Journey to Peru - May 2010

Visiting World Neighbors Programs in Peru


Today is May 2, 2010. This weekend in May is celebrated by many cultural traditions around the world acknowledging and honoring the beginning of Spring. In the Celtic tradition, it is Beltane, a celebration of Spring and the greening of the Earth. Elsewhere in the world there are maypole dances and other activities that celebrate the awakening of Earth from the slumber of Winter and a venture into the fertility of Spring.

For me, this evening marks the culmination of preparations for our trip to Peru with World Neighbors. The last few days have been spent in mundane activities such as packing and planning and getting ready for our travels, but once we arrive in Lima, what lies ahead is what I suspect will be life changing for us all.

I have always wanted to visit Peru: the culture has intrigued me and Peru's spirituality has touched my heart through the research and reading I have done in the past. Because of our previous travels, I am not unfamiliar with some of the world's most challenging jungles and remote mountainous areas but I sense that there is something uniquely special about Peru.

So I am simultaneously excited, awestruck, exhilarated and a little anxious that tomorrow morning (very early) David and I will board a plane to Houston and then another one to Lima to begin our trip to a destination I have previously only dreamed about. What will we experience there?

I love World Neighbors. The motto says it all: "Inspiring people, strengthening communities." As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I can relate to an organization that does not just march into a country and begin to tell the indigenous population what to do. For me, it is imperative that such an organization be culturally sensitive towards the countries they are operating in. So, when I learned that World Neighbors has specifically targeted aid to some of the poorest Andean communities in Peru, I wanted to go and see for myself what has been accomplished and what the challenges are. I hope we travelers will be able to provide you readers with an almost real time accounting of what we discover on our journey so that you can experience a little of what we are experiencing.

But back to the beginning of this blog entry: Let me introduce myself. I am Sarah, a nutritionist, nutrition teacher, aromatherapist, herbalist and chef by profession, and I design programs for my clients which incorporate whole foods, herbal medicine and natural remedies into their programs. Some of the natural remedies I have used include foods, teas and herbal remedies from Peru. So on this trip, I am also hoping I might see some of the "tools" in the toolkit of my profession living in their natural state. It would seem that though we may be south of the equator, and therefore not in the throes of Spring as mentioned in the first paragraph, we will nonetheless be immersed in nature in a very profound way. And this makes me smile. So off we go! Our first stop was Lima and we stayed in a hotel there for a few days before meeting up with the rest of the group. I'll begin with our first day in Lima:

The Lures of Lima

Today we ventured out into our Lima environs. We awoke to the cacophony of drilling, hammering and jack hammering from the construction project across the street from our hotel, but never mind; it was time for us to get up and they didn't start working until well after daylight. David and I went downstairs to our hotel's dining room for the included breakfast which consisted of a variety of cut fruit, ham slices, cheeses and Danish. Wonderful!

We took a walk and completed a few mundane activities such as changing money: we discovered that the official money changers in bright green vests who stand outside the banks and change money on the sidewalk give as good if not better rates than the banks. A few more business activities accomplished and it was definitely time to side at a sidewalk cafe and have a hot drink. We both chose hot chocolate. One of my ways of testing the quality of a place that serves hot drinks is how good their hot chocolate is: Do they make it properly or is it just chocolate syrup dumped into milk and stirred? (Much the way Mothers have served Nestle's Quick or some other such instant concoction for years). Well this place gets a big "Yay!" as the chocolate was very good and had that deep rich earth flavor that I have only previously experienced in places that serve Mexican chocolate. (No high fructose corn syrup with chocolate fake flavoring here). 

Back at our hotel, we went over our itinerary for the next part of our journey. We learned that tomorrow we will be flying to Andahuaylas which will be a rather large jump from sea level up to about 10,000 feet. We'll be there for several days and this will be our base from which we will do day tours to see the World Neighbors projects in the area. You will learn more about our itinerary as we live it so watch this space - it promises to be amazing and very educational. Our group is very small and David and I are the only non-World Neighbors employees or consultants, other than our drivers and local guides. I will be the only woman on the trip! 

The nest day we were met by Carlos who will be our guide for the day. He has a plan which will introduce us to more of Lima's Lures. We started off with lunch at the restaurant which has an expansive buffet of both Asian foods and Creole foods. This is also here David had his first Pisco Sour in Peru. Pisco Sour is the country's national drink dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. It is made with Pisco (grape brandy and grape must), lime juice, sugar syrup and egg white with Angostura bitters added at the end. This is Peru's national drink and they are very proud of it. In fact there is a bitter argument between Chile and Peru as to who first invented Pisco (the brandy-must combination). Sadly, I am allergic to grapes so no Pisco Sour for me.

After our wonderful meal, Carlos took us to the Franciscan Monastery of San Francisco. This complex comprises a church, a convent, chapels and catacombs. There, we were guided by Victoria, who gave us a very informative tour. Unfortunately, gentle readers, I cannot provide you with photos here as we were not allowed to take any. I can only describe. One of the most striking pieces of information about this complex was that much of it was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1746. We were first shown an intricate wooden lattice ceiling that was an example of the Moorish influence that prevailed at the time. I had not expected to see a Moorish influence in Peru! As we passed under this magnificent ceiling, Victoria told us to watch our heads. Not sure as to why this would be as the ceiling was quite high above us, she then said "sometimes the bats drop guano on people". It was then that I noticed that there was indeed a little squeaking going on high above us. We left the area with heads down.

From there, Victoria took us to the library which was breathtaking! I say this because what we first saw when we entered the room were two massive illuminated books of music open and displayed before us. I am talking about "illumination" in the medieval sense. My first thought was "How can these ancient books be displayed and open in front of us like this"? I then took in the rest of the room and saw a massive number of what must be ancient books just stacked in shelves like a regular library. We asked Victoria who might ever have access to these books and why they aren't preserved? She said "visiting scholars" and then some very sad words: "no money". There is no money to preserve these ancient texts.

We were also shown some of the other highlights of this site: one was a 1656 "Last Supper" painting done by a Flemish artist who was given a Peruvian name and though the painting looked to be very western, the supper foods included Peruvian fruits and Qui (guinea pig).

