Vicuña Salvation Premiere in Peru!

October was a big month for Quechua Benefit’s feature length documentary, Vicuña Salvation. We participated in three premieres in Peru, each a little different than the other. But each audience loved it.

Dale with long time Quechua Benefit supporter (and photographer), Maria, at the Vicuña Salvation premiere in Picotani.

The audience at the premiere in Picotani.

This success would not have happened if you had not continued to support our organization during the COVID pandemic, keeping our programs strong during tough times, by virtue of your generous hearts. 

The first premiere took place in Picotani and the community did all of the leg work to make it big! They promoted the film, invited government officials, held a ceremonial chaccu, and gathered the press. To the amazement of the community, Derek Michell of Michell & CIA SA and his entire executive staff were there in support of their efforts, most of whom had never been to Picotani. We were interviewed by a Quechua radio station that broadcasts from Puno. Thank goodness for translators!

Everyone watched in awe and loved the film. Soft murmurs and chuckles were heard in the audience as they recognized various community members on the big screen. They laughed, they cried, they applauded to the very end. A woman from the community thanked Quechua Benefit for visiting every year. “I don’t know how you find us here. The government in Lima does not know where we live.” Another women once told me: “Say we are here, say we exist.” I think this film will not only put our communities on the map, but make their story heard for the first time. It will be available for streaming on National Geographic – South America, beginning March 2023. This is all possible, thanks to you and our wonderful community. 

Dale holding the water pipe that provides water 24 hours a day! From left to right: Dale, José, Felipe, and Guillermo.

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the reveal of the Water Project in Picotani.

In addition to the premiere, the community proudly took us on a tour of the completed first phase of our water project that provides water to vicuña during the dry season. The 14 lagoons and 28 individual drinkers built across 2,500 acres will be able to support an additional 1,250 vicuña. It has the potential to double the size of the existing herd that historically grazes the site and provides the Picotani community an estimated $75,000 of additional annual income in perpetuity.  

Proud is the best way to describe the energy felt during the ribbon cutting ceremony. This project was completed by community members, digging through the dry dirt and hand placing the miles and miles of pipe. This project would not have been possible without your generosity. Our Executive Director, Dale, worked closely with the community leaders to engineer the system. This water increases the pastures available for both vicuña and alpaca, which means more income for our alpaquero families. Thanks to your support, this is just phase one! 

Students and staff at La Molina University pictured with Mike and Dale.

The next premiere was held at La Molina University, the only agricultural university in Peru. We had the opportunity to visit their campus and meet all the department heads. Our guide was Dr. Gustavo Gutierrez, head of the animal science department. He joined us in Picotani to witness the first of its kind water project and wanted to discuss the potential research project to establish the carbon footprint of alpacas. This study could make alpaca fiber more valuable worldwide if we can, together, establish its true sustainability and quantify what we believe is a much lower carbon footprint than competing fibers on the market. 

Everyone at La Molina loved the film, especially the vet students. Many had no idea of the vicuña’s story of salvation from extinction. From the late 60s to present day, the vicuña population has increased from a mere 5,000 animals to approximately 500,000. During our visit, Dr. Gutierrez offered an open scholarship to their veterinary program for a potential Casa Chapi student who may be interested in the field of study.

The audience at the Arequipa premiere was full of alpaca industry movers and shakers.

A warm welcome to the Quechua Benefit team during the Arequipa premiere of Vicuña Salvation, hosted by Michell & CIA SA.

The last event was held in Arequipa, at the home of Michell’s founder, Frank Michell. Michell & CIA SA donated $50,000 to sponsor the making of our documentary. They put on a spectacular affair which coincided with the 90th anniversary of Michell & CIA SA.  

There were over 600 attendees, dressed to the nines, sipping cocktails and noshing on tiny tidbits. What fascinated me was the crowd’s response was similar to that of the audience from Picotani. They were unfamiliar with the story of the vicuña, the animal that is on their country’s coat of arms. This crowd represent Peru’s elite and many of them were alpaca textile executives. I’ll let the photos illustrate the wide gap between the culture of Arequipa and Picotani. 

“I received a phone call in 1995 from Grupo Inca’s Alonso Burgos inviting me to attend the historic Vicuña Chaccu, which ultimately became the turning point of the fight to save this endangered species from extinction. . .

Read about the amazing conservation effort in Peru that is saving the endangered species in the December 2021 issue of Camelid Connections:

Learn about the journey from endangered to thriving in Vicuñas: Survival of the Finest by Mike Safley.


The isolated life as a marginal farmer is the future for most Quechuan kids in rural Peru. With a long history of ethnic persecution and political conflict, solitary communities like the mountainous district of Lari, at 11,017 ft elevation, have been and will continue to be excluded from Peru’s economic growth.

Only 66% of 12-16 year old girls attend school in rural areas (Inter Press Study).

Born to two alpaca herders with four other children, a life of poverty is the reality for kids like Griset. Little did her parents know that the moment they enrolled Griset at Casa Chapi, she would be set on a different path, a brighter path.

Griset thrived at Casa Chapi. She enjoys volleyball, basketball, and gymnastics–activities she would not have had the opportunity to learn at home. Math is her favorite subject in school.

Thanks to years of support from our Quechua Benefit community, Griset has been provided the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. A proper education provided to anyone willing to learn, with the ambition to do better and break the norm, is the most powerful tool.

