Showered with flowers…

As I walked up the steep road leading to Chillcapata, a rural community outside Puno, Peru something told me I was  going to fall madly in love with the place. First clue: there was a gigantic, beautifully bedecked flower arch to greet me. A cheery welcoming committee was assigned to shower me in flower petals and love-bomb me with hugs. And of course, I got my very own Peruvian garland.

As we headed up the hill to the pretty green house of Maria & Primo Mamami to see Heifer’s FEED program in action, I could easily see why Chillcapata is known as the Garden of Puno; flowers were growing everywhere, while in the distance indigo-blue Lake Titicaca twinkled in the sunlight and llamas pranced in the grass.

Inside her cheerful bright kitchen, Maria proudly showed us her new Ecological Refrigerator (cooled only by a bowl of water), her tidy pantry, her energy stove (uses half the fuel and is vented), and told us about the changes she’d learned to make in her home, and how that had changed her life.

Sounds a bit trite, doesn’t it? Some new shelves, a place to keep things cool and to store utensils and pots, a new roof with translucent panels to bring in light, and an energy stove. But here’s the thing: it makes all the difference in the world to the health, nutrition, and dignity of your family to have a place to cook that is safe and healthy, and a regimen to keep your household clean, hygienic and neat. In fact, I’d argue a tidy house is the first step in gaining control of your life, and feeling competent and valuable. (However, I am a total Type A, or as Lulu calls me, Little Miss OCD.)

Maria's old kitchen

But take a look at the “before” kitchen photo, where the smoke from cooking brought Maria to tears every meal. The family suffered from lung problems and often ate on the floor, where guinea pigs also lived, scratched and ran (they need to be inside and warm to survive). And the rest of the house was just as disorganized and overwhelmed.

Through FEED, Heifer brought the women of Chillcapata a list of simple ideas to improve their lives (no animals in the house/a bed for every child/a biogarden to improve nutrition), offered training workshops, then sent a few emissaries like Maria to other communities to see the ideas in action.

A new hand-made sink

The women came back motivated true believers, and set to work to transform their own homes, and pass their learning on to others. Luckily, these are can-do people who are incredibly clever at building things, working cooperatively, and getting ‘er done.

The Incan ancient tradition of ayni, like an Amish barn-raising where everyone pitches in to cooperatively help each other, is still very much part of Chillcapata culture. Maria’s kitchen was one of the first finished, and quickly, other women signed on to improve their homes.

Julia and Celso Apaza got the materials they needed from Heifer to start kitchen construction, and the couple worked day and night to change every room in the house. “It was like a dream for us,” she told me, “because before I felt ashamed of my house. It was a mess, and I never wanted to welcome visitors. But now my doors are wide open and I even have a bench for my visitors to sit on.”

Julia's old house is now just for guinea pigs.

For two years when they were really struggling, Julia, her husband, their guinea pigs, and four sons lived in one small room and clearly, the memory still haunts her. Like many children of the Highlands, her four sons were sent to Lima to try to make a living at age 12. Three of those boys died of malnutrition and lung disease after working in a wood factory.

Now Julia is a promoter of the Healthy Homes program (which is also supported by Walmart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative) and she proudly keeps the poster on her wall to work her way religiously through every step of the program…and believe me, I’m quite sure she will make it.

“I am very happy because now the young children don’t think about going to Lima anymore; they want to stay here with their parents.”

Driving back to Puno in the long, beautiful light of late afternoon, I thought about these people’s ultimate dream: to make Chillcapata the next New Thing in authentic adventure travel and share with tourists the stunning beauty of their little town. Passing on the gift …It’s contagious!

Categories: Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

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35 thoughts on “Showered with flowers…

  1. Love this one, especially your photos with your new lens! You are getting so many flowers on these trips, do I have a pass next Valentine’s Day?

  2. Gosh, I love what Heifer is doing. Love the sink! How cool is that! I want to work for Heifer! I want to do what you are doing, Betty. How wonderful this work must be!

    • Oh, Kathryn — If I weren’t feeling so godawful sick today, I’d burst out laughing! Your enthusiasm is very winning, and if I don’t feel better before Friday, I may call you in as my replacement to China! (That sink blew my mind — seriously?? It was so beautifully designed and put together — looked like something that Kohler should be making!!)

      • I’m available. Passport in hand. But, gosh, Betty, hope you feel better, my friend!

      • Feeling a LOT better tonight .. but phew! Nothing like being laid low to make you grateful for ordinary energy and the ability to eat! THANKS, Kathryn!!!

  3. Sign me up too!! When I stayed with a family in 2009 on an island of Lake Titicaca, they cooked over an open flame that looked similar to Maria’s before kitchen. That is so sad that 3 of the 4 children died so young!

    • Sherry — I loved your photos of Lake Titicaca and remember them vividly .. how fun to think that we were in the same relative place! I hope all those horrid indoor smoky fires will get replaced by energy stoves — it’s SO much healthier!

  4. thank you for detailing so vividly the good work of Heifer Int’l. Definitely an organization we are interested in (and growing more so with your blog). The story of the Julia is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Despite the loss of three sons, I still sense hope and appreciation in her words. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Dear CMW — I can’t tell you how Julia’s story affected us. Her face was an absolute map of grief and before she told us why her life had been so hard, I don’t know what I was expecting — certainly not that three of her sons had died! To say she was grateful for this new house (she and her husband did all the work -plus she has an amazing garden!) is an understatement. All she wants to do is help everybody in the village get what she has… it’s a beautiful community (probably like where you live in SD!!)