But we were then taken down into the catacombs. It's hard to even describe this experience. There were thousands of people buried in these catacombs and we saw the bones of many. As Victoria told us, Spanish, Franciscans and indigenous people are all buried there. What was also impressive was the structure of the catacombs. I have to admit that after being told about devastating earthquakes in the history of Lima, I was not exactly comfortable about going down into the catacombs (after all, I am from the other San Francisco that is in an earthquake zone), but then she pointed out the bricks that made up the structure of the catacombs and therefore also held up the church above us and more specifically, she pointed out the very special feature of the mortar between the bricks. This she called "calicanto" and she said it consisted of sand, water, limestone and the special added ingredient: the egg whites from seagull eggs. This, apparently, is what makes the mortar so strong - it has held up against other earthquakes!

So these were some of the highlights of the lures of this site of Lima. There are many more, but you may just have to come and see them for yourselves. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Lima experience.

A Little About Us

David and I have been married for almost 29 years and we have traveled together for even longer than that. We met in the Peace Corps in Zaire, Africa (now the Congo). David retired from a 20 year business career and now divides his time between volunteer service, landscape gardening at home and practicing Tai Chi and Chi Gong. David speaks Japanese, French and Spanish and is looking forward to practicing his Spanish on this trip. Our extended family has been involved with World Neighbors since its beginning. We will be traveling with Chris, who works for World Neighbors, is very accomplished and knowledgeable and is fluent in Spanish. I will be the only non-Spanish speaker in the group. 

We will be flying from Lima to Andahuaylas on a very small propeller plane. Once there, we will be met by Julio who has more than 30 years of experience in community and agricultural development. Julio was a professor of agronomy for 15 years and directed the World Neighbors Program in Ecuador where he pioneered the integrated health-agriculture design of rural development programs as a means to alleviate poverty, reduce population growth and protect the environment of rural Ecuador. This development model has been replicated throughout the Ecuadorean highlands as well as with World Neighbors current work in Bolivia and Peru.

We will also meet Angel and Dennis in the field, who work directly with the farmers and the communities. They are both former World Neighbors staff and currently work for Las Chancas, the savings and credit cooperative we will learn more about.

Our driver, and the man who will negotiate the rather treacherous narrow winding roads for us is Uri. Uri is a law student and has his own chauffer business. He drives during school holidays.

Up, Up and Away!

Travel day to the highlands! Chris, David and I met Carlos at the Lima airport very early and got ready to take our very small propeller plane to the Andahuaylas Airport in the Department of Apurimac which is in south central Peru. Today's travels began the program visiting part of our trip but today was primarily a travel day.

We flew to an elevation of about 13,500 ft. All of the programs are in this general area and we will be at this elevation or just a little lower for the duration of the program. We are high up in the Andes Mountains. I was somewhat nervous because I have had problems with altitude before, but I have brought a number of remedies to deal with this. Those who traveled with me on the World Neighbors trip to Ecuador two years ago might remember my hands turning purple - I think everyone on the trip took a photo of that phenomenon!

The plane we took was tiny! I think this is why we were told to only bring a carry on size bag for the trip. This plane was only slightly larger than the bush plane I used to take to get to my Peace Corps post in Africa years ago. On board, we were given a boxed snack and a pair of ear plugs. Chris said we would need the ear plugs. He was right; the propellers were quite noisy. Memories of bush plane flights flooded back as we took off and in a matter of moments I noticed that our pilot (who was sitting about 5 feet away from me) was using his feet and pedals to fly the plane.

The views outside the windows changed from seaside vegetation to arid hills. It is now the dry season (May-August) and we have learned that one of the problems for the farmers we will be visiting is the lack of water and the need for irrigation. Many of them have only been able to grow one crop a year during the rainy season. With irrigation, they could have two crops and this would allow their families to have better nutrition all year as well as provide them with a source of additional income. We landed at the airport and could immediately feel the altitude: Just a slight sense of a lack of enough oxygen to breathe deeply and difficulty at any type of exertion. Julio and our driver Uri were waiting for us and we started our long drive from Andahuyalas to Chincheros.

Another challenge for you readers: Looking at the photo of the area near the airport -can you guess what the red crop in the photo is? Hint: A staple crop of Peru. If you cannot guess, I will tell you a little further along.

The drive took the rest of the day because the families and the communities we will be visiting live in extremely remote areas of Peru. On the way, we stopped at a town square which had a fountain consisting of statuary of several pumas surrounding the chief of the Chancas. The Chancas were the rival tribe of the Incas and pumas are symbols of strength and power. We also stopped for lunch at a nice outdoor restaurant, Puma de Piedra, and I learned my first Spanish food word in Peru: "trucha" (trout). My second Peruvian culinary name to learn that day was "chicha morada" which is a non­alcoholic dark purple drink made from corn, pineapple and cloves. It was sweet and quite good.

After lunch, we stopped at the beautiful Pachucha Lagoon, and then at the nearby Ruins of the Chancas of Sandor. The Chancas were fierce warriors and there were many battles between them and the Incas.

The road soon became a small dirt-gravel road and as we started to climb higher, it also became a series of many switch-backs with sharp turns. We soon began to appreciate Uri's driving skills as he negotiated these turns. This drive is not for the faint-of-heart: a glance out the window and straight down awarded us with a view of a several thousand feet drop in many places as we were traveling deep within the mountain ranges. Indeed, the view was breath-taking. This part of the drive was about 80 kilometers and took the rest of the day.

We began to really appreciate the magnitude of the work that World Neighbors has been doing in this region since the 1960's as we could see for ourselves why the remote and arid nature of this area contributed to the extreme poverty of the people who reside here. The Departments of Apurimac (where we are), Ayacucho and Huancavalika are collectively known as the "trapezoid of poverty."

World Neighbors goes into areas such as this: they identify which areas have the most extreme poverty and need and they go in where the NGOs (Non Government Organizations) won't even go. As we were to learn later, our visit would be the first that these communities would have ever had from the outside world.

As if the severity of nature weren't enough, the area we are going deep into is also an area which was heavily infiltrated by the Sendero Luminoso, or "Shining Path." This was the Maoist guerilla movement who, for over 10 years, terrorized these populations and there were many Sendero cells hidden in these mountains. The increasing conflict between the Sendero and the government military of Peru between the 1980's to early 90's forced World Neighbors to leave as the violence increased. It is estimated that three quarters of the indigenous people of this region died as a result of this conflict. World Neighbors returned to Peru in 2007 and our journey is the first since their return.

