Here are some of Jane's stories and experiences - the frustrations, sadness and accomplishments during the Peru's Challenge journey.
Example of Community
Pumamarca is a community with 200 families. Each family has an average of 6 kids, and three generations under one roof. Each family is in charge of looking after 2-3 plots of land. They grow produce that is then sold by the family in a local market, which gives them an average wage of 10-15 Soles per week. The families don’t own the plots, but rather each plot is owned by the community as a whole. The plots cannot be sold by individuals. There is no major form of transport to get the produce down, so community members pay 2 Soles to get to the market and back or they walk it down on their backs. Everything is done by hand here—no machinery is used. They have a natural irrigation system where the pressure of the gravity forces the irrigation system to move. Families take turns for who gets to irrigate their plot.
The only drinking water supply coming into community is via the open channel on the left-hand side of road. We have tested this water, and it is 200 times over the safe-drinking level, and it is full of viruses, parasites and bacteria.
The houses here are made of adobe mud brick and most don’t have electricity. Electricity was put into the community 2 ½ years ago as part of an election push, but the families can’t afford to connect to it. They connect to it illegally, and every three months or so the company comes and disconnects them, but they slowly reconnect again.
No running water is going into these houses, which means no water for the kitchen, taps, showers or toilets. Most have a kitchen in the same room as where they sleep because the kitchen fire keeps them warm, especially when we get -20 degrees Celsius temperatures in the winter. The windows aren’t closed in and some don’t have doors. Many families don’t have a proper working chimney, so they breathe in the wood-oven smoke 24 hours a day. Most houses don’t have beds, chairs or tables. For example, we have a family of 6 kids, a mom, a dad and a grandmother, and they are all trying to sleep in the frame of one double bed. There are no blankets or pillows, so they use their few pairs of clothes to stay warm.
Others taking credit for our work
We had just finished building two beautiful kindergarten classes. We did all of the work in eight months and had a huge celebration and inauguration for their openings. The next weekend, we were watching TV when we saw local council men with news crew standing in front of our classrooms, saying look what we are doing in the education department. Look at our work. Look at our accomplishments. I was furious.
I said to Selvy, “let’s go down there right now. Let’s go with the community members, the kids, the teachers and pictures of each step of construction.” Selvy calmed me down and said, no. We need to use this to our advantage. We went to the mayor’s office, just the two of us with some photos, and said, “you know we built these schools. You know this is our work. Why were the news crews there saying it was the counsels? If you don’t support our work and help us finish the projects you promised, we are going to the press.”
The mayor immediately agreed. They then assisted us with some closed piping from the community to the school, a project that, with their help, was done in one month. It just shows that Selvy knows his country, the importance of working together and how things can be frustrating.
There was a 45-year-old mother who was pregnant with her 12th child. She was in the field working, and she had miscarriage right there. Her oldest daughter, a 21-year-old, found her and took her to the nearest hospital. Because there wasn’t a down payment, the doctors refused helping her. The daughter came to us, and we immediately paid 300 soles to save her life. The next week, she was in fields, working again. She yelled to me and asked if I would come to her house or lunch. I did, and she had cooked four guinea pigs and potatoes to thank me. I had avoided guinea pig for years, so that was the first time I ate guinea pig, but I couldn’t say no. That meal was over a month’s salary for her. Our Social Worker spoke to the father about how he has to use contraception and stop getting his wife pregnant, because, otherwise, she will die and who will look after your kids. He got mad, but she worked with him for four months and she eventually got her tubes tied.
A mother was bashed by her husband to almost the point of murder, and we got the man arrested for physical abuse. The community often doesn’t like when our Social Worker concerns herself in situations like this because she is involving herself in personal issues. However, if she wouldn’t have done anything, he would have killed her. Besides that tragic thought, the man would have been in jail for life.
