Founder’s Story


Alpacas connect many of the supporters of Quechua Benefit to the shepherds of Peru. These hard-working people care for 95% of the alpacas on Earth, and this is why Quechua Benefit co-founder Mike Safley first came to visit Peru.

In 1984, Mike Safley became one of the first alpaca breeders in the USA, and in 1989, he was elected president of the fledgling Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA). He made his first trip to Peru in 1990 at the invitation of the International Alpaca Association (IAA), which is headquartered in Arequipa.

In 1996, Mike began working with the impoverished Quechua communities of the highlands at the request of a man who would become his dear friend: Don Julio Barreda. He was a world-renowned alpaca breeder and Mike wrote Alpacas: Synthesis of a Miracle, which chronicled Don Julio’s life and the history of the Peruvian alpaca industry. Don Julio was a famous breeder, but he had a wisdom that radiated far beyond alpacas. Our story begins with his simple request.

In 1996, Don Julio asked Mike, “Is there anything American alpaca breeders can do to help the poor Quechua children in my hometown of Macusani?”

The answer was yes and, Quechua Benefit was born.

Mike enlisted the help of a dentist, Mario Pedroza, who also raised alpacas. In November of 1996 they embarked on Quechua Benefit’s first mission to the Andes. The dental volunteers spent six days in Macusani which sits at 15,450 feet above sea level, seeing 907 patients. Quechua Benefit has had an ongoing presence in Peru ever since and is always expanding its mission and commitment to Don Julio Barreda, who passed away in 2009.

The difficulty of life in highland Peru is reflected in the infant mortality figures reported by Jorge A. Flores-Ochoa in his book, Pastoralists of the Andes: “26 percent of the infants born are dead before age one; 37.5 percent are dead before age five; 42 percent of all babies born are dead before they reach age ten.”

These dismal facts have not changed over time, yet the Andean alpaca shepherds have persisted.

Don Julio once told Mike, “The need in Peru is like a broken faucet. It never stops dripping.”

Since 1996, we have returned time and again, with hundreds of volunteers, to the Peruvian highlands to empower the Quechua people. With your support, we have delivered free healthcare to more than 100,000 patients, provided disaster relief, built a primary school called Casa Chapi, built community infrastructure, and have established life-long relationships with the people in Peru. But, there is still more to do. With your help, we intend to deliberately and strategically narrow our focus to address issues afflicting women and children. Now, more than ever, women need fair wages. Children need better education. We cannot wait, we cannot linger.

Mike believes believe that Quechua Benefit’s volunteers and donors will continue to participate with the charity as long as they feel the love generated by their gifts of time and treasure. He invites all of you to join with Quechua Benefit and help turn love into hope for the Quechua children and hard-working families of Peru.


Mike and Don Julio in Macusani, 1992

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