Political riots this past winter caused us to cancel our entrepreneurial training in February, but with a lull in the political turmoil we decided to send our youth for training from mid-June to mid-July. We are working with Jovem, an exceptional training program in the Ayacucho area run by a Belgium-based nonprofit. We were VERY impressed with their operations, the quality and engaging nature of their training staff, the
thoroughness of the training, and the enthusiasm of our students for the program. I particularly enjoyed visiting the businesses of past students. The businesses were beyond anything I had imagined, and the former students and their parents were impassioned as they praised the Jovem program and explained how it changed their lives. We are eager to see if our students from Paru Paru and Amaru are able to replicate this success.

After visiting the training farm, we trekked to Marampata to check on our little school. This year there are only 4 students, but next year we are expecting 7. The school is small, but we feel strongly that keeping families together and young children connected to their village and culture is vitally important. Otherwise Marampata will fall prey to profiteers, as so often happens in areas with a rich cultural heritage. One of the mothers sobbed as she explained how hard it was to send her older son away for school from the time he was in kindergarten, and she expressed her immense gratitude that her younger daughter can stay in Marampata for her schooling.

The hostels along the Choquequirao trail are also doing well, and many families are reinvesting their profits into more beds. A family in Chikiska has turned the four beds we gave them into 28! One downside of the growth in trekkers is that septic tanks are on the verge of overflowing. A high priority for the coming year is to improve their septic system to handle the higher volume.

Next on our itinerary was Willoq Alto – a gracious and very traditional community in the mountains above Ollantaytambo. The greenhouses we provided have been producing abundant crops, and families often barter their produce for lower-altitude items, such as fruits. Families are also happy with their cuy production. Many of their children used to suffer from extreme anemia, but now that they have cuy to eat, their anemia is gone. We would like to see the Willoq Alto families put a greater emphasis on generating income from these businesses, however, and not just provide for their personal needs. When we described the success of former students in the Jovem program (students were given 24 cuy and a year later had 240 with sales of about 600 cuy per year), they had a whole new vision for how they could benefit from the cuy, and they became very eager to receive training as well.

Amaru and Paru Paru are villages in the mountains above Pisac. Our 15 trainees in the Jovem program came from these two villages, and they are very eager not only to start their own businesses, but to train others so the whole community will develop. These people are really committed to reviving and protecting their traditional culture, and they are thankful for the Jovem project, because if the young people in their villages can run successful businesses, they won’t move away to cities – they will stay and keep the traditional culture alive.

All these villages received school supplies in 2023, and families were deeply grateful for the help. The political turmoil this past winter had an even stronger impact on tourism than Covid, so the need was great. Nevertheless, we don’t want families to become dependent on our help, so we are hoping tourism will rebound and we can quickly phase out this program.