by Crooked Trails co-founder, Chris Mackay
Umasbamaba lies at over 13,000 feet in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, high in the Peruvian Andes. This small, impoverished, rural village, close to the main tourist highway to Machu Picchu, is passed over by the lucrative tourist trade. Travelers by the thousands continue down the road to visit the Sunday market and buy one-of a-kind weavings in the nearby town of Chinchero. For the past 6 years Crooked Trails has supported Chinchero weavers Paulino Quillahuaman Llancay and his wife Vilma at their weavers’ cooperative and community based tourism project. Using the funds they have made from selling weavings and hosting guests, Paulino decided to pay it forward and build a boarding school and weavers’ training center for the children of Usabamba. With the help of Crooked Trails Board President, Tracy Klinkroth and an anonymous group of donors, over $25,000 has been raised and construction on the boarding school has begun.
This summer, at the beginning of August, I visited Chinchero on the Crooked Trails Family Program with my 4 year old daughter and saw how fast the adobe brick walls were going up. Excited about the project, Paulino invited our group to visit Umasbamba to meet the children who would benefit from the boarding school. Upon our arrival, the president of the village came out to greet us. We brought tablets of paper, pencils and sharpeners for all the kids in the village. The president of the community made a very sincere thank you speech for the gifts, stating that every bit made a difference. However, I felt like these gifts were a small gesture, and so I asked the president point blank, “What do you really need in Umasbamba?” “Nutrition is our biggest problem,” he answered solemnly. A glance at the children, waiting patiently in line, verified this fact. A buzz went through our group of travelers as we brainstormed for an answer. A donation of cows to meet their daily milk needs seemed a viable solution. “How many families live in the village?” I inquired. “Thirty” he quickly replied. “So, we need thirty cows?” “No,” he replied, “one cow can provide milk for five families.” “Then we need six cows total.” I asked. “Yes, six cows.” He smiled.
Six cows will change the health of this community forever. I looked at my group and everyone was beaming, the thought of “we can do this” on everyone’s mind. Steve Havas, a father traveling with his 12 year old daughter, was standing next to me. “Count me in for a cow,” he said, “and maybe Tess’s class can earn the money for another”. The president’s eyes radiated with gratitude as I said, “We will have 6 cows for you come October”. As we rumbled back down the dirt road to Chinchero, there was a lot of excitement in the group as we plotted how many cows this small Crooked Trails group could donate.
Seis Vacas Para Peru is based on what other organizations, such as Heifer International, have done so successfully. The idea is that giving a live animal to a family which can provide milk and manure for years to come is more beneficial than giving small amounts of money to buy limited amounts of food. With 6 cows, this small Andean community will be able to provide badly needed nutrition for their children and can raise more cows in the future.
It’s amazing to think about how powerful and direct support can be. We can change the lives of a family in Umasbamba immediately. Each cow will cost $450 US and this will also provide funds to pay a local community member to manage the project; making sure that the community members learn how to care for the cows and that donors receive updates on their donations.
When International Program Director Tammy Leland was in Chinchero three weeks later, she let Paulino know that we were already making progress and would surely get all 6 the community had requested. Paulino was thrilled and also recognized that there is more planning and management of the project that needs to be done before moving forward to ensure it is sustainable and successful. He is already talking to agricultural engineers who have volunteered to offer free workshops for the community members on animal husbandry techniques and teaching them all they need to know about growing the right food for the cows so milk production is high. After that they will buy the cows, train to breed them and in 6 years there will be 30 cows, one for every family. With these cows they can then provide nutrition for the families as well as design a business plan for selling cheese.
The initial reaction from those who helped brainstorm the project has already created waves of support throughout family and friends, and sharing this story now with you will only further ensure that this great project for Umasbamba will be a success.
Needless to say, our little idea of helping the community of Umasbamba is going to a higher level. Sometimes all a community needs to change the future of its members is a little help from the outside. The rest they can take care of themselves. They are taking this donation very seriously and will work diligently to manage it. With our assistance, the health of Usabamba will change for the better starting this winter.
If you are interested in donating a cow to the families of Umasbamba, please contact Crooked Trails. You don’t have to buy a whole cow for $450, you can purchase part of a cow. We won’t stop at 6 cows- if we get more money, we can buy more cows and jump-start the project faster. Once a family has completed the training and the project manager feels they are ready we will start buying cows for villagers. That fast, that simple! Holy cow! Please join Crooked Trails in improving the nutrition of the children of Umasbamba.
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