Lessons from Lima

I spent some of my last days as a Kite Vancouver member in Lima, Peru, with the goal of finding the next Kite organization founder.

This initiative came out of a year-old idea to start another Kite at a university in Lima. This team would work in their local communities, as we work in ours, focusing domestically on the issues they feel are most pertinent. From this work, we would share challenges, successes, project ideas, and goals with each other, building a relationship that would allow each organization broadened insight and perspective, as well as the opportunity to engage with peers at an international scale. This initiative would make Kite Vancouver local in scope but global in mindset; it would make us, in part, an international development organization.

When answering why I joined Kite Vancouver I think back to when I first started with Kite one year ago, when the Lima initiative was all I really knew about the organization. I think the better question is why I stayed with Kite; what started as a general hope to work with an international development organization transformed into a community-based youth-empowerment preoccupation that began to shape many of my thoughts and opinions about international and local development, education, the capabilities of a bunch of 20-year-olds, and what I wanted to do with my life. This reversal of personal expectations for Kite was partly due to the fact that I had no idea what I was getting into, but was also caused by my growing assertion that youth – as the inheritors of the current political, environmental, social, and economic systems – play an integral role in the development of their local communities, and should focus there before looking beyond their city.

That being said, one year later I was on a flight to Lima, Peru. Driving from the airport to our rental apartment, I was struck with the fact of the matter – that I was, finally, working on an international development project, and yet under such different circumstances. My relationship with the organization, my understanding of what I wanted to accomplish with this initiative, and what this all meant to me made the initiative more about providing local Peruvians with the incentive to do what we had done in Vancouver than about anything to do with me. I felt confident in the work we were coming to do; I was, admittedly, nervous about our ability to be successful.

Before arriving in Lima, we had chosen the school out of which we would base Kite Lima – Pontifica Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) – and had made initial contacts with students and organizations. We had set a tentative schedule, planned out a recruitment event, and promoted our initiative over Facebook. All we needed was one student to set the whole organization in motion.

Our first day was spent promoting our launch event along the university’s main mall – and really putting our Spanish to the test – before holding the event that evening. We had 40 students attend the event, where we were able to introduce the Kite model, explain our values and projects, and pitch the benefit of a Kite Lima, before engaging the audience in a design challenge.

In the following days we held interviews with more than 20 interested students. These went well, despite the language barrier – thanks to the incredible support of the student representative team REA – and inadvertently provided us with a glimpse into the culture of social responsibility at PUCP. One question in particular asked the students to identify a key social issue in Lima, and we received answers that ranged from low levels of education and homelessness to climate change and the state’s neglect of indigenous groups. The follow-up question was pointedly more difficult, and prompted much less certain answers: and what would you do about this issue?

For us, the responses to this question highlighted how these students are aware of a variety of issues affecting their country, and yet are unsure how to actually tackle them. Like we see in Vancouver, students are passionate about the problems they see in their city, but hesitate to engage themselves in something that mitigates these issues – often because there are not enough platforms on campus that produce impactful work and that are effectively advertising themselves to students, and for students. For me, this helped to validate the presence of Kite at PUCP.

Our success followed us for the rest of our recruitment campaign, with a final selection of five fantastic students: a president, a vice president, a project director and two project representatives. The few hours we spent with this team before leaving were short but effective, and we left the city with a sense of optimism – that this team had the strength and energy to move forward the way we had when Kite Vancouver was just starting.

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I graduated from UBC this May with a degree in International Relations. I took many courses on how international development works – or, more accurately, how it doesn’t work – and have spent my time trying to grasp what the ‘right’ kind of development system looks like, one that eliminates dependency, encourages spontaneous and sustainable growth, capacitates locals, and protects the country’s economic and political systems within its wider global positioning. I believe in horizontal relationships between countries that positively influence, help, and collaborate with one another; I believe in localized grassroots development as an often integral component of social change; and I believe that the ‘right’ kind of development system, one that maximizes local power, should replace the historical notion of development as the Global North producing solutions for the Global South.

Kite Vancouver operates with similar beliefs. We empower youth to build grassroots development projects in partnership with local community members that are high-impact, sustainable, and collaborative. We are very aware of our inability to effectively develop projects in Lima and as a result have motivated like-minded Peruvians to take up that challenge in their own communities. We know we cannot do what we do without our partners but we also know that we can create change. We use our knowledge, our passion, and our youth to create tangible projects in communities we are familiar with. We are not consultants or fundraisers; we strive to be changemakers.

This initiative in Lima became a way for me to understand how international development could work within a locally-minded framework. While focusing on our own communities, Kite Vancouver could build a relationship with an international group that did not overshadow, overstep, or overtake each other, but instead interacted in ways that maximized the power of these localized groups. We came back from our meetings with the team excited and inspired by what they had come up with in the short amount of time they had started to work together. I was able to glimpse in that time how much more effective this team would be than our own projects in Lima would ever have been, given their perspective.

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At one point during our trip I remarked on the difference between the campus and the frenetic city that surrounds it. We were so clearly in such a different city, but once we stepped inside the gates of the school, the novelty of the city dissipated and the environment that took shape around us was not so different from UBC. The city was foreign to me: the smells, the sounds, the looks from locals we received on a minutely basis, were all reminders that we were in a very different place from Vancouver; however, any interaction with the students there reminded me what we had in common. Being around the students at PUCP, in that serene pocket of crazy Lima, made me realize the universality of being a student and wanting to make a difference.

The trip itself wasn’t without a hitch: delayed flights, car accidents, navigating the Spanish language, all you can eat sushi (always a mistake), and uber problems; but the accomplishment of our goal, the learning experience for me, and most of all watching a group of students slowly come to terms with their new endeavour, responsibility, and mission in Lima, was incredible. Watching this team reminded me of where Josh, Regan and I started – and what we have since built.

– Anna Hermansen

Allie halprin