By Mike Safley | July 13, 2011

Quechua Benefit: The Mission in the Andes

By Mike Safley

The highlands of Peru are home to the vast majority of all the alpacas in the world. The Quechua Indians, who domesticated the vicuna more than five thousand years ago, are the source of the alpaca which now reside in the outside world. Their world of high plains and harsh environment resists the probability of profit, providing the Quechua only a subsistence level existence. A pair of shoes, an extracted tooth, or a warm blanket is out of reach for many of these people that time has forgotten. Comfort is a luxury experienced by only a few.


We were invited to the one room home where several of our Macusani patients lived. Note the alpaca meat on the rock table at the right. Photo by Barrie Pedroza

Dr. Mario Pedroza, Russ Gratton, and I formed the charitable organization, Quechua Benefit, in 1996. The charity’s trips to Peru began rather modestly, with the first one based on an invitation by Don Julio Barreda. He asked that we provide dental assistance to the children of Macusani.

His guidance over the years has been unfailing. He laid down one of Quechua Benefit’s early principals – serve the children first. All the shoes, blankets, warm clothes, ponchos, toys, and school supplies that we deliver each year are for children. At the dental clinic, we see the children first, and work on the adults as time permits.

The charity could not operate in Peru without the assistance of the Michell Company and Grupo Inca. Alonso Burgos and Ignacio Garaycuchea are our primary contacts from each company. They provide, free of charge, lodging, transportation, and food for our team when it is on the ground in Peru.


Young “Elvis” with his tooth pulled, a toy and shoes in hand, sitting on the blankets each patient received. Photo by Barrie Pedroza

Quechua Benefit has been generously funded by alpaca breeders from the United States. The people who have contributed are too numerous to mention, but without their generosity the charity would not exist. They have given tens of thousands of dollars since the beginning, and many breeders have donated the proceeds from the sale of breedings to their stud males, at their affiliate, silent auction events. Others have donated warm clothing and toys. AOBA also helped fund the initial trip to Macusani.

Each year, we send one or two missions to Peru. We concentrate our efforts in the Colca Valley, Macusani and a town named Munani near Juliaca and Puno. Over the years, 18 different people have participated on the trips, most more than once. Mario Pedroza is the leader of our effort. He is fluent in Spanish, sets the schedule, allocates resources, and without him we would not succeed. His wife, Barrie, handles much of the pre-trip planning, and has been a dental assistant on every mission that Quechua Benefit has undertaken.


The Colca River flows deep into the Quechua heart, down through the canyons where the condor lifts their wings on the warm morning air to spirit the souls of the alpaca shepherds who have passed over, to their high place in heaven. The valley has always been there, worked by people with walnut skins and high cheekbones burnished to mahogany by the wind. The Spanish came and conquered, but life today is no different than forever.

The Quechua Benefit crew arrived in Yankue, one of seventeen Colca towns, to a chorus of Buenos Dias, smiles and bright eyes. Mario and Barrie Pedroza, Kate and Dr. Frank Winfield of Oregon, Larry Black of Colorado, and myself had all been on last year’s trip, and the town officials and school teachers remembers us. Mary Jo Sorensen, a dental hygienist from California, and Dr. Curt Gedney of Idaho, were new, and we were joined by Willie (Wilfredo Uscamayta), a Peruvian dentist who grew up in the nearby town of Chivay.

The group stayed at the Colca Lodge, which is owned by principles of the Grupo Inca, Francis and Francois Patthey, and Alonso Burgos. After seeing an average of 165 patients each day, we hit the lodge’s steaming hot lithium baths which were filled with water from the river’s hot springs. Every star in the world shines brightly over the Colca Valley, and the baths were the perfect vantage point for our intrepid group to witness the shooting gallery of stars gone awry as we rested each evening.

The valley itself is one of the most productive in Peru. But rock is more abundant than earth, which is corralled by the stone walls into terraces and tended by hand. Everything in the valley is anti-tech, people walk everywhere, use wooden plows, and irrigate from pre-Incan canals. Many of the women still dress in costumes designed thousands of years ago. No one hurries and little changes.

A Quechua baby on the back of a mother of one of the clinic’s patients. Photo by Barrie Pedroza

A Quechua baby on the back of a mother of one of the clinic’s patients. Photo by Barrie Pedroza

At the clinic the children blink with shy smiles, their eyes downcast avoiding looking directly at the gringos. There is a fleeting connection when I pronounce their names, recognizing the familiar sound of respect that a person’s name being spoken conveys. As they leave we hear a muted gracious. They are no different from you or me.

At the end of our stay we danced with the school teachers, the Mayor, his secretary, and drank a pitcher of the local Chicha beer while the Andean harpist picked a playful melody. We all agreed to meet again next year.


As we pulled out of the Colca Valley on our way to Macusani, we crested the pass at 16,700 feet above sea level, and the “Vista of the Volcanoes” came into view. On the left of our panorama, one of the vista’s eight active volcanoes, Misma, appeared. The driver, Luis, told us that Misma is the source of the Amazon.

