Educational Social Enterprise Efforts in Peru (3)

Katie Marney is a recent graduate of McGill University where she studied Political Science and Economics. She's an American citizen who has lived outside her home country for 18 years -across 4 different continents. She first travelled to Peru in 2010 to co-lead Project Conectados through the Peruvian NGO, Wasiymi Wasiki. Following that experience, she joined as permanent staff.

Wasiymi Wasiki was founded to empower youth by giving them the skills to pull themselves out of poverty. Its name means "my home is your home" in Quechua, the indigenous language spoken in the Andes mountains of Peru. It helps kids in Peru's marginalized classes. The NGO focuses on economic development through education. Project Conectados, the flagship project, installs computer labs.

For Pachachaca's new computer lab program to work, Wasiymi Wasiki still had to solve the problem of sustainability. Any solution that asked the parents to make a paid commitment would be a hardship.

Wasiymi Wasiki proposed the solution - creating a microbusiness, but left the question of what to the parents. Pachachaca's isolation and lack of transport ruled out many options, like handicrafts sold to tourists, or even baked goods. After discussions with the school parents, a solution emerged: Guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs are indigenous to this region and are seen as a being distinct to Andean culture, much like llamas and alpacas. They were first domesticated and bred by groups even before the Incas to be eaten at feasts and religious ceremonies. Today, they are revered in Andean culture. They're a standard part of the Andean diet: guinea pigs are higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken or pork. They're also believed to be a remedy for common illnesses. "I wish we had a black guinea pig for you," said the host mother of a sick volunteer. "That would heal you - we just rub it over your head, heart, and feet, and the illness passes from you to it." Many people in the region raise guinea pigs in their homes for their own consumption, or to sell.

Start-up costs for a guinea pig farm are low; many resources are sourced locally. The school's Parent Association constructed the barn from adobe, a cheap local material made of mud, which insulates so well that it's appropriate for this extreme climate. "We even build our own houses with it," tells Gregorio Cahuani, president of the Parent Association, who led construction.

Wasiymi Wasiki, together with the local government, donated the final materials, including a tin roof and the first generation of guinea pigs. Such farms producing 20-30 animals a week are compact and require little day-to-day maintenance for cleaning and upkeep. The animals can be fed by "wet" food or greens grown locally. Guinea pigs are adapted to the climate without need for additional heating.

The life cycle from birth to market is 3 months. Soon after birthing, females can become pregnant again. Mature guinea pigs can be sold at regional markets for up to $5 each. "By having the kids take care of the guinea pigs, we put this enterprise in their hands, and connect them to project's long-term success," says project leader Isaac Pucllas.

The microbusiness generates an income for the computer lab - without taking away from the livelihoods of families. The school is able to pay for their own Internet subscription. With what's left over, they're able to cover repairs or save up to buy more computers.

The program enables students to participate in the business. Young people are included in all stages; from farm to market. With help from a local agricultural expert, students learn how to care for the animals. Through teachers and volunteers, students gain basic financial literacy to run the business - keeping an inventory, budgeting, and saving. Between the microbusiness and the computer lab, Wasiymi Wasiki turns the school into a vocational training center. The students pick up practical skills to apply to their lives, whatever they go on to do.

The goal is to show students there are opportunities in their own community. On my visits to Pachachaca, I often ask kids, so what's next? More than half reply that they plan to leave for Lima; "There's nothing for me here except mud and rain," said one girl. In Pachachaca, if kids don't carry on the family farming business, the majority move to the city. This enterprise is just a small step, but an important one for local young people to experience the potential for success in their community.

I'll be heading to Pachachaca starting in October to lead of group of volunteers to do various workshops for the students and teachers. Meanwhile, Wasiymi Wasiki is preparing to expand this program into other rural areas. We're hoping to have 3 more computer labs and microbusinesses installed in the next year.

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