We finally reached Chinceros in the early evening, and stopped at our small hotel. A quick dinner and off to bed as our schedule of program-visiting is a full one.

Program Visits - Day 1

Today is our first day of visiting some of the programs that World Neighbors has in this area. We are going into the Cocharcas district. We woke up early, had breakfast and started off in our van.

There is a fair amount of traveling to do to get to the programs and once again, we found ourselves relying on our skilled driver Uri, as he negotiated the narrow, dusty winding roads we needed to take to get to our destination. One false move and over aone thousand foot cliff we would go. No guard rails out here! As if to underscore this point, as we approached our first village, seen from above, a passing truck stopped us and warned us that we would not be able to get through because up ahead a truck has blown a tire and was broken down in the middle of the road. Sure enough, as we turned a corner, there it was. A number of people were trying to tip it over into a ditch on the hill side on the right so that it wouldn't be an obstacle to any other vehicles trying to get in or out of the village.

Uri stopped and we all got out and Chris, Julio and David joined the men attempting to tip the truck. I documented the event. After several futile minutes of this, they gave up and instead, decided that there was enough room for our van to squeeze by (on the cliff side, mind you!).

Uri told us to get out of the van and walk past the truck. He didn't have to tell us - I most certainly would have done so anyway. Very slowly, he inched his way past the truck coming very close to the cliff (Just the other side of the scruffy bushes in the photo). But he made it and we were not deterred, we drove on down the mountain to Coay, where we would meet out first promoter.

Promoters are those in a community who were the first to accept the World Neighbors program into their community and they are examples of the successes of the program. In the beginning of the process of setting up the collaboration, World Neighbors tries to identify who the community leaders are and invites them to be the first to try out the program. When others in the community see the successes of the promoters, they want to join in. As the promoters are leaders, they are also good at teaching to others the skills they learn.

The World Neighbors programs in this area of Peru are run in conjunction with the Apurimac Integrated Development Program and it is Julio's responsibility to negotiate with local governments and oversee the overall running of these programs. We were told that the goal of the program is to develop the capacity of communities to create locally led organizations that will be able to sustainably increase their income and food security in order to improve the overall quality of life. Specifically, a key component to helping families increase their income is locally controlled savings and credit. All loans are approved by the local organization which sets the interest rate and collects the loans. The farmers receive credit at 1 percent interest per month that they pay back in monthly installments over the course of six to 12 months. Once the loans are repaid, this capital is used to make loans to new farmers. This goes on until everyone in the community has a chance to make an investment (via credit) and pay it back. (We later learned that some communities allow the original farmers to take out greater loans and to continue to expand their livelihood as long as they pay back one loan completely before they take out another).

With the poorest, the farmers are given livestock and they pay back the credit by passing along the baby animals to other farmers. The first loans are for animals. Then, by decision of the local group, the credit can be expanded to include seeds, tools, healthcare, education and community priorities. Though World Neighbors also assists in providing various types of trainings and education, the priorities of the savings and credit groups are set by the communities. What is really significant here is that these programs give the poorest communities a chance to build themselves up and out of extreme poverty. These communities would never be eligible for bank loans and, as I mentioned before, they are too remote for most NGOs.

We arrived in Coay and met the community leaders who were waiting for us. We were welcomed and each one gave a speech. They all spoke about how grateful they were to have World Neighbors come into their community and they explained how the savings and credit program has worked for them.

The treasurer told us: "I never knew I could do something like be a treasurer and keep the books for a program like this, but World Neighbors taught me how to do this and now I am a treasurer."

He then showed us his meticulously kept books with each farmer's name and signature for each paid back installment. They told us that they, the community leaders, decide who is eligible for a loan and who might not be able to pay back a loan before they give one out. I asked them what they do for the people they turn down. There was a bit of hesitation before they answered; "Well, actually we haven't turned down anyone." The success of this project was apparent. In one year, they went from having a credit banking of 3864 soles (Peruvian money) to 50,000 soles.

One way a nearby community used their excess money was to sort out a difficult problem: vampire bats were attacking and killing their cattle. They were able to use their money to buy materials to capture the bats and to treat their cattle.

We met promoter Tomasai Yanez. She proudly showed us her store which she was able to create through this program. She started with animals, but did not know how to raise animals. She received training, and with the money she received from her business with animals, she was able to put up enough money to get a matching loan and buy and stock her store. Her store serves her community and neighboring communities. Tomasai and her husband also have a garden and sell what is extra from the harvest. She said that she and her husband now have enough money to buy their son's school supplies.

We next visited a pig and chicken farm. The farmers there also grew corn. These farmers told us they first started out with beehives, but sadly, the pesticides their neighbor up the hill was using on his crops killed most of their bees. So they switched to raising pigs and they have a vision for the future to get more pigs to take to market. They have taken training courses from World Neighbors on how to raise pigs, including lessons on pig hygiene, what to feed pigs so they can be healthy. Pigs reproduce quickly, so they can have 3-4 litters per year. They also have loaned one of their healthy male pigs to other farmers for reproduction who paid them with the first born of the litter rather than with money.

We next drove into Sanocc and here we met with the Deputy Mayor. She said she is very happy to have a World Neighbors presence here. She also said many of the farmers' initial projects could be a great place for agricultural students to do some volunteer work while they are studying.

During our meeting with the Deputy Mayor, a farmer named Antonio told us his story: He got a loan of 100 soles. With this he bought chickens. He paid back the loan within the 6 months timeframe and got another loan. With this, he bought some pigs. After that, he was able to buy some land near the river where he could grow avocadoes, papayas, mangoes and oranges. Later, he added corn and beans. Antonio is an example of how micro credit loans can work in improving the livelihood of these farmers. Not only do they have some income, but they also have a good source of nutrition for their families.

The last farmer we visited today was a very enterprising man. He started with a small loan and bought some chickens. He then did a small business at the local September festival selling his chicken soup. He now does this every year. But he also sells eggs from the chickens. He grasped the potential of small credit loans quickly and now he has had (and paid back) 5 loans. He has progressed with a beautiful farm with only one set back: At one time, he invested in 65 guinea pigs ("cuy" - a delicacy in Peru), but he said the cat got most of them!