The conversation in the bus turned to the need we confront in Peru. Our goal was to see one thousand patients, which meant we would extract over one thousand teeth. Since we began in 1996, we have seen thousand of patients, extracted many thousands of teeth and delivered thousands of boots, shoes, blankets, toys, and ponchos. We have supplied schools with paper, pencils, maps, crayons, books, soccer balls, computers and money. Quechua Benefit even financed the construction of a school building in Macusani.

But there is another side to the need which Julio Barreda has called a “dripping faucet.” It never ends. There is always a line of people left which we cannot treat. Our care, delivered over ten days, is a mere molecule in the bulging barrel that contains the Indians’ need. Quechua Benefit could operate everyday of the year, and just like we shear our alpacas, there would be a new fleece of need grown back before we began to address the existing deficit.


Sister Greta, Rula and Miriam at the door of the orphanage’s dining room. Photo by Mike Safley

Sister Greta, Rula and Miriam at the door of the orphanage’s dining room. Photo by Mike Safley

We arrived late at night; the streets were still and the wind mean. Greta, the Catholic sister from India who runs the orphanage, helped us organize our lodging and unpack the van. For Mario and I Macusani is the touchstone of the Quechua Benefit mission. The need is greater here than at any other place we have been. We were captivated by the plight of the orphanage when we first brought the mission to Macusani. The girls of the orphanage, Mosoq Runa (Quechua for new person), sang us a song which included a verse which went something like this, “we do not want to be a burden, we would rather drink a poison, leave this earth and join our family, than be a burden.”

Greeta (“Greta”) Iscreab was called by God in her native India to serve the poor by joining the Sisters of the Cross of Chavarod. Their order was formed in 1838, and has missions in 12 countries. Her own words, which follow, best describe her work at Mosoq Runa, in Macusani.

“I am mainly engaged with the pastoral for children which includes organizing children’s group in the different streets and in the various districts of Macusani and animating get-togethers for them; preparing children for First Communion and Baptism, animating the children’s choir etc… But what is most demanding is my work as a Directress of the children’s home for poor and orphaned girls. It is equal to being a mother of 24 children attending to all their material, physical, spiritual, educational, psychological and medical needs, besides seeing to the needs of the house. The house is open to other children who come during the day to play, study and to have mid-day meals. Shanty, (another sister from India,) helps out with spiritual and moral formation on Sundays. Though demanding it is fulfilling and enriching to work with the children. It is a joy to see them grow in confidence and freedom and with the joyous sense of belonging. If the cold chills – the children’s warming smiles give life. In them I experience the joy of the innocent and pure of heart.”

There are two girls at the orphanage that tell the story of the children that live their young lives with Greta. (See the accompanying photo.) Rula had been at Mosoq Runa for five years. She is in her second year of secondary school. Both of her parents are dead. Greta remembers her as an introspective girl when she first came to the home, then she began to open up. Today, she is a very responsible leader, and was voted best student at her high school. Greta relies on Rula and sees a bright professional future for her hopefully providing care, in her home town, to those less fortunate.

Miriam, on the other hand, is only six years old. Her mother died, and her father cannot be found. She captured our hearts with her shy, loving nature. She is from a family who owned five alpacas and a small plot for potatoes. All meant to feed a family of eight. It did not, and Miriam was brought to the orphanage by her uncle.

The entire orphanage is run on a budget of $10,000 per year, provided by a Catholic parish in France, which includes feeding the 25 permanent residents and 35 children who come from the outside to eat each day. They also receive donations of potatoes and alpaca meat from concerned relatives of the girls.

Mario and Frank operating with Mary Jo and Kate assisting. Larry at the back scrubbing dental tools. Photo by Barrie Pedroza

Mario and Frank operating with Mary Jo and Kate assisting. Larry at the back scrubbing dental tools. Photo by Barrie Pedroza

Quechua Benefit has purchased a computer and educational CD’s for the orphanage. We purchased two sewing machines, which will be used to make school uniforms on a contract basis for the other schools in Macusani. The children will help with this task, and learn a trade that may be valuable when they leave. There is a long list of needs at the orphanage, and if any of you reading this would like to help, please contact myself or Mario. Please remember that any donations that you make are tax deductible.

The Quechua Benefit crew provided dental services for more than three hundred children in Macusani. We also saw old friends such as the school teachers from the schools where we gave supplies and provided dental care. Don Julio organized the handing out of the blankets we delivered. He brought all the children inside the orphanage, and before he began distributing the warmth he addressed each of us. Here is part of what he said:

“You have come from so far to offer the simple act of charity. To provide shoes, take a tooth and offer a warm blanket, it is as if the grace of God is raining on Macusani.”

The children screamed thank you, and we cried.