Throughout the pandemic, Griset persevered to keep up with her studies. She was grateful for the food her family received and the cellphone to stay in touch with her teachers. Like the other students, Griset was excited to return to Casa Chapi in Arequipa to continue school with her friends.

“To all the parents who are wondering if Casa Chapi will be a good fit for their kids/family situation – it’s a great opportunity for your children, and it will change their lives for the better. Have them dream and build their own path.”

Fast forward to present day . . . 

Griset graduated from Paola Frassinetti High School in Arequipa, Peru in December 2021. She hopes to attend university in March 2022 to pursue a degree in systems engineering.

Sometimes, the cards just seemed to be stacked against you. For Quechua people living in the Peruvian highlands, that is the reality. Many of them lead isolated lives at 13,000 ft above sea level as marginal farmers. Much of the rural adult population is illiterate, not having studied past primary school. This fragmented education is not by choice. Many kids join the workforce early to help their families financially.

Many of you are familiar with the name Maria Fernanda. If not, let me introduce you to this astounding young woman. Born in Caylloma, she is one of five kids in her family. Her single mother is an alpaca shepherdess who enrolled Maria Fernanda in Casa Chapi as a 3rd grader in 2013.

“When I was little, I was sad because I only went to school sometimes. My dad did not want me to study because I was a girl. [When I first started to study at Casa Chapi] I was afraid that my dad would come get me out or make trouble. But he died. When I found out I felt sorry for him, but I did not have that fear anymore.”

Maria Fernanda could easily have been another Quechua statistic who goes through life bearing the brunt of poverty in Peru. Thanks to the support of our donors like you over the years, we’ve been able to empower students like Maria Fernanda to break the cycle of poverty. From Casa Chapi to Paola Frassinetti High School, she has now graduated and plans to pursue a degree in Business Administration.

“Education in important to me because it’s the way we can change our lifestyle and be an example to our society. For all the kids currently at Casa Chapi, take advantage of this great opportunity. There is only one chance, don’t pass it up. Your future depends on it. Show that you are capable of change. Don’t fear success.”

Her true passion lies in her art. One of her drawings was commissioned to be printed onto a limited-edition luxurious shawl from Kuna by Alpaca Collections.

Maria Fernanda, we are very proud of you and cannot wait to hear about your studies at university.

If you ever get the chance to visit the district of Yanque, you may be entranced by the beauty of this authentic village. Pre-Inca ruins scattered throughout Uyo-Uyo Archaeological Park, off the beaten path day hikes that lead to breath taking viewpoints, it’s easy to get entranced at 11,210 ft above sea level.

Behind the mist of all this beauty lies of the history of Yanque. Much of the population is of indigenous Quechua decent. 56.28% of the population here state Quechua as their first language. In case you were curious, the Quechua language dates back to the Incan Empire. 

Quechua is an oral language so much of their history is passed down through traditional fiber handicrafts, spinning various fibers and weaving fabrics for both domestic use and foreign sales. Each community uses their own distinct patterns and anthropomorphic designs.

For Vidal and his family, they see a different Yanque. Vidal is one of six kids in his family. His father was the sole income earner in the family but suffered a traumatic accident and could no longer work. Vidal’s future would have been simple and traditional: drop out of school and start working to support the family financially. As this may seem like a noble route, this perpetuates the cycle of poverty for his family.

Instead, Vidal’s parents made the brave decision to send him to Casa Chapi several years ago.

Thanks to you, our generous Quechua Benefit community, he excelled in his studies during his senior year at Paola Frassinetti High School in Arequipa.

He graduated in December 2021 and hopes to attend university to major in culinary arts and nutrition and become a chef.

“To all the kids at Casa Chapi I would tell them to continue studying, make an effort and be dedicated in every activity they do. For me, education in important because it allows me to have development opportunities such a work and a higher quality of life.”

Vidal, we are so proud of your accomplishments and cannot wait to see what you will cook up in the future.

Aaron Marcellino and Andrew Curtis are the amazing ownership team behind Hitchhiker Pictures, an award-winning full-service production company based in California with more than a decade of industry experience.

Since 2014 Aaron and Andrew have traveled to Peru a dozen times, making videos to tell Quechua Benefit’s stories. These videos have been instrumental in Quechua Benefit’s ability to raise millions of dollars in the years since they began volunteering.

A Chance to Be a Child won the Walt Ratterman Humanitarian Award at the 2016 Columbia Gorge International Film Festival and Searching for Siomera won the Legacy Award at the 2017 Angaelica Festival at Bear Lake, CA.

Other films Hitchhiker Pictures have created for Quechua Benefit include:

Casa Chapi Tour Video, 2013

The Alpaca’s Head: Don Julio Barreda’s Business Card, 2016

Macusani: The Birthplace of Quechua Benefit, 2016

The Life You Can Save, 2017

Quechua Benefit Listens: July Veterinary Listening Tour, 2017

Casa Chapi’s Story, 2018

Casa Chapi Reading Practice, 2018

Alliyma Video Series, 2019

In December, Aaron and Andrew were part of a 12-member international team that spent 15 days with Quechua Benefit filming people and Vicuna in Lima, Arequipa, and Cusco for the full-length documentary film entitled THE HEROES of the ANDES. Look for it on Netflix or National Geographic in 2022.

Their generosity and volunteer spirit are easy to understand. Aaron inherited it from his grandfather Richard Miller, who is one of Quechua Benefits most generous donors and prolific volunteers.