He was so happy with what World Neighbors had done for him that he wanted to give us a celebration. So he invited most of the village in after we had toured his farm, and almost immediately, the traditional harp, violin and a singer appeared and before we knew it, we were asked to dance and were then served a traditional meal of roasted cuy and potatoes. The whole village joined in, even the children! The farmers also told us that they have chosen to use the extra money from the interest from all the loans to fund occasional village festivals and community activities. Most likely a great morale boost after years of extreme poverty and brutalization by the Senderos! A very enlightening day altogether.

The only unhappy event of the day: David contracted food poisoning and was quite ill during the days activities. It was very difficult for him to travel from location to location. His malady did become the topic of conversation between the World Neighbors local staff, however, as everyone has had the experience before themselves and were trying to determine what exactly poisoned him. Bets were on the papaya juice at breakfast (perhaps the hotel watered it down with tap water) or the coco mate tea (perhaps the hotel did not completely boil the water first.) David had a rough day, but we did have some very potent natural remedies in our first aid kit which he dosed himself with once we got back to the hotel. He was pretty much all better by the next morning. Memo to self: next time: carry the remedies WITH us when we are visiting farms and don't just leave them in the hotel!

We drove back to the hotel in the late afternoon and of course, the broken down truck was still here and of course, we had to get out of the truck and walk past the obstacle while Uri masterfully negotiated passing it with the thousand foot drop now on his right. All went well and we proceeded back to the hotel.

David did not attend dinner but instead dosed himself with the remedy and went to sleep. I suggested he also visualize the remedy molecules killing and chewing up the bad critters like little Pac men, but this was met with silence. He had already fallen asleep.

I went to dinner and after, had a chance to talk to Julio and Chris, with Chris translating Julio's comments for me. Julio explained the psychological ramifications of this kind of work. People living in extreme poverty have very low confidence and very low self esteem. Any aid program must address this and include in its model as a way to help build self confidence. This reality is an internal reality and solutions must be found from within. Small personal wins really help to build self confidence and the World Neighbors approach is to say: "If you'll agree to work, we'll work with you." Julio likened it to a three-legged race: "You can only cross the finish line if you figure out a way to work together."

Julio is an absolutely brilliant teacher: He compares the human condition to the condition of the land and this analogy the farmers really do understand. Because soil conservation is a big part of this program, Julio tells the farmers that the soil is not asking them for more and more planting like the landowners would, but instead it is asking to be cared for. He tells them that if they abuse the soil, it will resist and not produce again until they agree to take care of it. He then compares Mother Earth to human mothers and tells the farmers just as they care for Mother Earth, they also need to care for the mothers of their children so they can have healthy happy children. He is asking them to embrace the idea that growing healthy crops in healthy soil will also provide them with a healthy family. In a Machismo society, Julio has even been able to use this analogy to successfully convince the male farmers that family planning is a good idea!

So, in addition to appreciating how well the micro credit and savings programs work, I am also conscious of how important it is to have a really competent and capable staff implementing these programs. Watching the interaction between Julio and Angel with the farmers and how much they trust in these men and then seeing how Chris manages the overall work of World Neighbors international programs - I cannot imagine these programs working as well as they do without such professionals. And, at the end of the day, once a program is up and running well and is deemed to be self-reliant, the goal of World Neighbors is to pull out and move on to a new one. I am very impressed.

David's Amazing Day!

(David wrote this next bit)

What an amazing and humbling day! We started early again from our base in Chincheros...first thing in the morning another bumpy dusty ride up and down mountain hilllsides to Angel's office in Uranmarca where we got an update on our schedule for the day - visits to three different communities where World Neighbors staff has been active in community development.

It wasn't far to the first village where we sat in the small plaza of the town and heard welcoming speeches from community leaders and active World Neighbors sponsors. Everyone praised the support and training provided by World Neighbors.

Successful micro credit stories were told....we met a young woman named Lucha who used a loan guaranteed by her father to buy a sewing machine and start a small business.... we heard from farmers who used credits from the programs started by World Neighbors to buy cows and grow a herd. Pictures were taken, hugs shared, everyone thanked us and thanked us for being part of the World Neighbors team. We all left the small village feeling very good about how well Angel and Julio were executing World Neighbors principles.. and we were just getting started.

We turned our direction back to Uranmarca for the next visit and to hear other stories.... and much to our surprise and delight were greeted by everyone in town...the local school band banging on drums and blowing horns....a welcoming banner and people lining the main street of town applauding and throwing flower petals in the air. We got out of our van and village women ran up to drape beautiful blankets over our shoulders, wrap alpaca shawls around our necks, cover our heads with colorful sombreros and hand us another banner to carry praising the work of World Neighbors.

We proceeded to dance thru the town with smiling faces all around us, music guiding the way, flower petals snowing the air. What a reception....what a welcome. Speeches followed on the street outside Angel's office....the town mayor, the principal of the local school...other dignitaries. Everyone praised the work of Angel and Julio and the commitment and support of World Neighbors. Everyone noted the rarity of visitors from far away and how much it meant to the community. We were actually and formally declared the Godparents of the local high school. The paper to honor us will be proudly displayed at World Neighbors headquarters in Oklahoma City.

More speeches and praise flowed from the local community leaders as well as the World Neighbors representatives. An Andean Harp and violins emerged and music again got everyone to their feet for more dancing. The food came out next....heaping plates of potato, corn and cuy. More speeches, requests and commitments. A veritable love fest for World Neighbors that was absolutely overwhelming to those of us along to learn about what our programs really do. What they really do is inspire people and improve communities.......

I have seldom if ever felt so good and so proud to be associated with an organization.

We followed the celebration with pisco sour toasts in Angel's office and a presentation on the types of programs, the number of people and families served by World Neighbors in Uranmarca. I think the numbers surprised even those who are receiving the support.

Another round of praise for World Neighbors by the town leaders and we finally began to disengage....we had another town to visit and more people to see. Handshakes hugs and eternal thanks surrounded our departure. The drums and brass provided a farewell blast.

