2021: A Year in Review

Thank you for your generosity to Quechua Benefit. 2021 brought many more new challenges! Your support made it possible for us to continue our mission to break the cycle of poverty.

You made it possible for us to deliver over 20,000 masks, soap, and educational brochures to fight against COVID. Now more than 65% of Peru’s population is now fully vaccinated, and life is becoming more normal. 

In the spring, our older students happily returned to their Casa Chapi houses in Arequipa.

“This year I am extremely happy, as I can return to Casa Chapi and Arequipa to receive help with my studies . . . I am truly grateful to Mr. Alejandro and Quechua Benefit for the help they gave me and my family.” – Lizbeth

Our high school seniors are excited as they approach graduation. Your gifts to our Scholarship Program this year are making it possible for our current and future students to attend college.

Because of you, our Casa Chapi primary school students continued virtual learning, and their families received monthly food boxes.

Many of the kids visited Casa Chapi’s Chivay campus in August for reading and health assessment. A great bonus was getting to see their friends! They’re looking forward to in-person learning beginning March 7, 2022.

In May, The Sister Antonia Kitchen in Ichupampa reopened to serve the poor and elderly after months of closure due to the pandemic. In addition, we were able to open a new kitchen in Yanque on August 2nd. Both communities are preparing to add Women’s and Children’s Community Centers.

The best summary of the year comes from long-time Quechua Benefit friend and supporter Ruth Mogrovejo of Latin Collection. She conducted a Handicrafts Workshop with our Casa Chapi girls.

“The girls wish to learn to do something profitable for Quechua Benefit. The idea of making scarves that could be sold filled them with joy! They are girls of great talent, perseverance, responsibility and above all gratitude for Quechua Benefit.”

Thank you for your investment that is changing the lives of women and children. With your support, we’re helping them break the cycle of poverty!

Your gift today will make a brighter 2022 for women and children in the highlands of Peru!

Sister Antonia, a Maryknoll nun from New York, served the Quechua people of the Colca Valley for more than 30 years. She was a fierce advocate for the women and children as well as being an inspirational example to everyone around her.

Sister Antonia believed that substandard nutrition is at the center of local poverty, so she served hot soup daily from the courtyard of the Yanque Church. Quechua Benefit, with your support, has participated in the creation of two community kitchens to carry on Sister Antonia’s legacy, one in Ichupampa and another in Yanque. Both are close to Casa Chapi. The kitchens named in her honor are independently operated by local community associations.

These new, modern buildings each also have space for a Women’s and Children’s Community Center, and this is where the next chapter in Sister Antonia’s legacy, with your help, will unfold. Click here to donate to the new centers.

They will be staffed by local women who are respected in the community and can be fierce advocates for the women and children, offering advice on topics such as:

  • Pre- and post-natal care
  • Anemia prevention
  • Medical referrals
  • Job training and family planning advice
  • Employment opportunities
  • Adult education about family violence.

Women are being trained outside the Ichupampa Sister Antonia Kitchen.

All these needs can be addressed and prioritized in consultation with the women in the community. Local Quechua Benefit social workers, in partnership with the Church, the Peruvian Ministries of Health and Education, MINSA, the local mayors and private charities such as Vitamin Angels, Direct Relief and Vida Peru, can implement programs that address the most pressing needs as defined by the community.

Thank you for your donation that will help this dream become a reality. 

By Mike Safley

“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you realize what you were born to do.”  When I first read this thought-provoking quote, often mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain, my mind wandered to my own life and then to the life of Quechua Benefit, which turns 25 years old in 2021.

For Quechua Benefit the answer to the first question is easy. It was the day Don Julio Barreda, a world-famous alpaca breeder, asked me if there was anything that people in other countries could do to help the poor in his community, Macusani, a remote Andean village perched at 14,750 feet elevation, just below the icy mountaintops that melt into the Amazon River basin far below.

Sister Antonia in the sacristy of the church in Yanque, 1999

The answer to the second question took more thought.
When did Quechua Benefit truly learn what it was born to do?

I think the second answer began to unfold the day I met SisterGeorge Anthony Kayser or “Antonia,”a Maryknoll nun from Brooklyn, New York, who lived in the 16th century church sacristy on the central plaza in the Colca Valley town of Yanque, Peru. Sister Antonia was dedicated to improving the lives of the poorest Quechua women and children, and she was the living embodiment of Anita Canfield’s observation that, “You were born to bless the lives of others.  You were born to make a contribution.”  

Antonia’s compassion for the poor was like a warm ray of sunshine falling on an otherwise cold reality. Her stock and trade was hot soup, served at 5:00 in the morning, 6 days a week, for 30 years until she passed on July 8, 2010. All that she ever asked in return for the soup was maybe a tiny piece of kindling or dried cow dung that could be used for the next day’s cook fire.