The reason we do Mother’s Group is because we are working in the schools with the kids, but to make sure the kids get a better future we have to see what’s going in their family life. Without a healthy family life, they won’t be as successful at school. We therefore were finding that the problems were lying with the mothers. One, they don’t have an income source. Two, there is a lot of domestic violence and lack of respect from their husbands. They also have a lack of pride, because they don’t have employment, they aren’t educated, they don’t feel that have self worth. They don’t like their life because they are in poverty conditions. They don’t have clean water or electricity; they can’t feed or clothe some of their kids. Life isn’t enjoyable.
The first time we tried to celebrating Mother’s Day, they were shocked we wanted to celebrate. Mother’s Day is not an enjoyable holiday for them. They usually think they are bad mothers, and that they don’t do a good job, so they don’t see a reason to celebrate.
Our solution to all of these issues is setting up Mother’s Group, or Talleres. The main objectives are to get them out of their house away from their husbands and children, making time that is strictly for themselves, occupying their time so they aren’t thinking about the negative parts of their lives, build on their confidence, educate them and teach them new skills to then get an independent income. The objectives started out mainly focused on building confidence and self-worth. We have found we have now been focusing on money, so we want to bring it back to our original goals with money just being on the side.
Talleres is three afternoons a week from 3:30 to 6:30. It’s not every afternoon, so the women can be in the fields and look after kids, but they still get enough time to understand they have to make a commitment.
The Social Worker
With the local social worker, we start by building confidence. We start with joined talking sessions all together and then individually with the social worker. This takes a few months to get them to talk to the social worker. At first, they don’t talk about what is going on in their lives– what goes on in the house stays in the house behind closed doors. They don’t realize other women are going through the same things until these open sessions. We start talking through a game. We have a ball and put the mothers in circle, and when the ball is thrown to the mother, she has to say something good about life, family or husband. The next time she gets ball, she has to say something she doesn’t like or that annoys her. What starts to happen is one mother will say, “I don’t like my husband because he smells.” All of the mothers laugh, and their barriers start to break down. They realize they have friends in the community, and they can talk about issues because others are dealing with the same things, so they can support each other.
In order to educate, we hold information sessions in family planning, alcoholism, domestic violence, legal rights, etc. –just some examples. For example, a lot of mothers in Pumamarca didn’t have a national identification card, so they couldn’t vote, get health insurance –they aren’t individuals in society, and they have no true identity. We therefore brought in lawyers who talked about what their rights are as individuals and why it is important to have that card. What is the process if you do have violence in your house? What are you rights as a victim? How do you report that? What is the process? They explained why to not be scared. Then we also give treats to get their confidence going: hand massages, hair dressing appointments, doing nails, giving them perfume and other women’s hygiene necessities to make them feel good about being a woman; it really builds up confidence.
We also do quarterly medical checks. At our first medical campaign with pap smears, 52 mothers came. 90% had an infection or STD. 40% of that 90% had serious infections. We then provided treatments. We have now started having part of income generated through Talleres sales put into a kitty, which will pay for the health campaigns.
Tallares - Microfinance
The mothers learn new skills at Talleres. We want them to work hard and be proud of their work and bring in an independent income. We therefore teach new skills in weaving, jewelry making, card making, sewing, ceramics, drawing and painting.
In the first year, 2006, we had 23 mothers, and Peru’s Challenge paid for all of the resources and materials. We then organized the tour groups to visit the school and purchase products. 100% of the money from sales was put into the kitty for the end of the year. At the end of year, Peru’s Challenge purchased 23 big Christmas hampers so that each mother could take home food, gifts and décor to her family. This was the first time the mothers could celebrate Christmas with their families, and they felt so proud because it was not their husbands but themselves who had worked and sold products that tourists liked. They could provide a great Christmas for their family. The majority of the mothers were crying when we handed the hampers out. Many got up to give speeches. They were so appreciative of how Talleres and Mothers Group made them feel. Many said they never thought they could make money from something they did themselves. Some said they now have dreams of starting their own sewing business, etc. The most important thing was they knew they could provide a better future for their kids.