Our next visit was a bit of a drive away and we were reliving the excitement and discussing the details of our work in Uranmarca when we pulled into our final destination for the day...... much to our surprise and delight another welcoming parade! More local floral confetti, drums and brass, women grabbing our hands to dance...... we worked our way to the town center and were provided seats of honor in front of local authorities and leaders. Emotional speeches followed about the impact and effort of World Neighbors in the community.... again micro credit programs seeded and trained by World Neighbors being the key to many successes. We met a man who got a loan to buy carpentry tools and was now the primary furniture maker for the town. Another woman used a small loan from the community credit program to buy a loom (built by the carpenter!) and start weaving blankets and other goods for community purchase...... the interconnectedness and shared efforts were impressive. We heard many of the same speeches we had heard in our other visits - gratefulness for World Neighbors commitment and training, the hard work being put in and the satisfaction with an improving quality of life as the result.Very clear admiration for Julio and Angel and the whole World Neighbors team behind them, believing in the community and the people... again, we were overwhelmed by the reception and the fact that as representatives of this great organization we were the recipients of all this love and respect. Very humbling but very rewarding. Unforgettable.

I'm not sure what time we got back to our little hotel that evening....... long after dark and long after our schedule had suggested. We all glowed with the events of the day and the knowledge that World Neighbors plays such a meaningful role in these people's lives. Very humbling and very rewarding. 

Program Visits - Day 2

Today we visited programs in Uranmarca. This area is in the mountains on the opposite side from the mountains where we were yesterday. 

In Uranmarka, we stopped at the World Neighbors office where Angel works and from where he goes out and visits the local projects and gives support to the farmers. He also lives there. He came along with us today to our farm and community visits.

We first stopped at a farm which was on a steep hill. There was corn growing in abundance and also artichokes, which they said were good for the liver. (This is in agreement with my western herbal training where artichoke is used as a liver supportive herb).

Just beyond these fields were a couple of cows right at the top of the hill and above the garden, but we were met with a sight we had not seen before. There were mounds of cow manure between the cows and the fields below. The farmer told us that he planned it that way so the manure would be easy to spread down over the fields. In fact, he told us that was the sole reason for the cows being there!

This farm also grew potatoes, carrots onions and greens. In addition, they had recently acquired a better cooking stove and oven arrangement. This is critical because most families have stoves that do not have vents and the family is exposed to smoke from these stoves. As a result, respiratory illnesses are common. Improved stoves have vents to the outside.The farmer said: "Now my family eats well and is healthier because of the new stove."

We then stopped at Lucha's house. Lucha is 20 years old and she really wanted a sewing machine and to have her own business sewing clothes. She has now had her sewing machine for 2 months and she is very proud of it! Her father helped her to get it because he believes in her. He said she is a very hard worker and she had only a hand machine before. Lucha finished high school and then took sewing classes and she has grand ideas for expanding her business - some day she wants to have people working for her and she wants to make all types of clothes.

Felix has cows. He has a Holstein and two Swiss brown cows which, he say, are the better cows. Felix has a milk and cheese production business. At this point he feels he needs more consultant support in order to improve his production. He would also like a Jersey cow. He is a member of a Farmer's Association for cheese making and he will be taking more training courses on cheese-making. He makes raw milk products which are very healthy because of the intact immune system supporting factors in them.

We then went into the village square and gathered around the steps of the church there. The whole village had turned out to greet us and for a village meeting. We have become accustomed to hearing the same speeches at these gatherings: The villagers are very grateful for the help that World Neighbors has given them, to improve their lives, to help them have healthier families through better nutrition due to crop diversity, family gardens and healthy organic produce, and to help them pull themselves out from under excruciating poverty.

At each of these occasions, we have been asked individually to make a small speech, after the individual officers of the community have made their speeches. I know I feel somewhat awkward because I did not have anything to do with their successes, but I am representing World Neighbors just because I am there.

After Chris and David gave their speeches and applauded them for all the hard work they have done, I addressed the women of the villages and tell them how honored I am to be there, to see the results of all the hard work they have done and how special it is to see their beautiful, healthy children.

The women are very shy and all along we have repeatedly been told that we are the first people "from the outside" who have ever visited their village. Usually they refer to themselves as "forgotten" - "No one ever comes out here; we never see anyone from the outside world."

Julio gave one of his brilliant speeches, managing to weave into it a little lesson for them (after all, he was a university professor). I have come to recognize now, that he always talks about how the work of the women of the village is so important. He very politely but firmly tells the men that they need to take care of and nourish their wives and children. And, he usually manages to bring in some kind of analogy to the Mother Earth and how she needs to be treated well, too.

This reminded me again of the previous evening's discussion with him; He said that studies have shown that if a non-profit just gives money to a village and to the men in particular, the money invariably is spent on alcohol, prostitutes and gambling. But if the women of a village control the purse strings a very different picture is painted: funds go toward supporting family health and development. But even so, just giving money does not address the psychological and self-esteem needs that people in desperate poverty have. The World Neighbors model of micro credit and savings and training works very well and is enduring, and we have now seen several examples of this in progress.

After the speeches, the villagers were all told they could come to the steps where we were for group photos. The formerly shy women all said "We want to sit with Sarah" and came rushing over to me. That was a huge tug of the heart. After our "Women's Group" photos, everyone else joined in and you can see an example of our all inclusive group photo one the left.

We then drove to an experimental garden which is on Farmer Armondo's land. This is a very unique project because it consists of many different varieties and species of crops grown to see which varieties do best there. A particular species of a crop might do well or not do well due to the climate, the soil conditions and the availability or lack of rain.

The experimental garden helps farmers to determine which seeds they should plant in their particular area in order to get the best yield. They also plant areas with fertilizer (the organic guano from the seabirds in the islands off Peru) or no fertilizer. So, now you have here, a photo of the experimental garden that might look a little familiar to you if you have been following this blog.

Here is the answer to the crop question posed to you in "Up, Up and Away," the answer is quinoa!

Here, you see examples of red and white varieties of quinoa. (Pronounced keen-wa). Quinoa is a nutritious staple grain of Peru which has a good profile of amino acids (protein). It is becoming popular in the United States.

We were not prepared for our next visit: Back to Uranmarka where the World Neighbors office is, but this time, as we arrived, there was an entire village waiting for us, complete with banner, school marching band and a huge cheering section! We drove in and parked at the bottom of a hill and, Julio must have known what was going to happen because out from the back of our van came a World Neighbors banner which was quickly unfurled and we were told to hold the top of it as we marched up the hill to meet the celebration.

