Quechua Benefit: Twelve Years Later

By Mike Safley

The morning sun in the high sierra of Peru can be blinding. I closed my eyes and considered the evolution of Quechua Benefit beginning with our first trip to Macusani in 1996. It was a simple idea. Mario Pedroza, responding to Don Julio Barreda’s request to help the children of his pueblo, said, “Could I give them dental care?” Don Julio’s reply, “Bueno.” Since then, alpaca breeders from every state in the union and from around the world have contributed. Their generosity reminded me of the quote form the New Testament provided by Dr. Wayne Jarvis during the 2007 Quechua Benefit trip to Peru:

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)

Alpaca breeders, far more fortunate that the Quechua of Peru, have opened their hearts and given their worldly goods.

This generosity has provided free dental care, aided earthquake victims, responded to catastrophic winter freezes with antibiotics and alpaca blankets, helped feed 800 people a day in Yanque, built dormitories to house school children whose parents tend alpacas in areas to remote from educational opportunities. They’ve supported the Muna Ruska orphanage in Macusani, helped deserving young adults attend college in Arequipa and provided funds for life saving operations for the poorest of the poor. But the need is relentless.

Quechua Benefit has accrued another kind of capital in addition to the funds collected and spent; experience and local contracts are continually added to the good will on the balance sheet. Trip by trip and year by year, we have searched for a way to permanently impact the lives of the young children who find their way to the mobile dental clinics.

At the root of Peru’s poverty are several universal problems: unemployment, alcoholism, family violence, single mothers with children or worse yet, orphans with no hand to hold. The question that now’s at Quechua Benefit is how in some small way interrupt this cycle of despair: Repair a life, touch someone who touches another, the goal is simple, the task complicated.

Peru is complex, there is not tradition of charity, no huge charitable foundations and little means of delivering help directly to the poor. The Catholic Church in Peru has traditionally been the agency administering social services village by village. Today the church is focusing more on evangelizing the people and less on social work. All of this adds to the difficulties of an outside charity operating on the ground.

Twelve years of observation have clearly revealed the need: feed the hungry, provide safe shelter, educate the children, deliver medicine and dental attention and teach life skills. This need is a raging river that never suffers a drought. By understanding the need a small solution presents itself. There are various forms of orphanages currently operating in Peru. These homes typically serve 20 to 30 children and are staffed by nuns, priests and lay people. They depend on state organizations for food allotments, private donors for clothes, various charities for operating funds. Their existence is hard month to month.

One such organization is located in Kawasi, not far from Macusani; this home is unique to anything we have seen in Peru. The governing association is independent of the church but headed by an ex-priest, Padre Francisco. The facility is home to 25 children who attend local schools. In addition to the dormitories there are greenhouses, a trout farm, rabbit hutches, guinea pigs, chickens, compost piles, a study hall and a kitchen. The staff includes a woman from Spain, Marie, who supervises the gardens and animals, a technician who operates the trout farm which includes a hatchery and confined pens in a nearby lake. There is a full-time cook and a teacher who works with the children on their studies. Padre Francisco and his partner provide family violence counseling and teach life skills. The operation is largely self-sufficient. It feeds itself, sells produce and trout at the local market. The children are taught responsibilities, and like any successful children they have chores, homework and adult supervision. There are other needs, of course, but this house has been thriving for more than 10 years. Its guiding goal is to create whole people who live in peace with their families and community in a constructive way. The children they raise will in turn re-create their success.

This model of  can be replicated in other communities. The cost is not prohibitive; the facilities themselves might be re-created for a little more than $100,000. The key to success is leadership: additional Padre Franciscos would need to be recruited. But after twelve years on the ground, with the continued support and open hearts of alpacas breeders, Quechua Benefit might well be able to permanently change lives. The path is clear.