Latin American Foundation for the Future

Enriching Our Educadoras

Recently, we raised a glass in honour of a huge achievement from a few educadoras in our partner projects. An educador comunitario (the shorthand female version being educador), for those unfamiliar with the term, is someone who works, and sometimes lives, with marginalised people, offering them emotional and academic support. In line with our capacity building strategy, we were thrilled to be able to enable two educadoras from our partners Sacred Valley Project and Mosqoy and to watch another educadora from Casa Mantay attend a workshop on sexuality and intervention.

Here at LAFF, we believe in providing the staff members of each of our partner projects with as many opportunities as possible to expand their skills and knowledge and this workshop was incredibly valuable given the type of work we do. Many of the children that end up in the care of our projects have suffered abuse in some way and in some cases this abuse is of a sexual nature. Casa Mantay is a particularly notable example of this as it houses young women as young as 12 years old who have become pregnant, usually involuntarily.

The situations that many of the educadoras have to face on a daily basis are delicate to say the least and so it is of pivotal importance that they are given the best resources possible to handle the issues of the children as effectively as possible.  After the workshop, we asked the educadoras whether or not they thought it had been useful and, candidly, what they thought of the experience. The feedback we got was overwhelming positively with the educadora from the Sacred Valley Project explaining that the workshop helped “enrich my knowledge of the problems that affect our society” while the Mosqoy representative said she was grateful for the “support and assistance that I was given to attend this workshop”.

Three women attending a workshop might not seem like a reason to start celebrating but this accomplishment signifies a lot more than first meets the eye. As the staff in our partner projects become more informed, they are able to better help the children in their care, which in turn will help these children to no end as they journey along the road to independence. With more informed and independent adults contributing to society, we will undoubtedly start to see things change for the better. So here’s to our wonderful educadoras!

Getting to Know Katerina from the T’anta Wasi Bakery and Sacred Valley Project

There’s a new girl in town, and she’s taking the T’anta Wasi Bakery in Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley into her own hands. Meet Katerina Caballero, a motivated and inspiring woman who, together with LAFF, is transforming a new local bakery into a catalyst to help the young girls at Sacred Valley Project with funding for their education. Sacred Valley Project supports young girls from rural areas to receive an education where under their given circumstances it would be extremely difficult. We had the opportunity for a Q and A session with Katerina to learn more about her, as well as her plans and aspirations for the future of the bakery and Sacred Valley Project.

Katerina Caballero, new manager of the T’anta Wasi Bakery in Ollantaytambo.

Q. What is your role at the T’anta Wasi bakery?


A. As the Administrator I will oversee sales, finance, management and the business development of T’anta Wasi. My role is to make sure T’anta Wasi run smoothly and sustainably with future growth and development in mind. Also, developing a platform for the girls at The Sacred Valley Project to learn a little about how to start and run their own businesses is one of the goals of administration. This will empower the young women by giving them the tools and the confidence to learn basic administrative responsibilities of running a business.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where are you from and why did you decide to come and work here in Sacred Valley?

A. I was born in Denver, CO. My parents both immigrated to the states from Peru and Panama. I studied Environmental Design with an emphasis in Architecture at the University of Boulder in Colorado and I have been working in the fields of architectural and structural drafting, designing, and project management since my first internship at age nineteen. After graduating University, I spent some time as a project manager and freelance designer. Throughout the years, I took half of my time to travel. I was able to get to know 13 countries throughout Europe, Scandinavia and South America couch surfing, back packing and adventuring all around. Naturally, I fell in love with Peru. I have a lot of family here and the number of places to see are infinitely beautiful. Peru never ceases to amaze me. Thus, I decided to pursue the paperwork for citizenship. I had been living, working remotely, and volunteering in Lima for 6 months waiting on paper work to be processed when my cousin, Nicole, had informed me of the position opening for The Sacred Valley Project. I had heard a lot of the project through Nicole’s stories and experiences living and working in the dorms with the girls and I was excited to learn more. Within a month of talking with her and Alex, I had submitted my final paper work for citizenship to immigrations and made my way down here to Ollantaytambo.