A few of the villagers ran down to meet us and adorned us with traditional Pervian garb while others threw flower petals over us. We marched up to meet them and by the time we got to the top of the hill we were exhausted! (The altitude, the blazing sun, the traditional Peruvian garb and the long walk uphill was all a bit challenging). But it was all certainly well worth the effort because once we got there, we were treated to more music by the marching band and loads of applause as if we were the conquering heroes returning home. This was quite surprising and as I mentioned before, we felt we did not deserve any of this personally, but realized that we were there as representatives of World Neighbors.

Speeches were made, the traditional harp came out and dancing was the next order of the day. We heard more heartfelt and touching stories as to how their lives had changed for the better since they, as a community, had accepted World Neighbors in to assist them. There was a surprising twist to this visit though: Chris, David and I were asked to become the official Godparents to a school there. They had even had an official document drawn up and notarized. Of course, we accepted. In fact, after we finished our celebration at the top of the hill, we all drove over to the school to see it and to experience more harp music and dancing. This school is adjacent to a very old Chancas fortress. Some of the students were dressed as members of the Chancas tribe (pictured left). Remember, they were a fierce tribe who battled with the Incas many times.

"A Thousand Hugs"

We were not done for the day! We had one more stop, even though by then the sun was low in the sky. We left our friends in Uranmarca and drove on to Tancayllo. A few more smiles and speeches and that will be it for the day, we thought. But it was not to be so because as we approached, there was yet another unfurled banner and many villagers in traditional costume with flowers and music awaiting our approach!

We were ushered onto a concrete area where the music continued and chairs were put out for us to sit on. The villagers all gathered around us and the children played in the background. The speeches began and this time the head of the community began a little differently: "A thousand hugs," he began.

This visit quickly became quite emotional as one by one, villagers told us their many stories and of how their association with World Neighbors had drastically changed their lives. This village visit was to become not only one of the most poignant, but also one of the most satisfying because of the cooperation of all the villagers I shall explain:

We first went to see a carpenter, who used his money to get the tools he needed to be a carpenter. We were shown some of his products and he is very talented. His specialty was making headboards for beds and they are beautiful! We were then shown a house where the inhabitants were able to add on some rooms. All of the wooden doors were made by the carpenter.

But our final visit was to be one of the most memorable and the best illustration of how these projects can really transform an individual life and a community. Let me introduce you to Maxima. Maxima is amazing. We were told that she single-handedly convinced the community to let World Neighbors in to assist the community in the first place. Some of the community leaders (men) balked at first but she said "No! This is what we need to do." She convinced everyone that the project was a good idea. Maxima herself started with a few cows and with the money she earned from her cows, she bought a loom; traditional weaving was something she had always wanted to do. Her wooden loom was made by guess who? The carpenter! She took some training courses on how to weave and she makes beautiful products. But her determination is strong. At one point, she hurt her foot, but was determined not to miss a training class, so she insisted her husband carry her on his shoulders to the class! With the money she got from weaving and from her cows, she then expanded into creating a veterinary supply store and took more trainings into how to use the medicines with the animals.

She now provides the medicines and trains the villagers as to how to use them. In other words, she is the village vet. Her husband also keeps bees and makes wonderful honey. Maxima is a great example of 1) why convincing the women of a community that the projects are a good idea and 2) how grit and determination can expand a small business.

We left Tancayllo in the dark, but we also left a little amazed by what we had seen and experienced that day. Now, having met so many farmers and community members who have become so successful and to see the smiles on their faces, it is hard to believe that they were originally so destitute and seemingly without hope. We drove back to our hotel feeling quite humbled by all that we saw.

Spotlight on Quinoa

I thought I would put my nutritionist/chef hat on for a moment and write a little about that beautiful red crop you first saw in "Up, Up and Away" and later on in the experimental garden.

Quinoa is an Andean crop and, along with corn and potatoes, is one of the three staple foods of the Incan civilization. It has a very high nutrition profile, specifically in terms of its amino acid protein content. Botanically, it is actually more of a seed than a grain and the Incas referred to it as "The Mother Seed". It was considered to be sacred food.

Because of its good amounts of nutrients like magnesium, manganese, vitamin E, soluble fiber, insoluble fiber and other nutrients, quinoa is a healthy food choice for diabetics, people with heart disease and athletes who need higher amounts of protein. The Incas considered it to be a food for stamina.

Quinoa is low on the glycemic index and is an "alkalizing" food. The glycemic index of foods is an index that rates foods according to their ability to raise blood sugar levels, so a low number means that food is a better choice for diabetics or people with insulin resistance. Alkalizing foods are really good choices for most people because we tend to have more acidifying foods in our diet and alkalizing foods can bring us into better balance. Generally, acidifying foods include meats, dairy products and grains. Alkalizing foods include vegetables, fruits and seeds.

If you are interested in a chart that shows you acid and alkaline foods go to:

Quinoa is also a great substitute for grains that have gluten if you are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease as it does not contain gluten.

How to Prepare Quinoa

If you buy it in the bulk section of a whole foods store, you will need to rinse it well to get rid of a bitter substance called "saponins". Here in Peru, I was told that it should be rinsed three times, but the water of the first rise can be saved to wash clothes in!

You might find a brand of quinoa that comes in a box that says it has already been rinsed for you. You can use this straight out of the box.

Measure out the amount of quinoa you want and use 2 times the amount of water for cooking. Place the quinoa and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed. This will take about 15 minutes. Once the quinoa is done, you can fluff it with a fork and it is ready to eat.

Eat it as is, or use it in recipes where you would use rice: Quinoa is good as a pilaf, as a "grain salad" or as a side dish to meats or fish.

Program Visits - Day 3

Today was the last day of program visits. We went to see something a little different that we had previously seen. We drove up over the mountain passes and down into Huaccana to visit the office of "Accion Andina." They are a partner of World Neighbors -their first funding was with World Neighbors and they started with a small fund for agriculture. We met Maximo, who is Julio's brother. Maximo now runs Accion Andina.

The views on this drive were from an even higher vantage point and were even more impressive than anything we had seen before. At one point we reached the summit, got out of the van and took some photographs. To celebrate our climb to the summit, we took a special photo of our shadows; Uri included. We began the descent into Huaccana. On the way down we were treated to more spectacular views further proving that we had been higher than the clouds and were now descending into the clouds.