In 2007, we had 54 mothers attending. This also includes teenagers who are not in secondary school because they didn’t get a proper primary education, so they had no future. To make the business sustainable, Peru’s Challenge said it wouldn’t pay for any materials or resources. We had a new system: 50% of any product sold went into the kitty for the end of the year, 25% went to purchasing materials and equipment and the last 25% went directly to the mother. Through this new system, because mothers were receiving direct wage, they would actually say to husbands, “I am going to work now,” and then they would come back with money in their pockets. It was one of the reasons they became more valued by their husbands, which led to more women being allowed to join; husbands would now give permission for their wives to be a part of Mother's Group. That is why we had 208 in 2008.
The mothers were now receiving a wage and were proud of their work and the fact they would come home with money in their pockets. At the end of 2007, mothers were being paid a wage, and the Mothers Group could buy its own materials; it was a sustainable business. They could purchase 54 Christmas hampers, each with a fresh turkey, and there was still so much money in kitty that I said, “This is your money. What would you like to do?” They talked rapidly for 5 minutes in Quechan, and one mother stood up and said, “We want to go to Machu Picchu.” I was so impressed because here profit is everything. I thought they were going to want to split the money between them. Money is so important here because it isn’t around often. They had built their confidence up so much that they wanted to pat themselves on the back and reward themselves. Most locals don’t get to go to Machu Picchu because it is too expensive, but these women who can’t read, can’t write, who have never had a job outside of their fields, learned and worked and paid for themselves to go to Machu Picchu. Imagine the stories they get to tell to their grandchildren about seeing Machu Picchu. They got to go before their husbands.
Peru’s Challenge appealed to the Institute of National Culture and the train station to provide cheaper passes, and we got discounted rates. They had to leave the community at 4am, and they could only take the tiniest of babies. They packed their own lunch. We organized a bus to get them to train station and a guide. They got on a train and went up to Machu Picchu and toured around and ate lunch, all dressed in their skirts and hats. They came back at 11 that night. It was a big day.
In 2008, there were 208 members, and Talleres is almost a fully self-sustainable business.
On record sales: We had one exhibition of two hours, and the mothers raised US $1,400. The record payment to one mother was US$160. Compare that to S/ 10-15 (US$3-5) they make in the fields.
We don’t want to take away the importance of the land and agricultural business, which is why Talleres is three times a week.
For the members of 2006 group, 98% had experienced medium to severe domestic violence. By the end of 2007, that number was down to 40%, and the social worker attributes that mainly to their new confidence, feeling good, pride in who they are, earning own money, etc. Peru’s Challenge is building a website for online sales so that when Peru’s Challenge moves on to other communities, we can still maintain sales in this community. We want to develop an online sales page and marketing strategy for the future.
When mothers first join Talleres, they have no confidence. Talleres is the first time in their whole lives they can just think about themselves and not everyone else. They show now initiative or imagination. They won’t look you in the eye. They automatically say, “I can’t do this” when you show them something new. After a few months of being in Mothers Group, they try new things – new colors or new patterns with new products. Like baby clothes – that was their idea. They come up to me and say, “What do you think of this?” and they look you in the eye and want an honest answer. And they know when you aren’t telling them honestly. They want to know if they should change the color or design. They are starting to learn English words because they want to talk to tourists; if they can make some kind of communication, the tourist is more likely to buy something from them.
We have had four mothers who have started their own businesses over the last 15-16 months. They went into loom weaving, bag making, traditional beanies and one has a cake store. That is the point, too. If they want to start their own businesses they can.
Regularly, they were getting sales over $US 800. To rent a shop space in Cuzco was, at the time, approximately US$ 500 a month. Automatically, the mothers were saying, “well, once a week we are getting $US 800, so why don’t we rent a shop in Cuzco and double—maybe triple our sales?” That is an example of short-term thinking. They were just thinking about the money they could make, and they weren’t thinking of competition, running a business, labor/manning a business, etc. So what Peru’s Challenge wants to do is business and financial planning with them. The other thing we were doing was saving money for some of the mothers in bank accounts so it wasn’t being spent. They didn’t want their husbands to spend it, and they wanted to have something saved.