Hermana” Antonia served millions upon millions of free meals with no financial assistance from the local Parish. When I asked her where she found the necessary funds she replied, “God provides.”

Tending the morning meal in the courtyard of the Yanque Church, 2001

The poor Quechua women and children of Yanque knew no fiercer advocate. Sister Antonia learned the Quechua language and became a friend and mentor to the people, providing medical attention to the sick and advocating for poor women in need of social services, single mothers, and the abused struggling for the same human rights that we might so easily take for granted: the right to own land, access water, and access education and basic economic opportunity.

In 2010 Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” This citation by the Nobel committee describes Antonia to a tee: she revolted against poverty, and she enthusiastically resisted anyone who sought to take advantage of those under her care.  She never conceded defeat, always looking forward. The Nobel Committee citation also gives us a window into why this world-famous author, separated by class and status, became Sister Antonia’s friend, and often wrote about her affectionately.

Here is what Mario Vargas had to say about Sister Antonia:

The Church in Yanque, built in the late 1500s


“Another marvel of the Colca is Mother Antonia. She lives with two other ‘gringuitas’ like herself—Mother Mariella and Mother Rosemarie—in what was the sacristy of the church of Yanque, in rooms of glacial stone which the three little Maryknoll nuns warm with their kindness and good humor… But really, they are peasants who live on what they can produce on their piece of land which lies next to the church. It is enough to see their hands and feet to realize how rough it is to work the land under the conditions prevailing in the Colca, and to understand to what extent these women have become integrated into the society in which they live.”



Checking in the women and children for their breakfast, 1999

I believe the hands and feet he observes are not those of peasants but are hands and feet representing God by serving the poor. Hands and feet of a tiny nun that never asked to be served.

Mario Vargas also wrote of Antonia’s ferocious advocacy on behalf of women and children in the village.

“When I met her, on my first trip to Colca in 1981, Mother Antonia had been in Yanque for twelve years, one of the main villages in the valley. She was a well-known character throughout the city, the protagonist of a mythologic phosphorescent. Across the area there was not a single policeman, and this Maryknoll sister had thrown them [the people of Yanque] on her shoulders with a reckless obligation to defend the weak from the abuses of the strong and persecute the rustlers.”

She told Mario Vargas, “I had no qualms about going to warn drunken husbands who beat up their women.”

Vargas continued, “They had already beaten her up for doing so … She received many death threats, which kept her perfectly careless.”

Writing many years later Mario Vargas said,

Door to the sacristy, 2000

“Now, if I must keep only two of the wonders of this Andes performance, I will stay with the Condors and Mother Antonia. I was surprised—and I was very glad—to know that Mother Antonia was still standing, and always in Yanque, giving the usual war against injustice. She must be nonagenarian… She continues to live in what was the glacial sacristy of the church of Yanque and has shrunk and subsumed to the extreme that she looks like a little girl. She wears those red framed eyeglasses… and is curved so much that her back is a question mark. But her frank, generous laughter and the giggle of her eyes are the same as I remembered.”

Sister Antonia and Mike at the entrance of the sacristy, 2001

I met Antonia when I was in my early fifties, not long after founding Quechua Benefit. Over time that day led to the realization of how Quechua Benefit might best serve the Quechua people. From that moment the vision became clearer, not all at once, to be sure, but little by little as I watched her approach to social justice.



She lived by the “Royal Law,” as defined in the Bible as “love thy neighbor,” which is explained in the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan.

Sister Antonia with her neighbors, 1979

In this story Jesus answers a lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” by asking him to identify the neighbor in the parable. A critical part of the message from the parable makes it clear that neighbors are not defined by friendship, race or religion but are simply people in need.

Sister Antonia’s love encircled everyone she met, from the highest most powerful members of society to the least powerful poor single mothers standing in line at her door every morning for a bowl of hot soup. Those women lived in a very small sphere of love, so small they might not have felt it at all if not for the warm heart and soul of Sister Antonia, who is remembered by many as the “Mother of the Colca Valley.”

Treating a small child, 1980

The day I realized the totality of her ethos was the second most important day in Quechua Benefit’s short life. Quechua Benefit would need to inhale her example to be able to breathe out any relevant service to the poor.

Although she was a nun, we never talked about religion, prayed together or otherwise philosophized, but I saw the spirit burning in her for the Quechua people. She led by example. I believe to this day she is the “Mother Teresa” of Peru. A saint really.

I visited Antonia shortly before she passed. She told me that she would likely be gone when I returned to Peru. I broke down, but she said, “Mike, don’t cry. I am going home.” I told her that Quechua Benefit would continue to tend her flock. She held my hand and smiled.