Q. How do you plan on making the bakery stand out from the rest? What makes it special?

A. Through my experiences of design it is important to me that the bakery has a strong aesthetic, story and product and that these aspects coincide with one another. We did a little renovation that has already made a world of a difference by bringing a unique but still cozy rural feel to the bakery. We also wanted to open the space up for it to also be used as a café, which doesn’t exist in Ollantaytambo. In my travels to the Sacred Valley Project in Calca I encountered a man that grows his own coffee, roasts it and would transport at a reasonable price, keeping the bakery/cafe local and affordable. We have also hired a great baker that not only has experience with bread and cakes but also will be making pizzas for the cafe, both take home and in house personal pizzas. As for the story, T’anta Wasi will stand in support of the girls at the Sacred Valley Project and help empower and tell their stories of the importance of education in the valley, especially for young women. We want T’anta Wasi to be a community bakery-cafe that caters to diverse groups of clients!

Q. What do you hope to gain from the bakery for Sacred Valley Project? What is the trajectory of the bakery – Any plans for the future?

A. I hope to help build this business up to be the start of something more for the education of the girls of the Sacred Valley Project. My mother has worked in education for 25 years and it has been instilled in me that education is an essential catalyst to growth and change for the betterment of a community as a whole. I am excited for the opportunity to start something that will benefit such a cause. T’anta Wasi’s trajectory will be to be able to help support some of the costs of the girl’s school supplies, costs of living, and transportation. In the future T’anta Wasi will also aspire to become a pilot program that will teach these young women how to administer a business of their own one day. Our goal is to gain enough traction to then become a template for sustainable business design that would support other projects similar to that of The Sacred Valley Project.

Working together to fight violence against women

On the thirteenth of August this year, Peruvian woman made a stand. They became a multi-generational force to be reckoned with; women who were fed up with the ever-present domestic violence in their country, paired with a general lack of support from judicial powers. From small children to the elderly, they were joined by husbands, brothers, sons and friends who came to the streets of Lima to march in protest of violence against women. This movement, ‘Ni Una Menos’, rallied over 150,000 people from across the country, making it the largest demonstration in Peruvian history, and sparked similar marches and protests in cities around the world.

Image by Pedro Lazaro Fernandez via www.clarin.com

The problem of violence against women is far from a new one, nor is it confined to a specific culture, country or societal group; it’s a universal issue that pervades the daily lives of women around the globe. This type of violence takes on many forms, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse, and has a lasting and devastating effect on its victims. The emotional, physical and economical effects of violence against women trickle down to their children and families as well, likely creating an ongoing cycle of violence from generation to generation.

According to UN studies, one in three women globally will suffer sexual or physical violence in their lifetime; a figure we can no longer ignore. Violence against women is the inevitable result of discrimination and of persistent inequalities between men and women, but finding a solution is far from impossible. The occurrence of this type of violence is changing as more and more organizations around the world are leveling the playing field for women. Now more than ever, there are organizations worldwide which aim to inspire women and young girls with opportunities for education and practical skills, helping them become independent and self-sufficient.

 

Here in Peru, the need for assistance is being challenged by organizations who seek to embolden women to help themselves escape abuse. Casa Mantay, one of our partner organizations here in Cusco, is leading the fight to empower young mothers in the region, many of which have been victims of abuse. They provide a healthy and caring living environment where the women can not only heal, but learn the skills they need to live the life they envision for themselves. Another partner organization, the Sacred Valley Project, is making large strides in providing access to education for indigenous young women from low-income families in the more remote areas of the Andes. These girls are provided with safe housing, nutritional meals, tutoring and schooling – a privilege not often awarded to girls in such areas – giving them the tools to become equal and influential leaders in their community. The difference being made by these organizations is undeniable, and many of the young women who’ve benefited from their support are setting a shining example for others within their communities.

Young mother at Casa Mantay

With the help of donors, supporters and volunteers, organizations like these here in Peru and around the world are changing the local and global scene for gender equality. More and more people are realizing the immeasurable benefits of supporting such organizations, both within their own community and worldwide. The collective voice of the 150,000 women, children and men heard during the historic march earlier this year is resonating strongly throughout even the most remote corners of the country, and crossing borders. Slowly but surely we are heading towards a world where women are not only viewed as equals, but as leaders, innovators and powerful voices that command respect.

Exploring Barriers to Education for Young Peruvians

What did you want to be when you grew up? Chances are you didn’t end up as the astronaut or rock star that you thought you would be, right? As young people, our career ambitions and goals change as we grow older and progress, along with our aspirations and expectations for education. There are different reasons why these change; We might develop new interests, or maybe we begin to look at more realistic and viable career options and change our path.