We saw 1,046 patients on our 2002 trip, pulled 1,505 teeth, gave away 1,000 blankets, 300 pairs of tennis shoes, and 600 pairs of rubber boots. The trip cost $18,672, including airfare, supplies, blankets, shoes, boots, toothbrushes, used clothing, toys, and ground transportation, etc. Our crew included eight Americans, three dentists, and one Peruvian, not including Ignacio and Alonso. The value of the dental procedures alone, billed at standard stateside rates, totaled $210,500, and net value of all contributions after expenses was $219,378.00.

Quechua Benefit trips to the highland have not always gone smoothly. On one trip we had almost $10,000 worth of dental equipment stolen at the Juliaca airport. The instruments were all from Mario’s practice and you can imagine the problems, both in Peru and at Mario’s office that flowed from this event. We have had supplies that were held up by customs, generators that would not start, flat tires, diarrhea and altitude sickness. But every year we have succeeded.

This year went very smoothly. And thanks to the generosity of several alpaca breeders we were able to purchase a full set of dental tools. These were left with Michell Company in Peru, along with our dental chairs, compressor, generator and other dental equipment. We no longer travel through the Juliaca airport.


Munani was the last stop on our trip, and our fifth to this town in as many years. When we visit Munani, the group is always the guest of the Michell family at their estancia, Mallkini.

But, for a few hours we were lost in the middle of nowhere. As the men were navigating the group’s fate, which was looking ever more bleak with the sun’s setting, Barrie Pedroza observed, “Men never turn back, it’s too simple.” When we finally found ourselves unable to pass over a muddy stream or move forward, we were rescued by a boy, his father, and a trip through their pasture, over a rock bridge we built to ford an irrigation canal, and finally through a gate preceded by a footpath, which, to our amazement, placed us less than a mile from Mallkini. Thank God for the kindness of strangers.

In front row are patients from the clinic in Yankue; in the second row: Dr. Willie, Kate, Barrie, Dr. Frank, and Dr. Curt; in the back row: Larry, Mario, and Mike.

In front row are patients from the clinic in Yanque; in the second row: Dr. Willie, Kate, Barrie, Dr. Frank, and Dr. Curt; in the back row: Larry, Mario, and Mike.

We unloaded the equipment from the top of our van into the clinic. Each of us has done this many times and the clinic, with its two dental stations was operating in about an hour. Dr. Curt Gedney, an emergency room doctor who also delivers a lot of babies and speaks Spanish, was in charge of the triage desk. Larry Black, geneticist by training and a mountain climbing, alpaca breeder by choice, cleans the instruments, talks to patients in Spanish and hands out pain medicine. Dr. Frank, Dr Mario and Dr. Willie alternately pull teeth; administer anesthetics and rest, seeing more than 20 patients an hour for hours on end. Kate, Frank’s wife and crack dental assistant, teams with Barrie and Mary Jo to see that the dentists operate at maximum efficiency. They also wipe the occasional tear, hold hands and trust with the kids, many of whom have never seen a dentist.

We finished the 2002 trip by seeing 205 patients in one day, a record. The local Mayor, governor of the province and the justice of the peace, presented us with an official document, seals and all, of thanks for our work.

As we ate dinner that night, Moises, the manager of the Mallkini, toasted the volunteers by saying, “I don’t know if it is proper English to call you a group of crazies or a crazy group, but I do know I like being a part of it.” Willie, the Peruvian dentist who had accompanied us, honored the crew when he said, “I have known a lot of gringos who come to Peru as tourists; they take pictures and leave, but you people came to work. Thank you.”

The thanks that each of us felt in our hearts, is for the opportunity to provide care, if only a little. And to all the alpaca breeders whose contributions make the Quechua Benefit missions a reality each year, God bless your generosity.

Exhibit A

Quechua Benefit 2002
Value of Donations



Approximate Number of Patients Examined


$ 30,000

Total Actual Patients Treated


$ 180,000

$ 210,000



Other Items Distributed:
Full Sized Alpaca/Wool Blankets


$ 10,000

Leather Top/Rubber Soled Sneakers

300 pairs

$ 6,000

Rubber, Waterproof Boots

600 pairs

$ 6,000



$ 1,200



$ 300

Miscellaneous Toys

6 bags

$ 1,500

Used Clothing/New Clothing

7 large bags

$ 3,000

$ 28,000

Total Value of Services and Goods Delivered

$ 238,000


Actual Cost of Distributed Items:
Blankets at Cost from Factory

$ 1,700

Shoes/Boots at Cost from Factory

$ 4,300

Toothbrushes (Purchased)

$ 800

(Donated by Manufacturer)


Superballs/Toys (some Donated)

$ 150

New/Used Clothing (all Donated)


Cost of the Trip, including:

$ 7,880


$ 2,142


$ 6,000

Ground Transportation

$ 1,550


$ 650


$ 300


$ 150


Total Estimated Cost

$ 25,622

Net Value of Contributions

$ 212,378

* Value of treatment based on U.S. economy.

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