Today, Quechua Benefit’s generous donors, volunteers, and strategic partners, together with the Board of Directors, have created three pillars, or programs, that form a rock-solid foundation for our mission:  

  • K-12 schools and adult education programs that attack multigenerational poverty,
  • Free preventative medicine and nutrition for highland women and children afflicted with the world’s second most prevalent disease, anemia, and
  • Economic empowerment programs meant to liberate and generate independence for women, many of whom are single mothers.

Elderly woman dining at the Sister Antonia Kitchen in Ichupampa, 2020

Sister Antonia’s primary insight, that substandard nutrition is at the center of local poverty, is why Quechua Benefit, with your support, has participated in the creation of two community kitchens in the Colca Valley over the last four years, one in Ichupampa and another in Yanque.

Both are close to Casa Chapi. The kitchens are named in her honor and independently operated by the local community associations. These new, modern buildings each have space for a women’s and children’s community center, and this is where the next chapter in Sister Antonia’s legacy, with your help, will unfold.

Sister Antonia Kitchen, Ichupampa

Quechua Benefit is exploring the opportunity to open Women’s and Children’s Community Centers in the existing Sister Antonia Kitchen buildings. They will be staffed by local women who are respected in the community and can be fierce advocates for the women and children, offering advice on topics such as pre- and post-natal care, anemia prevention, and making medical referrals. They may offer job training, family planning advice, suggest employment opportunities, and provide adult education about family violence. All these needs can be addressed and prioritized in consultation with the women in the community. Local Quechua Benefit social workers, in partnership with the Church, the Peruvian Ministries of Health and Education, MINSA, the local mayors and private charities such as Vitamin Angels, Direct Relief and Vida Peru, can implement programs that address the most pressing needs as defined by the community.

This model is not new. Dr. Paul Farmer, head of Harvard’s Global Health Initiative and founder of Partners in Health, operates similar clinics in several countries, including Peru, that Quechua Benefit board members have visited and observed. Dr. Farmer is credited with defeating AIDS in the poorest of countries. He often works together with the Gates Foundation, which uses the community center approach around the world with great success.

This Community Center model is in perfect alignment with Quechua Benefit’s Three Programs. If successfully implemented, it will help all of us to work closely together, weaving threads of sustainability to break the cycle of poverty and make the world a better place for the wonderful Quechua people.

Sister Antonia 1924–2010

Sister Antonia dedicated her life to serving the people in the Colca Valley for decades.

Sister Antonia Kayser was a Maryknoll Sister from Brooklyn, New York. She provided hot meals for the poor at the church in Yanque from 1971 to 2010. Inspired by her dedication, Quechua Benefit is working with local and regional officials to develop a Community Center in the same place where Sister Antonia operated the soup kitchen. The Community Center will breathe new life into the existing buildings and more than two acres of community garden area.

The Yanque community and surrounding areas will have an array of services available to them.  Children will be able to participate in after school sports and music, tutoring and vocational training. Adults will have access to nutrition education, prenatal care, job training, and economic empowerment.

We need your generous hearts to help make this project a life-changing reality.

By Mike Safley

Sister Antonia Kayser is a plucky 81 year-old Catholic nun with a secret. Born and raised in the borough of Brooklyn, New York she is a member of the Maryknoll Order. Sister Antonia has been feeding 800 dirt-poor people a day since 1973 from the courtyard of the church in Yanque, a small town in the Colca Valley of Peru. Antonia does this five days a week, year in year out. On Saturday she feeds 400 more-young children who rarely get enough to eat. If you were to do the math you would find that over the years, Antonia has provided hungry men, women, and children with nearly 6 million individual meals. She is legendary in the Colca Valley. I asked an Indian woman from the far end of the Valley, many hours away from Yanque, if she knew Sister Antonia. She replied, “I know of her-she is the nun who feeds people.”

“How do you feed all of those people?” I asked. Sister Antonia replied by having the gardener show me the green houses where the vegetables grow, and said, “come back tomorrow at daybreak.” I arrived as the mist was limping away from the morning sun in the town square. It is a very simple operation. A dozen gigantic soot-stained pots are filled with vegetables from the garden; add a little meat and gallons of water roped from the church’s hand-dug well. After simmering for hours, the soup is ladled out to the line of women and children who gather on the other side of the courtyard’s heavy wrought iron gate before dawn waiting, silently, patiently, for the gate to swing open, each clinging to a piece of dry cow dung or a tree branch to fuel the cook fire; it is their contribution to the meal. Antonia keeps a notebook with a checklist of people, the poorest of the poor, who get a ration for each person in their family. They sign in, their pail is filled, and they fade into the dawn. I asked Sister Antonia how she had supported this program for so many years. She replied, “God provides.”