The authors of the report, ‘Education aspirations among young people in Peru and their perceptions of barriers to higher education’, analyze a study by the group Young Lives, which follows young people in Peru over the course of 15 years and documents how their educational aspirations are influenced by other factors such as their parent’s educational aspirations, their socio-economic status and their access to resources.

The study shows that both young Peruvians and their parents have high aspirations for education, although the motivations are different between urban and rural areas. In urban areas, higher education is seen as essential to getting a good job, whereas education in rural areas is seen as a means to escape poverty and “be someone”.

It’s clear that young people in Peru value education, and this probably reflects the high value that their parents also put on education. Parents want their children to become successful adults, so the appreciation of education is instilled in them at a young age. In spite of these aspirations however, a low percentage of young people make it past secondary school in Peru. According to the National Household Survey 2012, only 28 per cent of young people between 17 and 24 years were enrolled in higher education. Regardless of this desire to achieve higher education, there are clearly barriers that are preventing young people from following through with their ambitions.

The study showed that the aspirations of many young people and parents changed over time, for various reasons. For some it was an issue of monetary constraints and pressure from the family to begin working right away. Many experience this type of psychological barriers. As they get closer to graduation and the future becomes more imminent, they aren’t receiving as much support from their families or feeling “backed up” in their decision to pursue university. What seems to be a common factor for many is the lack of guidance and information on higher education in schools, such as what and where to study and how to apply. Young people seem to lack an understanding of how to access university.

The authors conclude that the lack of information and vocational guidance for young people in school is a significant problem that needs to be handled. This information needs to be provided not only within schools but throughout the community and to the general public. Parents and caregivers must also be knowledgeable about the process of applying for university and helping the young people in their lives plan for the future. To tackle this problem here in Cusco, LAFF and its partner organizations have a strong focus in equipping young people with the tools they need to achieve their aspirations and become successful adults. From resume-building workshops to career guidance and assistance for attaining higher education, we are making changes for the better. Armed with guidance for their future, many beneficiaries of our organizations have or are enrolling in university and finally achieving their career goals.

With the help of donors and supporters, the possibility of going to university is now within reach for many young people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. With your help, we’ll continue to educate and empower young people to pursue and achieve their educational aspirations – and accept nothing less.

Amber Kremer – 24 November, 2016

 

Helping “Every Last Child” with Save the Children

Looking back on our childhood, there are likely a few phrases we all dreaded hearing: “Finish your vegetables.” “Do your homework.” “You’re going to the dentist.” What we didn’t realize at the time, is how privileged we were to be able enjoy wholesome meals, go to school every day and have medical doctors to keep us healthy. Millions of children around the world don’t receive these basic needs, and this problem only worsens as the disparity between the rich and the poor increases.
Save the Children’s new campaign, “Every Last Child”, aims to tackle the issue at local, national and international levels. They’ve released a report which details the issue, along with some astounding real-life numbers and statistics of children living in poverty, which you can find in its entirety here: Save the Children Report

Young Indian girl – Courtesy of Save the Children

According to the report, many children are experiencing a combination of poverty and discrimination, leading them to “exclusion”. This means that children who experience discrimination based on who they are or where they live, combined with poverty, prevents them from getting the food, healthcare and education they need. Unfortunately, the voices of these children and their communities often go unheard, so change is extremely difficult. In Peru, for example, Quechua children are 1.6 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday and twice as likely to have stunted growth than their Spanish-speaking counterparts, based on the organization’s research. The main causes of exclusion are the financial barriers of paying for basic services, discrimination and the lack of accountability for law-makers and those in power who fail to make decisions that benefit the population living in poverty. According to the study, “excluded” children are more likely to have poor access to basic services (education, health services, clean water, electricity, etc.), they are more likely to experience violence and be persecuted for their beliefs and they often face psychological damage.
There are many different groups of children who are likely to be excluded, which include minority ethnic groups, girls, refugees and children living in disadvantaged or remote regions. There’s also concern for children with disabilities, those living in the streets and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or intersex (LGBTQI), although there is little data on these groups.
Save the Children has called on world leaders to make three guarantees to all children: fair finance, equal treatment and accountability. Access to essential services must be a funding priority to ensure it reaches all children and that they are affordable to everyone. Discriminatory laws, norms and behaviors must be challenged and all births must be registered in an effort to ensure equal treatment. Policy-makers must include children from the most marginalized groups in their decision-making process to keep their accountability in check.

