Posts Tagged With: Peruvian handicrafts

Feeling the love in Yanacancha.

Spending the night with somebody new is always kind of tricky, what with the awkward getting-to-know-you bits. So the day we Heifer folks went to Yanacancha (an hour from Marcopata, Peru) to spend the night in the community, we were lucky to kick things off with a guaranteed ice-breaker: an alpaca mating session at the home of Juan Yanac and Santusa Mamami.

Boy, howdy that did the trick! Despite ensuing cold, wind and rain, nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for this seductively adorable town and its inhabitants.

Our exploration of Heifer’s Alpaca Bio-Diversity Project in High Andean Communities began with this X-rated “empadre” that represents a spectacular leap forward in a real life-and-death matter: the health and well-being of the Alpaca of Yanacancha.

Mr. Commitment: Claudio Pacco.

At an altitude of 14,000+ feet, alpacas are the one and only lifeline of high Andean communities; nothing but a few varieties of potatoes grow here, and precious few animals can survive the cold, wet, wild weather and raggedy thin air. But alpacas, members of the camelid family, can survive and even thrive here, given the right attention – and that guarantees food and income-producing fiber for families that live on the razor’s edge of poverty and malnutrition.

And that is where Claudio Pacco, the Heifer/AMADARES vet/tech comes in. During the first year of this Heifer project, Claudio has visited every one of the 22 communities involved, identifying alpacas house by house, and beginning monthly Heifer workshops to share better breeding and husbandry methods with the breeders.

It’s a complex process, raising good alpacas. The end goal is a healthy animal that will produce fiber that is insanely thick, incredibly fine, and of a uniform color. After years of purging non-white animals from their stock, breeders are using 22 gorgeous Heifer stallions here to bring back black, brown, golden, and butterscotch hues to their herds. But the challenges go far beyond color.

Baby alpacas are born in January in the wet season, so they can easily find pasture, but the next three months are marked by extreme cold, constant wet, and vicious hail. The babies are fragile and can easily develop bacterial diarrhea that will spread through a herd in days and wipe out an entire generation. So much is at risk that from December (before the babies are born) until March, Claudio teaches the breeders to maintain daily contact with the grazing mothers and babies, making sure they are in good health, or quickly receive antibiotics before they can infect others.

Baby dearest...

In the intensive Heifer workshops, breeders are given vet kits with meds; sturdy 6-foot high nets that keep the babies safe from foxes and puma; a variety of good, nutritious seeds to cultivate fertile pastures; and trainings to harvest rainwater and bring water from the glaciers so the alpaca will never go thirsty.

Virginia Huaman, 17, promoter & aspiring vet.

The result? Last January, 60 alpaca babies in this community died (the equivalent of a $60,000 loss). This year, just twelve months into the Heifer program, only 15 died—a 75% reduction. And next year, Claudio believes the losses will be far less – with the help of 18 “promoters” like Virginia and Gabrielle, who are being trained to spread the trainings and mentor others. These unpaid volunteers, 8 of them women, follow Claudio around on his individual visits, learn everything they can from him, and then pass the knowledge on to other breeders in the community.

Gabrielle Quispe and her family (notice the bare feet in 40 degree rain)!

Gabrielle and Remauldo Quispe have so enthusiastically adopted the Heifer trainings that in their herd of 80 alpaca, Gabrielle didn’t lose a single baby this year. With only a third-grade education, Gabrielle is intent upon her children becoming professionals and wants to use her thriving alpaca herd and her beautiful handicrafts (where does she find the time??) to support their education. (I’m still hacked off that I didn’t buy her gorgeous work.)

Why didn't I buy this??

Soup's on ...

By the time dusk fell, we were so cold, wet and altitude-challenged, (while all the villagers were walking around unfazed, in bare sandaled feet) we piled into the kitchen to warm up. Chef Johnny worked his magic in the kitchen with local women and made a gorgeous soup, while we drank tea and showed the children photos of themselves, which delighted them to no end.

After a singing/storytelling/dance fest, we went off to bed in the house of one of the villagers and I wore every piece of clothing I had on: 4 shirts, 2 pairs of pants and leggings, 3 pairs of socks, a down vest, hat and scarf–and I was still cold under about 20 pounds of wool blankets. But miraculously, I slept… only to wake at 5:30 a.m. to dogs barking, roosters crowing, alpacas being led out to pasture, and the smell of fires started for breakfast.

There is nothing that makes you realize how removed most Americans are from the earth, animals, plants, and weather than to spend 2 days in a village in a developing country. You walk away with a whole new level of respect for the dignity, creativity, and incredible work ethic of these people– and for the luxuries of  hot water, flush toilets and yes, heat.

(And this is with nothing to drink....)

But the truth is, I’ll never forget that beautiful night. And the truth that our Yanacancha was never, ever lacking in warmth.

Categories: Animals, Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Bienvenidos a Peru!

Heading across Lake Titicaca

First, a bit of a disclaimer: this is your unapologetically turistica introduction to the beautiful land of Peru!

Right now I don’t quite have the perspective or internet bandwidth to post about all the deeply moving stories I’ve experienced so far in this amazing country. So I’m just going to give you the view from 15,000 feet .. which is approximately how high I am today in Pasco City, the highest city in Peru. (And yes, that is the sound of my heart pounding, trying to pump oxygen to my brain.)

Peru is severely beautiful .. with miles of ocean shoreline and the Andes (sierra) and the jungle (selva). It’s bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile and is packed with silver, gold, copper and zinc – making it well-nigh irresistible to mining interests that never saw a mountain they didn’t want to level.

Although the country’s economy has improved dramatically over the past decade, the indigenous people in the Highlands (where Heifer does most of its work) are still overwhelmingly poor, ferociously independent, and definitely know how to rock a hat.  

In the center of Marcopata, we saw a statue that pretty much captures the Highland spirit. The bull represents the Spaniards who colonized Peru. The condor tied to its back is the indigenous people, who claw and fight to be released from bondage – literally drawing blood.

These proud descendants of the Inca Empire are going to need every shred of that irrepressible spirit today to resist the triple threat of mining companies, urbanization, and climate change. Almost one-third of the country’s 30 million inhabitants now lives in Lima, yet you know it must kill something inside these proud people to leave their mountains and ancient traditions to descend to the arid pull of the city.

Heifer’s projects are mostly in the high central plateau, where it is developing programs that support the Highlanders’ traditional pursuits of raising alpaca and llama, growing potatoes, and making handicrafts – working with communities to make these pursuits economically viable, entrepreneurial, and sustainable.

Which means that more children can grow up with a future in the countryside they love, and preserve the land and traditions that are under siege. 

I can’t wait to share those stories… just as soon as I can breathe properly again. It’s gonna be epic!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Hunger, Peru, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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