  5. Thank you for sharing your story of all the help and motivation you’ve inspired! Being peruvian myself, I’ve heard stories from my grandmother of how things were prior to relocating the family to Lima. So happy to see such healthy progress! Cheers!!

    • Dear TT — The odd thing was, in our group of four Peruvians, two had parents from the Highlands who had been sent to Lima when they were 12/13 to work as maids, or in whatever craft they could… and it was for the most part a really brutal adolescence. I had no idea that was so common, and can only imagine the pain of parents who felt the only resort was to send their young child to the city alone to work … so sad!! But this improvement to the homes of the people in the rural Highlands, teaching them how to have healthier, nicer and safer homes, has proven to be such an empowering thing! I was really moved by the people’s stories!

      • Ya, its amazing to see how many variations of lives people lead. Thank you again for making such a positive impact!

  6. Reblogged this on Jitterbugging for Jesus and commented:
    Heifer International has long been one of the best non-profits around. Check it out thru this fine and mighty fine blawger.

  7. Love the blawg and long been a supporter of H.I. Blessings on your mission and travels!

    • Betty Londergan

      Dear Reverend,
      I am SO honored to be chosen for re-blogging!! In fact, I’m jitter-bugging….Thanks a million!

  8. This is so cool! George Weaver turned me onto your blog and I am so glad 🙂

  9. This post has impacted on me even more than the others, and I don’t know how that is possible, given how much I have loved each post you have written. A woman’s home, specifically her kitchen, gives her her dignity. And her sense of dignity is what affords dignity to the family. The story about Julia has touched me profoundly.

    • Renee — Julia’s story was so heartbreaking, we ended up in tears when she finally told us what she’d been through. I think that one room (about 12×12) was the focus of the worst time in her life, when she just felt like an animal, and unable to change anything–and the death of her three boys was the worst tragedy I can imagine. She is now a “promoter” meaning that she goes around and talks to other women to teach them new ways to improve their homes and their family’s health and nutrition — and despite her age (she’s in her 50s), she has a big, beautiful garden and SO much drive and determination to make things better. I really loved her — such a big heart, despite all her sorrow.

  10. Ginger O'Neill

    Hi Betty,

    Thanks for your wonderful Palm Sundayish message from the archway of Chillcapata right into the homes and its communities of these intrepid women. Any home regardless of size or material needs organization as it is the nest of learning, health and love.

    Your stories always humble me as how small, but essential health and eco tips improve homes, communities and transform lives.

    As always, thanks for bringing this important message a la Heifer International.



    • Ginger, sometimes we really do forget that most lessons need to be taught or shown to be learned .. and if the tradition was to keep animals in the house, and cook over a wood fire, sometimes that is not challenged until something better comes along. It’s so obvious what a transformative effect this has had on the family’s health and perspective — they feel so empowered and so confident that they can change other things as well … and how powerful is that?!!

  11. Betty, scrolling through the comments, I am moved by the positive, supportive culture of the bloggy-world. We’re rootin’ for you and the wonderful work of Heifer International.

    • I KNOW, Sybil — isn’t it nice? I almost feel like somebody should write and call me names — just to balance stuff out!
      But I do think the bloggy world is a very supportive, enthusiastic one and I’ve been struck by that, time and time again. Really makes my day .. and makes this sometimes difficult work a LOT easier!! xoxox b

  12. Stunning beauty indeed Betty. Thanks for your fantastic photos and for the work you all are doing around the world.

  13. Martha Radatz

    During our time in Perú I was in a number of homes like Maria’s “before” picture—where the walls were black, the smoke thick, and the guinea pigs scurried out of the corners to catch food scraps tossed on the dirt floor during cooking—it felt like a cave. The “after” picture is like a miracle! I am so amazingly impressed by how simple changes can be so profound. Was it explained why an “energy stove” is being promoted as opposed to biogas? Julia’s story was heart breaking—-but yet a resurrection story appropriate to the season!

    • Hi Martha — Thanks for the testimony from your years in Peru! A few words about the energy stove — it is configured differently in different communities, but the reason they aren’t using biogas is that the people can literally build the energy stoves themselves out of clay and vent them properly with materials from Heifer (that’s one of the workshops) … but with biogas, it requires a lot of manure (like from a cow) and a tank, piping, etc. and in Uganda, at least, it cost about $700. So .. that would be really expensive… although those things are GREAT! I wrote a post on biogas in my Uganda posts on What Gives 365!

      • teresa hart

        Dear Betty,

        What a truly beautiful place and such wonderful pics. Such a great transformation in a womans life and home, that takes courage and heart. I’m going to a workshop in may to learn how to make a solar oven which I understand are being used in many challenging circomstances to cook and also to boil water after natural disasters to make water safe. I wonder if these could be used where you are? What is an energy stove? And would you like more info on the solar oven? Let me know. YOU ARE doing the work of Heifer beause what you are doing is helping to make the projects and people real for others who can not be there but we are because we get to taste a little of that place and life thru you. So thanks for letting me be an armchair traveler who you.

        teresa hart

  14. Another beautiful post of a beautiful country. You’re doing such a great job spreading the word about Heifer’s work Betty. Julia’s story is so heart-wrenching.
    I’m sure most of us following your travels had no idea that women in Peru had to cook in those smoke -filled kitchens that didn’t even have a simple shelf for their pots.

    Really love the last photo.

    Hope you’re feeling better.

  15. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Thank you for giving me such a positive feeling in my day. Everywhere you go is something wonderful happening. If only more people in the world [especially the over developed worlds] could grasp this whole pass it forward concept…..”What a Wonderful World This Would Be”

  16. Pingback: Heifer 12×12 Takes on Peru | Heifer Blog

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