Boys in Ethiopia – Courtesy of Save the Children

The challenge to bring equality to the most marginalized children is a colossal one – but not impossible. Every day, people and organizations around the world fight for this cause. Here in the Cusco region, our partner organizations are making strides in providing these basic services to those children who need them most, with the help of donors and volunteers. The Azul Wasi orphanage aims to provide these basic needs and more for boys who once lived in the streets. The Sacred Valley Project and Mosqoy provide educational opportunities for children in remote or marginalized regions. Casa Mantay helps young mothers leave abusive environments in exchange for a safe, supportive home and access to education. The success of this campaign requires the collaboration of everyone; not just world leaders and policy makers. Together we can bring about a change and level the playing field for children around the world.

telling the story of LAFF

I can’t breathe. My lungs are desperately trying to escape my rib cage in a bid to find more oxygen. My first flight of stairs in Cusco is turning into an ordeal.

One month later and I’m merrily trotting along at 4000m, on one of the many treks I have done in Cusco and the Sacred Valley – some of the most remarkable scenery I have ever seen. There is an embarrassing amount to do around here and my personal highlights are like something out of a nature documentary. Like the nature documentaries that leave you in stunned silence for the rest of the week.

Andreas (left) with Dan and Rachel, tow LAFF volunteers, enjoying a sunrise on the edge of the Andes mountain range

There was a trek to Choquequirao, an Inca ruin that’s so remote there were only eight visitors on the day we went. The food in Arequipa nearly outmatched the trek through nearby Colca Canyon, one that makes the ‘Grand’ Canyon look tame. And Lake Titicaca was so relaxing I was nearly horizontal for the week after. There was also something called Machu Picchu.

I had a hard Brexit from the UK. After a few years working in London and paying debilitating amounts of rent, I was ready to leave, and sharpish. I applied to volunteer with LAFF to experience working in International Development, living abroad and learning a new language. Or at least attempting to learn a new language.

Andreas with the former fundraising coordinator Alex on a walk to the remote inca ruin of choquequirao

As LAFF’s Communications Coordinator, and later taking on the role of Fundraising Coordinator, I have immensely enjoyed my work and learnt an incredible amount.

Communications is about telling a story, and LAFF has quite a story to tell. The young people and organisations we support are achieving great things under difficult circumstances. Faced with abuse, neglect and discrimination before arriving at our partner organisations, the young people are carving out a future for themselves that defies their past, whilst our organisations do remarkable work, helping the young people overcome these barriers. And LAFF is right there in the thick of it, paying the school fees, educating the young people in the ‘soft skills’ they will need to get a job and helping the organisations become more sustainable and effective.

We have also commented on social issues, with blogs about the ‘Ni Una Menos’ demonstration against violence towards women and other articles on topics such as children’s rights. LAFF works in an environment that is not always in agreement of our aims to educate and empower young boys and girls who have suffered abuse and discrimination, and it is important that we are commenting on the movements and initiatives that are aiming to tackle the systemic issues behind our work.

I’ve also helped out with LAFF’s fundraising, grant writing and dabbled in some marketing for our partner organisations social enterprises. I’ve even assisted with an art workshop; as one of the young women at the Sacred Valley Project put it: ‘He doesn’t understand what is going on, but he is helping.’ I guess I’ll just have to take that one on the chin.

Andreas next to a glacier on one of the many walks he did throughout the Sacred Valley

To me, LAFF’s work is an interesting model for the International Development sector; one which I think by-passes many of the issues plagues by the sector, like working in opposition to local communities or only applying a sticking plaster to the issues it aims to resolve. LAFF’s ethos of working through local partner organisations, making them more sustainable through social enterprises, as well as cost reduction initiatives providing training for their staff, leaves a long-lasting legacy; a legacy where the organisations and young people can move towards a future independent of outside support.

Grudgingly, I am about to briefly return to the UK, but I leave Peru optimistic about the future of LAFF, the young people and organisations we support, and this incredible country.

Andreas Sampson Geroski – 17th November 2016

Children’s Rights in Peru

“Mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give”

These words are enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 20th November 1959. Thirty years later, on the same date, these fundamental rights became legally binding when the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention has been instrumental in providing a common framework and global agenda for the development of children, influencing the policy of NGOs and states alike.

