Miriam's blog was initially published in Spanish. For our readers who do not know the language, we've also provided an English version of the blog.
I recently returned from spending three incredible months in Cusco, Peru. While I had always dreamed of visiting Peru, this experience far surpassed all my expectations. During my time in Cusco I had the unexpected opportunity to volunteer with Heifer Perú, which is a branch of the NGO Heifer International. For those unfamiliar with this organization, Heifer uses a holistic, community-based approach to eradicate hunger and poverty. As part of their work they give livestock and other resources to families and offer training sessions for these families. But the gifts are not giveaways because Heifer expects recipients to “pass on the gift” by sharing the offspring with other families in the community. In this way Heifer focuses on sustainable community development.
Heifer visits project participants to follow-up and provide ongoing support. I accompanied Heifer on several excursions and was tasked with interviewing these families and writing their life stories. This is one story told by Higidio and Visentina.
We arrived to the community of Pinchimuro in the district of Ocongate. On the way, we found Higidio Mandura Cuchicare and Visentina Quispe Gonzalo outside their gigantic guinea pig shed. They invited us to come inside and without a doubt it was the cleanest and most orderly shed I have ever seen. We admired the walls where Higidio and Visentina had painted pictures of guinea pigs playing together. Certainly, if I were a guinea pig, I would like to live there!
One picture of two sad guinea pigs indicated the quarantine pen for sick guinea pigs. A sad guinea pig painted on the wall warned, "I have salmonella, a contagious disease." On the opposite wall Visentina and Higidio had put up a poster with the cornerstones of Heifer, evidence of their gratitude for the support Heifer has given them. Higidio and Visentina caught two guinea pigs so we could meet these furry creatures. The couple cares for their guinea pigs with pride, although between laughs, Higidio admitted that his wife does more of the work than he does.
Higidio and Visentina got involved with Heifer due to their own initiative. They, along with two other families, decided to build a shed to raise guinea pigs. Before, they had little income but realized that by working together they would be able to earn more. The three families reached an agreement to help each other build sheds. Higidio explained the quechua word "ayni" to us, which means to help one another. However, the families lacked money to buy metal to roof the sheds. Shortly thereafter, Visentina and Higidio attended a workshop organized by Heifer where they asked Heifer for the only material they still lacked for their guinea pig project: metal roofing. Thus, they joined Heifer and emphasized over and over again their happiness with the materials Heifer gave them.
In addition to the metal roofing, Higidio and Visentina also received an improved kitchen and a solar shower. According to them, one of the greatest impacts has been the solar shower. They told us about their life before, when they had to go to a pool to bathe, which was located far from their house. It was expensive to take a taxi but walking was equally difficult and they lost all day going on feet. But now they have hot water in their own shower until 11 p.m. at night and they can shower whenever they want.
Both are very grateful to Heifer for all that this organization has given them. They also complemented Heifer's approach. While other NGOs charge interest in the form of money, Heifer does not do this and therefore the family can spend more on the education of their two children, Girado and Alcidis. They also told us that they learned a lot from Heifer's training sessions. Unlike other organizations that offer training once or twice, the training sessions offered by Heifer are continuing so that Higidio, Visentina and other families continue learning new techniques and strategies.
The couple plans to build another large guinea pig shed in the future. For them, their project of raising guinea pigs has gone well and they would like to increase their guinea pig population. Perhaps when I return one day there will be two gigantic sheds with painted walls and happy guinea pigs inside.
Ayni: ayudar el uno al otro
Higidio y Visentina empezaron con Heifer por iniciativa propia. Ellos, junto con dos otras familias, decidieron construir un galpón para criar cuyes. Antes, tenían pocos ingresos pero se dieron cuenta de que si trabajaban juntos podían ganar más. Las tres familias se pusieron un acuerdo de trabajar juntos para construir galpones. Higidio nos explicó la palabra quechua "ayni," que significa ayudar el uno al otro. Pero a las familias les faltaba dinero para comparar calaminas, las cuales se usan para techar los galpones. Poco tiempo después, Visentina e Higidio asistieron a un taller de Heifer donde pidieron que Heifer les diera la única cosa que les faltaba para su proyecto de cuyes: las calaminas. Así se iniciaron con Heifer y repitieron mil veces que son muy felices con lo que les dio Heifer.
Además de las calaminas, Higidio y Visentina también recibieron una cocina mejorada y una ducha solar. Según ellos, uno de los mayores impactos ha sido la ducha caliente. Nos contaron cómo era su vida antes, cuando tenían que ir a una piscina para bañarse y este sitio quedaba lejos de la casa. Les costaba mucho ir en carro pero ir a pie igual era difícil y perdían todo el día caminando. Pero ahora hay agua caliente en su propia ducha hasta las 11 de la noche y pueden bañarse cuando quieran.
Están muy agradecidos a Heifer por lo que les ha dado y también por su manera de trabajar. Mientras otras ONGs cobran intereses en forma de dinero, Heifer no lo hace y por eso la familia puede gastar más para los estudios de sus dos hijos, Girardo y Alcidis. También nos contaron que aprendieron mucho en las capacitaciones de Heifer. A diferencia de otras organizaciones que ofrecen capacitaciones una o dos veces, las capacitaciones de Heifer son constantes para que Higidio, Visentina y otras familias sigan aprendiendo nuevas técnicas.
La pareja planea levantar otro galpón del mismo tamaño, en el futuro. Para ellos, ha salido bien su proyecto de cuyes y les gustaría aumentar su población. Tal vez cuando regrese, un día habrá dos gigantes galpones con paredes pintados y cuyes felices adentro.
Miriam Sellers, Luther class of 2017, majored in Spanish and International Studies. After taking a J-Term course in Cuba and studying abroad for a semester in Chile, she decided to spend her final semester interning in Peru where she worked with several organizations including Heifer International. “These abroad experiences gave me the opportunity to directly engage with the vibrant cultures and beautiful Spanish language I had studied in the classroom. Venturing beyond the boundaries of my country and comfort zone opened doors to experiences I never dreamed of having.” Miriam is currently a Spanish counselor at the Concordia Language Villages (El Lago del Bosque) in Minnesota. In August she will travel to Honduras to teach at a bilingual school for the upcoming year.