to the hospital unless it is to die,” one person said. Another reported that if you can’t afford to pay for a funeral within a couple days, the family member will be buried in a mass communal grave because there are just too many deaths. Along with the tremendous anxiety, they are also fighting terrible economic realities. This has the potential to undo much of the work NCI has done, as mining and foresting companies are all too ready to buy land from desperate people. It also bears mentioning that many people in these communities look to their NCI Peruvian staff for leadership and help. Helping leaders to help their community is an important Conexa strategy.

Courtesy of Time

I am excited to report that we have begun this collaborative process. There is so much to learn and understand. How do the Peruvians experience the struggles? How do they express their feelings of anxiety and grief? How do they look for help? What resources do they already have? If the pandemic did not exist, where would they normally go for help and support?

A funeral in Peru (Courtesy of BBC)

As is the case the world over, we are anticipating that even after our pandemic crisis ends, there will still be devastating issues of trauma and grief to work through. As we continue to learn about the Peruvian experience of the crisis, we can begin to see how we can best show up to work with them in finding solutions and help. In previous work, this would look like possible groups and workshops our therapists may co-host. We may learn how to train or equip people in their community to do more intervention work in ways we agree would be effective.

For myself, the lesson is that in this new time of pandemic, we must press in to explore new opportunities to connect communities and empower relationships. Struggles of anxiety and grief have created even more need…not less. Limitations always inspire creativity and thinking out of the box. That is our challenge today.

Conexa is no stranger to the Amazon - Our group in Ecuador

To learn more about the Peru Project click below


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