We arrived in Huccana and drove to the office of Accion Andina to meet and pick up Maximo and his staff and then drove on to their training center for breakfast and a talk by Maximo. He gave us the history of the relationship between World Neighbors and Accion Andina. He told us how their model is very similar to that of World Neighbors: first identifying a community to go into by assessing their level of poverty and by assessing how much community involvement there would be if they did decide to work with that community. This is a simple but effective analysis.

Once they have identified a community where they believe the commitment will be successful (i.e. there will be community participation), they call a community meeting and they then guide the community through a series of questions and exercises to identify what their needs are. As an example, he told us that a community might first begin by saying they need a soccer field. He might then ask them: "Is this a serious problem?" "Less serious?" "What is the impact on your life in the short run?" "How can we help you and how can we be involved?" After this series of exercises, the community always identifies what is really important to them and they come to a consensus. They then help to identify who the promoters will be (see earlier blog post for a definition of "Promoter").

At this point I asked Maximo if they use success stories of other community projects to encourage the new community. He said "No", because they don't want to influence their identification as to what their needs are. He wants them to take ownership of their unique problems and solutions. During the implementation of the program, small plot experiments work well with farmers as do the "Farmer Field Schools" where farmers are taught agricultural lessons right in the field. (An example of this might be how to use insect traps for pest management rather than toxic pesticides). He also stressed the critical need for active participation by the women in the community.

We then drove on to our farm visits. We first stopped in Allegre, where there was a very impressive large plant nursery of small fruit trees. We were told that the soil in the area produces very sweet and nutritious fruit and that everything in this nursery is organic. They were mostly producing for fruit juice production. The workers are encouraged to buy a few trees (at a greatly reduced price) for their own home gardens, and at the nursery they are taught the skills to grow and take care of these plants. (It costs 8-10 soles for an outsider to buy a plant: 2 soles for a worker to buy one).

We also visited the community of Progresso where we were treated to a "Panchamanca" celebration. Panchamanca is a feast which reminded us of a Hawaiian luau. A big pit is dug, and heated stones are put in and meat, potatoes and other goodies are placed inside and then the pit is covered over so the contents inside will slow cook (pictured right).

The ceremony begins with the uncovering of the pit. While we were waiting for the food to be unearthed, we were also given a demonstration of a nutrition presentation that is given to the community. Members of the community are encouraged to bring in plates of food they have prepared and they are taught the nutritional value of the meals they have made and suggestions are given as to how to change some things so they are more nutritious and more flavorful so the family will want to eat it. We were able to taste some wonderful foods, such as tortillas to which greens and carrots had been added and puddings made with milk from their own cows. We learned that the addition of greens was only possible because they had a gravity irrigation system so that they could grow greens in that normally arid climate. They told us that their children are healthier now because they can have these crops all year long.

After our Panchamanca feast, the harp came out and dancing just had to happen! We were getting used to this and were ready to be asked to dance as we were on the previous two days. Before we left Progresso, we were asked to visit the home and farm of one of the farmers there and this visit really made me happy. He proudly introduced us to his family and showed us his garden and also his new stove. Remember that most people in extremely rural Peru had stoves with no vents so that the smoke from cooking just filled the enclosed area resulting in many respiratory problems for their families. He also told us that before, they had no latrine, but they were now taught the importance of having one. ("What did they do before?" we wondered).

What made me happy was that Maximo told us that in that community, now, 100% of the families have their own organic garden and 85% have new stoves. This is an impressive advancement which will no doubt result in much healthier families.

A very nice way to end the three day tour of World Neighbors projects and in meeting their partner Accion Andina. Sadly, though, this was the point at which we had to say "goodbye" to Julio and Maximo.

We had a long drive back to Andahuaylas where we spent the night before heading off to Cusco for a couple of days of tourism.

I hope that you readers have been able to get a sense from our writings as to how life-changing these projects are for some previously extremely poor, terrorized people. I hope you can get a sense from some of the photos, that these communities have now even been able to go beyond hope and are well into moving toward total sustainability.

The music, dancing and feasting are manifestations of communities that have indeed been inspired and strengthened. And that is the goal of World Neighbors.

Please stay tuned, though, as we hope to inspire you with a taste of what this wonderful country has to offer in terms of tourism. Tomorrow we are off to Cusco and then to Machu Picchu. One little fact that I have learned about Cusco (in addition to the fact that it lies at over 10,000 feet) is that the name must be spelled with an "s" not a "z". because "Cuszo" means "little dog" and "Cusco" means "belly button of the Earth". I am not kidding. The Incas believed that Cusco was the center of the Earth and this is the literal meaning of the name. They also pronounce it something like "Costco" but with the T silent, not "coos-ko" as we do.

David's Peru Journey Final Days

(David wrote this bit)

The day after we finished our program visits we made a long drive from Andahuaylas to Cusco: mountains, mountains, mountains. An up and down day as we sped over passes at 13,000 feet and crossed swirling rivers in valleys at 6,000 feet. Half our distance that day was on dusty unpaved roads and half on narrow paved lanes.

We stopped for a lunch of vegetables and trout in Abancay and pulled into Cusco well after dark 10 hours of driving to go approximately 250 miles. Not to say that the day wasn't exciting we had a driver who seemed to be practicing for the Monaco grand prix, the scenery was outstanding and we caught glimpses of the Southern Cross rising in the night sky as darkness set in and the Milky Way began to glow.

We passed people herding pigs along the road, stopped to see Inca ruins in the form of a hilltop shrine (pictured above) with a map of the Inca world carved into a huge stone atop a series of steps down which holy water flowed during ceremonies of long ago..... saw busloads of travelers surrounding two people fighting over what appeared to be a cow struck by one of the buses....... plenty of excitement for one long and tiring travel day.

We got to rest the next morning in Cusco before joining a city tour to visit the 16th century cathedral that sits atop an Inca ceremonial center. Also visited the Temple of the Sun which rests at the bellybutton center of the Inca Empire and upon which the conquering Spanish built a monastery still in use today.