I met Sister Antonia while working with the Quechua Benefit not long after we began our annual dental trips to the towns of the Colca Valley. But this story is not about pulling teeth. It is about the Cuy’s magical juxtaposition with modern medicine—about Antonia’s belief that the Cuy has cured her ills and prolonged her life.

I sat down for tea in the front room of Sister Antonia’s spartan quarters, the former sacristy of the church in Yanque with its white, cut-stone towers visible for miles. The entry door opens from a courtyard that is flanked by the greenhouses that grow vegetables for the daily offerings. The morning sun traced squares, filtered by the wood-framed window, on the worn planks of the kitchen table.

Sister Antonia was animated and full of enthusiasm for the day. I asked after her health. She turned 81 in 2005. “It’s great!” she said, “I have discovered a special remedy for all that ails me.”

Her blue eyes flashed conspiratorially when she leaned forward and said, “It’s the Cuy.”

Cuy? “Do you eat it?”

“Oh my no, we use it like a wha-ch‘a call it? CAT-scan.”

“A CAT-scan?”

“Yes, Sister Maria at the Maryknoll house in Arequipa is an expert at using Cuy to diagnose disease.”


“Oh my yes, she learned it from the Quechua women,” said Sister Antonia.

“How does it work?” I asked.

“Well you start with a fat, well-fed Cuy and you put it in a little cloth sack and place it over the important areas of your body, like the heart.”

Finally, I had to ask, “What is a Cuy?”

“A guinea pig,” she laughed, her bent spine twisting with mirth.

“A guinea pig?” I asked, not sure I had heard correctly.

“Oh yes, it’s actually very simple,” she said. “You just hold it on the problem areas for about an hour or so at each spot.”

Guinea pigs were first domesticated by the Indians of South America thousands of years ago. Also known as a cavy, a grown guinea pig weighs 2 pounds, is from 8-14 inches long and stands a few inches tall, living on the dirt floors and in the bedding of their Quechua keepers. They are the preferred prey of every known Peruvian predator, but the petite pigs survived by breeding at a young age and producing large litters. They have long been associated with healing powers, and almost every tourist visiting Peru has been offered this most traditional of delicacies for dinner.

“These guinea pigs, they cure you?” I asked.

“Oh no, it’s not that easy. Once she passes the Cuy over your body, Sister Maria slits its throat and dissects it—first the heart, then the lungs, bowels and so on.”

I tried to picture this nun, scalpel in hand, dispatching a clueless Cuy. I thought about Sister Antonia who rode the winds of fate to Lima, Peru in 1973, where she chose to live for five years, tending the sick and learning Spanish. From there she was called to Puno and spent another 5 years learning Aymara. But it was in Yanque that her heart and soul found a home some 17 years ago. Here she learned to speak Quechua and has never left the humble town for more than a few days. I was dumbfounded by what this gentle Maryknoll sister, with her close-cropped, elf-like, white hair told me next.

“Sister Maria studies the Cuy’s corpse and if she sees heart damage she gives you one remedy, if the guinea’s stomach has ulcers she prescribes something else. Maria has a remedy for every condition, in every part of the body.”

By now confused, I asked, “Do you mean to say that while the Cuy rests on your chest its body replicates any symptoms that you might have?”

“Oh yes, like I said, it’s a physical form of CAT-scan.”

“Really,” I murmured.

“Oh I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true, I have proof!”

“Really,” I murmured again.

“I was in pretty bad shape a while back, she said, and the sisters in Arequipa insisted that I come to the city to see a doctor. When I arrived, Sister Maria suggested I try the Cuy. I did and sure enough she found my problem. It was right there to see in the Cuy’s corpse!”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I took the potions she gave me and immediately began to feel better.”

“Really…” I thought about Antonia’s evangelistic belief in the Cuy’s power and her renewed health. I began to sense another force was at work.

“Here is the good part,” she said with her Brooklyn accent still resonant. “My fellow sisters insisted I go over to the hospital and see the doctor; they were skeptical of Sister Maria you know. I had to keep the whole gang happy so I went.”

Her eye’s lit up, and this tiny bundle of radiance, who feeds 800 people a day at no charge, finished her story.

“When the doctor gave me his diagnosis it was exactly as Maria had said just two days before! That’s how I know it’s true,” she beamed.

Sister Antonia, who many people in the Colca Valley believe to be a living saint, is healthy and vibrant today. Her frail frame may be spent, but her spirit is young. And in the corner of her yard, by the sunlit quarters off the chapel of the church in Yanque, are some of the best fed guinea pigs in all of Peru. I know that this wisp of a woman from Brooklyn believes that the Cuy keep her alive. But I believe it is God’s hand. There are so many people to feed, you see.