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Editor’s note: Jose Carlos Ugaz is a volunteer for Heifer Peru based in Lima, Peru. One of Heifer’s most innovative projects is the “Healthy Homes” project in which we work with families to redesign their housing and sanitation and restructure their farming plots to improve their health and promote better efficiency in raising their animals. Jose visited a Heifer project in Cusco and shares his reflection and experience.

A day before our field visit we were discussing where to go, and finally decided on one of the furthest and poorest places in Cusco: the Sahuancay community, located in the Marcapata district. My hosts told me that it would be a three-hour climb. Though nervous, I was mostly enthusiastic and looked forward to taking advantage of this unique opportunity and wanted to make the most of the trip.

Around seven in the morning, we got to the foot of a mountain. As our car couldn’t handle the terrain anymore, we were left to walk, however the weather wasn’t in our favor—the rain was pouring down on us. We all had to layer on more clothes to keep from freezing, and our hike began.

This is where we met 50-year-old Epifania Condemayta who accompanied us along the way. She is one of the principal promoters in Heifer Peru’s Healthy Homes Program as part of an umbrella project in Cusco. Even though Epifania had the option to wait for us at her home, her kind heart preferred to show us the route so we could visit more.

Epifania at her home in Peru
Epifinia shows off the improvements to her home.

The walk was beautiful with the perfect combination of landscapes, snow-capped mountains, hills—it was Mother Nature at her best. I’m from the Peruvian coast and sitting at 14,750 feet is tough for anyone normally. The lightheaded feeling can often cause anxiety. I wasn’t scared, but mostly excited. And the air was so clean that it was a bit refreshing.

After crossing hills, valleys, rocks and creeks, we finally arrived. At Epifania’s house we met her husband, 56-year-old Francisco Champi, who welcomed us with arms wide open. The couple, who is devoted to alpaca breeding, started to tell us the most significant changes they have experienced thanks to the Heifer project.

It has only been two years since they made their “talking maps” and the changes are already evident in many aspects of their lives. Their “talking maps” are drawings made by all the families in the project at the beginning of implementation where they plan in detail the distribution and design of their new houses.

Epifania tells us, “Today there is a better distribution of the space in our house. Our bedroom is separated from our children’s and our kitchen and living room layout have been improved. The storeroom that holds food and supplies now has its own special place. We have a place to store our fiber. Now we feel calmer and we live more comfortably.”

While Epifania and Francisco continued telling us the improvements in their lives, health, and food, they offered us delicious homemade soup and quinoa-apple porridge.

“We always wanted to improve our house from the very beginning. But we really didn’t know how. Thanks to the technical assistance and the training carried out by Heifer Peru, we were able to make this dream come true.

Their daughter, 14-year-old Martha joined us. She is Epifania and Francisco’s youngest child. Martha tells us, “Now everything is clean and the soot left from our stove has disappeared. My father is healthier because of the absence of smoke in the house, he doesn’t cough as much as he used to.

We stayed the greater part of the day. And while our visit was over, the Condemayta family’s dreams are not. They said to us that they are still committed to continuing the project for a long time. They want to implement more changes in their healthy home, so the next steps will be the first-aid kit area, and an animal shed. I am pretty sure that they will fulfill these goals with much dedication and will.

Something I learned from experience is that even just a little bit of change and help can mean so much more in the right hands and with the right motivation. It depends on how you look at it, but most of all it depends on doing your best and having the strength to transform that little bit into much more. In terms of resources, this family didn’t receive an exorbitant amount of money or help from Heifer, but through training and just a little bit of empowerment, it has meant the world to them and changed their lives forever.

I have lived calmly and comfortably in Lima almost all my life without any serious setbacks or challenges. This type of trip helps me realize that there is another Peru beyond my city. That there are Peruvian citizens like me who live differently but with whom I share more similarities than differences. We both have the same necessities, the same rights, and the same dreams to make our dreams come true.

Thank you to the Champi-Condemayta family for letting us into their house and lives. I will never forget you!


Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.