A short distance outside the city center the ruins of Sacsahuayma were truly impressive....classic Inca construction of huge stones fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle (pictured right) to create walls reflecting the jagged shape of a lightning bolt. This site was so amazing that Sarah and I went back again on our final day in Cusco.... pondering and wondering how anyone anytime could have fitted together such giant stones with such precision.

We got up early early the next day for the trip to Machu Picchu. The rains earlier in the year had caused mudslides and sections of the railway between Cusco and the Machu Picchu to the first part of the 4-hour trip was by bus and the last hour and a half by rail. The rail descended through cloud forests deep into the Urubamba river valley. Towering vertical peaks covered with bromeliads created a mystical landscape. A switchback road from the valley floor climbed to the park entrance and then a long arduous climb up steep stone steps brought us to the overlook of the Lost City. The pictures are worth more than their thousand words here. So incredible that such a place is so isolated from all current population centers that this great ceremonial city somehow disappeared into the rainforest and was only rediscovered a hundred years ago.

We walked among the hordes of tourists openmouthed with wonder even as our imaginations strolled through what this magical place must have been like when it was peopled with the Incan elite. Our knowledgeable guide filled us with ideas as to what that life might have entailed and simultaneously joked about ways to find the hidden Inca treasures that legend says are still hidden in the surrounding jungle. We bought his book and hereby pledge that if it does lead us to lost Incan treasures, we will donate our findings to World Neighbors!

The day in Machu Picchu brought our World Neighbors journey to an end. Chris returned to Cusco the same day while Sarah and I stayed on in Aguas Calientes to breathe the rarified air a bit more, reflect on our World Neighbors visits and prepare for a little personal time touring Peru.

The amazing program days still resonate in our memories....the thankful faces, the community celebrations. Peru is a country of great contrast and diversity. World Neighbors does exceptional work here. We look forward to another visit, to more inspiring doing what we all can to make this a better world.

Our Last Days With the World Neighbors Journey to Peru

Sunday was Mother's Day. I asked the question: "In Peru, does a man celebrate Mother's day with his wife, the mother of his children, or with his mother? The answer was: "His mother!"The children are expected to celebrate their own mother. But there was a laugh amongst all of us as it was generally acknowledged that there is strife if the mother and mother-in-law live in the same town. Carlos and David both gave me a rose that day, in celebration of Mother's day.

Today we drove to Cusco. The day began with a quick trip to the farmers' Market in Andahuaylas. It was quite a large one. We enjoyed walking around and visiting our old friends from the field (the plant ones).

We got back to the hotel in order to start the very long day's drive to Cusco. Uri had been replaced by Pedro since Uri did not know these roads as well and he had to get back to law school. The van then carried Carlos, Chris, David and me as its passengers. The drive was very scenic, but very long and extremely dusty.

I sat behind Pedro, who kept his window down the entire time, including when he was passing a truck or a truck passed us. Since it was the dry season and the roads were dirt roads, the car and its occupants, became very dusty. I wrapped a scarf around my nose and mouth so I wouldn't be constantly breathing in dust. Pedro had been asked repeatedly to crank up his window when a truck passed, but he just couldn't seem to grasp the message!

We arrived in Cusco (pictured above) in the evening and settled into our hotel, it was very comfortable and it was nice to wash off the dust. Since this is my last driving description, 1 am going to re-visit an earlier statement that I made: that I was the only woman on this trip.

I can imagine there are a few of you out there who are wondering about this aspect of the journey. It was great...except for one tiny thing. On one of the long Journey days, we had been traveling non-stop for a very long time when all of a sudden we were told: "Bathroom break!" "Great", I thought. "I really need that!" It was not to be for me however as this break meant stopping beside the road where all the men piled out of the van and proceeded to go by the side of the road. Now I am an adventurous kind of gal and I have visited many a wooded area in this way, but in this case there was NO shelter. Only a very exposed road and a few scruffy bushes by the side of the road which were 1) to small to go behind and 2) a moot point because on the other side of them was a 1000 foot drop! So I had to wait until we arrived at our destination. Chris made things all the better by saying "Poor you! Now is not a good time to be a woman is it?"

So, memo (plea) to those of you who plan trips out there: If you have a woman or women with you, please factor in some planned rest stops along the way!

David has written a posting about the highlights of the tourism part of our trip so I won't go into too much detail here except to say that Machu Picchu did not disappoint! One can sense a deep mystery that still lies within the ruins so high up in the cloud forest. A mystery that was hidden in the cloud forest for so very long before it was discovered by a Yale archeologist. It has been a lifelong desire of both of us to be able to go there and we are grateful that we could do so on this trip. (Pictured below are Sarah and David at Machu Picchu)

The mountain village that we went to on the small bus up to Machu Picchu, Aquas Calientes, is a charming place which reminded us of the many Japanese Ryokan (Country Inns) David and I visited during the 7 years we lived in Japan. Our last meal with Chris was at the "Felix" which was a wonderful little French-style bistro with great food. David and I went back there later.

A very special stop was to Saqsahuayman (Sarah pictured above) which, as David mentioned, was so special we hired a driver and went back there on our own, early one morning. The massive Incan stones beg the question: "How did they get there?" As we were some of the first few to arrive in the morning it was nice to be able to see it almost on our own. As you walk around, if you look carefully at the stone arrangements, you might be able to pick out some animal patterns. Our guide had showed us what was believed to be a pattern of the Incan condor and the Incan snake.

David and I will be staying in Peru on our own for another week. We will be touring with a woman we met who is an ethnic botanist, herbalist and I suspect a curandera. She will introduce us to some of the plant life that grows amongst the ruins of Peru. We will also

have a day long cooking lesson with a Peruvian chef and will hopefully be able to bring back some special dishes that we can make for family and friends.

But our most poignant memories of this trip will be of the program visits where we had a unique opportunity to go where tourists don't, and what made this trip to Peru so very special was that it was the first visit by such a group into these areas after so many years of isolation due to terrorism. The happiness and contentment on the faces of the men, women and children we met is a gift I will never forget.

So I will leave you now, with a photo of a Machu Picchu hummingbird who was sitting in a bush near me as I was contemplating the magnitude of the monuments around me. Hummingbirds are special to us as we will soon return to our own beautiful home and family where we have a number of highly populated hummingbird feeders. In Native American symbology, the hummingbird totem is a sign of hope and jubilation and I think that is also a fitting symbol for this trip.