On 20thNovember each year the United Nations marks these landmark moments through Universal Children’s Day, which aims to promote the ideals of the Convention and the welfare of children across the globe. The fundamental rights proclaimed by the Convention include the right to an education, to health care and to be protected from violence and exploitation. In essence, the Convention declares the right of children to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment and achieve their full potential.

The boys at Azul Wasi at a LAFF workshop – education is part of the human rights

The Convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, with virtually all nations signed up, including Peru. Yet today it is all too common that these rights are violated.

A recent report on Peru by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child highlighted a number of areas for concern. Whilst it welcomed the adoption of a national plan of action for children and increased resources to implement this, the report identified many hardships which Peruvian children continue to face. It noted that “patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes that discriminate against girls” have resulted in a “prevalence” of violence against girls, including domestic and sexual violence. The report highlights the deficiencies in the protection system for victims of child abuse, due to a lack of resources.

Furthermore, it expresses concern that education is not accessible to all Peruvian children. In particular, there are lower enrolment rates for children living in rural areas and high rates of school dropouts for girls, especially those who become pregnant.

Improving the lives of Peruvian children and safeguarding their rights is central to LAFF’s work. LAFF supports two homes for vulnerable young people; Casa Mantay, a home for adolescent mothers in Cusco, and Azul Wasi in Oropesa, which provides a home for abandoned boys who have lived on the streets. Both these projects help children who have been denied their fundamental rights.

The young women at Casa Mantay have all been victims of abuse, neglect or discrimination. With their families unable or unwilling to support them the girls have been thrust into adulthood and forced to face severe hardship at an early age. Casa Mantay provides a safe environment for the girls to raise their children as well as providing emotional and practical support. Similarly, before coming to Azul Wasi, many of the boys have suffered violence, exploitation and abuse. The home reclaims their right to live in a safe and nurturing environment where they can be children again.

Young women at Casa Mantay discuss a piece of work during a LAFF literacy skills workshop

Another key purpose of both homes is to ensure the young people they house receive an education. The right to an education for all children, regardless of their background, is a key principle of the Convention.  The girls living at Casa Mantay have generally had their schooling interrupted due to the abuse they have suffered and the home allows them to continue their studies. LAFF also provides vocational training through workshops which enable the girls to further develop their skills and achieve independence in the future. At Azul Wasi the costs of school enrolment, uniform and other resources are provided for and the home also has a small library, laptops and a tutor to facilitate their studies.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child envisages children not as passive objects of charity but as individuals who have the right to a positive upbringing which promotes their personal development. Projects like Casa Mantay and Azul Wasi are crucial to fulfilling this goal for some of Peru’s most vulnerable children. With their help such children are able to enjoy their childhood and go on to have a successful and independent future.

Becky Morton, Remote LAFF volunteer – 10th November 2016

 

Breaking down the barriers to female education

Just 3 in 10 Peruvian girls from rural Andean communities enrol into secondary school. This is a statistic that should worry us all.

Whilst there has been a growing awareness in recent years of the need to address gender inequality in Peruvian education, significant barriers still remain. The challenges are particularly great for girls growing up in traditional rural communities.  These remote communities often lack access to basic public services such as education. Secondary schools tend to only be located in town centres, which are too far away to travel to on foot. When funds are limited, families too often prioritise the education of boys. As a result girls are less likely to continue their studies than their male counterparts.

A young girl from the SVP project enjoying a joke with a LAFF volunteer

Sacred Valley Project, one of LAFF’s partners, is working to change this. The project works with girls from low-income families in the remote mountain communities of the Sacred Valley, who show academic potential but are unable to access secondary education without the charity’s support. The project provides safe accommodation, educational resources and support to the girls to enable to them to continue their studies.

The project now runs two dormitories for girls in the towns of Ollantaytambo and Calca. The girls are able to live in the dormitories during the week whilst they attend school and then return to their villages at weekends or during the holidays to spend time with their families. In Calca girls come from communities which are as far as three hours by car or six hours by foot. Without the provision of accommodation in the town, they simply would not be able to continue their studies.

Young women from the SVP project working together at a LAFF workshop

However the dormitories are much more than just a place to sleep. The girls also benefit from extra support and a nurturing environment to ease their transition to their new school and what is often a very different way of life. Many children from rural communities do not speak Spanish as their first language and may be used to studying in the indigenous language of Quechua. The dormitories therefore provide a Quechua-speaking school tutor to help the girls cope with the increased academic demands they face and achieve their full potential. LAFF also helps run workshops at the dormitories in topics such as self-esteem to develop the soft skills that are essential to their development.

Two young women from the SVP project working during a LAFF workshop

As well as practical barriers to accessing secondary education, girls from rural communities also face the challenge of traditional gender norms which see men as the head of the household. As a result the education and careers of women are often not prioritised. By providing an education to rural girls, Sacred Valley Project helps to instil the value of female education and challenge prejudices. When they return to their families, educated girls have a higher earning potential which can in turn benefit their communities. Research by UNICEF has also found educated women are more likely to ensure their own children receive a good education, creating a domino effect and a virtuous circle.

Female education doesn’t just enable individuals to achieve their potential, it can help to break the cycle of poverty and improve the lives of future generations in their communities for years to come. This is why the work of LAFF and the Sacred Valley Project is so essential.

Written by Becky Morton

Monday 24th October 2016

Funding for the Future

A discussion at the Fundraising Workshop

Part of LAFF’s mission in Cusco is to support other NGO’s in their work and to capacity build for their staff. This is why Catriona, our recent Programmes Coordinator, recently hosted a fundraising workshop for the Red Semilla NGO network in Cusco.

Catriona presented to representatives from 9 local NGO’s (including one of our partners, Casa Mantay) that work with socially disadvantaged young people. The presentation went through different fundraising techniques, from how to write grant applications to creating their own campaigns and how to reach new audiences. Part of this was based on how to explain the incredible impact these charities have on the lives of young people in Cusco and across the Sacred Valley region.

This workshop was based on a fundraising handbook that several of LAFF’s volunteers have worked to produce for our partner organisations, and the broader NGO community in Cusco. Covering issues like writing grant applications, creating fundraising campaigns and communicating with donors; this work is part of LAFF’s commitment to share our skills with other NGOs and build the capacity of our partner organisations. The handbook will be a valuable resource as our partner organisations look for new sources of income to become more sustainable in the future.

As part of the workshop the attendees had to create their own fundraising strategy to practise their newly acquired skills for a made-up NGO, the Llama Society! Thankfully there weren’t too many llama based puns, but the suggestions coming forward showed that already the organisations have lots of exciting ideas and plans that can be replicated for their own organisations. Each organisation received a copy of the fundraising handbook to take away and explore different fundraising strategies, and what would be the best approach for their organisation.

LAFF’s work to support those organisations in the Red Semilla network, through the fundraising handbook and workshop, reflect our values and approach. By developing the skills of these organisations they can become self-sustainable in the future and independent of outside help – ensuring long term stability for the organisations and the young people they support.

 

The attendees at the fundraising workshop!

 

 

Ollanta has a new chef!

Ambition, originality and excellence: Ollanta has an exciting new chef!

After winding through the Sacred Valley, following the meanders of the Urubamba, our colectivominibus rattles over the Incan paving to reach Ollantaytambo’s sunny plaza. Mountains rise high on all sides of the square, including the jagged snowy peak of Apu Veronica. There is a magic about this small town. Even with frequent busloads of tourists arriving to see the incredible Incan terraces and continue on to Machu Picchu, the town has nothing of Cusco’s hustle and bustle. The houses are modest and quaint, while the mountains are so imposing that they never fail to take the breath away.

We wander down the hill from the plaza and cross the bridge. Overlooking the stream is a new building, earthen orange with wooden balconies and a list of Peruvian specialities by the door. The restaurant is framed by the buttresses and slopes of the surrounding mountains. Above the sign for Apu Veronica Restaurant, a wooden plaque proclaims the space a panoramic restaurant. Ascending to the second floor, it is indeed a special spot not only for natural beauty, but also for a view directly across to Ollanta’s famous ruins, etched into the hillside by Incan royalty as part of their famous agricultural system.

Carmen outside of Apu Veronica

At the table beside us, a large group is enjoying their meal of alpaca steaks a la piedra. When the food is brought to table, the steaks are still sizzling and steam rises over the thick-cut potato wedges and the anticuchera meat sauce, made with Peruvian spicy pepper, aji panca, and traditional Peruvian corn drink, chicha de jora.

Apu Veronica is barely three months old, but already it is making its mark on the culinary scene in Ollantaytambo. In just a matter of weeks, owners Carmen Rosa Mescco and Henry Monroy Olivera have established their 4.5 star rated restaurant in the top 10 of over 50 Ollantaytambo restaurants listed on TripAdvisor. And that’s not all. Their success story becomes even more impressive after talking to Carmen about her journey to opening the restaurant and becoming a business owner at the age of 23 years old.

Carmen grew up in the town of Ollantaytambo, but her mother often walked the three hours to their family’s village, where they own a piece of land and work the fields. The importance of Andean agriculture is clear in the decorations that adorn the restaurant walls, including the taclla, a distinctive type of plough used in the Andes since pre-Columbian times.

Some LAFF volunteers tucking in at Apu Veronica!

Community spirit has been key to the foundation of the restaurant. Carmen cites the financial help of her business and life partner, Henry, as well as his father, who works as a carpenter and made the restaurant’s tables from scratch. Neighbours and family friends come to the restaurant with flowers and decorative baskets to help make it a welcoming space.  Carmen says that she’s truly grateful to her community for their collaboration in making her dream a reality.

Earlier this year, Carmen finished her course in gastronomy in Cusco, where she has been studying for the past three years. Carmen lived in a house for post-secondary students who come from rural communities throughout the Cusco region. The project that supported her education and her living costs is called the Andean Youth Programme, one of the central initiatives of Canadian-Peruvian charity Mosqoy. Mosqoy, which means dream in Quechua, the local indigenous language, has been funding the post-secondary education of twenty students every year for the past decade. The aim of the project is that after learning a skill and establishing their profession, AYP students will return to their communities to contribute to the local economy. This is exactly what Carmen is doing.

Some of the amazing food served up at Apu Veronica

She talks about her three years at Casa Mosqoy as a unique time in which the students, volunteers and resident adviser shared many things, including the exchange of cultures and languages. Mosqoy also helped her organise the internship with a high-end Cusco restaurant which gave her many of the skills she now has. I ask her about the beautiful presentation of the causa dish, and the special sauce and perfectly tender alpaca meat. She says that many of her skills in the kitchen she learned while studying and many of them she picked up in the kitchen of the restaurant where she worked before. However, despite Carmen’s modesty, she has an innate ability when it comes to producing high quality food and knowing how to make it just as appealing on the plate as it is in the mouth.

She says that she has always watched closely, so as to copy the dishes that are most popular with diners and then work on improving them. Even at this early stage in her career, Carmen has long-term goals and an ambitious vision. She wants Apu Veronica to become the first of a chain of thematic restaurants that not only offers local folkloric entertainment, but also teaches Quechua and cooking classes in the morning. She says, “I hope that the restaurant will be unique and different to all the rest. I want to present my culture to visitors so that they can enjoy it and get to know Andean music and dance, as well as our cuisine.”

Dinner for two

Opening up a restaurant has always been Carmen’s dream. She talks about the economic problems her family had growing up, and the sacrifices her single mother made for Carmen and her siblings. Mosqoy gave Carmen the opportunity to realise her most longstanding ambitions. She smiles when I ask about her connection to the charity and what it made possible for her; “When the restaurant is more established, I will pay the studies of a future Mosqoy student. I want to do that for them. I want to give the very best that I can to Mosqoy, who gave everything to me.”

Henry tells me that initially, it wasn’t easy. The first few days they were nervous that no one would come. However, he explains that Carmen never gives up. She is “so, so hardworking. She takes the initiative and she keeps going. She is an example for Mosqoy students and for all of us.”

Carmen smiles shyly and admits that she has always wanted to be her own boss. “When you work for other people, you worry that they won’t pay you a good salary, that they will treat you badly. I always knew that I wanted to work for myself.” Henry adds that it’s a very different ball-game, working and having your own business. The 27-year-old exclaims that he never thought he would be pursuing the latter, and if it weren’t for Carmen’s ambitiousness, he wouldn’t be doing this today.

The couple muse about the multiple responsibilities of working in the kitchen, serving, managing the business and overseeing all aspects of running the restaurant. They say it is “a different reality.” They are clearly still in awe at all that they have achieved over the past few short months. “For us, it was an experiment, you know?” Henry tells me.As I look out over the incredible beauty of Ollantaytambo, of which Apu Veronica restaurant is in the midst, and then back at the neighbouring tables filled with homemade tortillas and guacamole and immaculately presented tarwi humous appetisers, I respond; “well, this experiment certainly paid off.”

Catriona Spaven-Donn

LAFF Programmes Coordinator

 
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