Thursday, August 8, 2013

HopeHouse Classes Revamped: Party Favors, Baking & Handcrafts

Dear DHF Family,

This year we have made it our mission to revamp the list of educational trainings offered in the HopeHouse. Our mission has always been to teach our women new skills and ideas to generate income for both themselves and their families. By far crochet and knitting has transformed the face of our village banking project. Approximately, 90% of our women are crocheters and knitters and actively participate in trainings through our community and HopeHouse classes.
In March, I decided to visit all 26 village banks and ask women what they would like to learn beyond our traditional classes. The first request on the list was Information Technology classes. Women were interested in connecting with friends, family, and the wider community through social media and desperately wanted to help their children with homework assignments. As a result, we began a Basic IT workshop. Our first class of ten students will be completing the course in two weeks.
 Second on the list were Event Planning and Party Decorating. For many mothers, buying decorations and catering a birthday or graduation party is really expensive. These past two month we’ve taught our women how to create decorations with balloons and piñatas with cardboard and poster paper. Through our culinary classes, we are teaching students how to make appetizers, chocolate desserts, and dishes for special events.
 Lastly, handcrafts were the third most popular request. Women are learning how to paint and stain jewelry boxes, paper towel holders, tea bag holders, and much more. These items can be sold, used at home, or given as a gift for birthdays and Mother’s Day.
Starting in September, we will commence a pilot Leadership Series. With the help of Psychologist Roger Huaman, we carefully selected 15 women from 10 different village banks to take a three month course in Leadership. In July, each woman participated in an aptitude test to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. I am excited to share with you the results from the monthly trainings.
After adding an assortment of classes to the line-up, both attendance and satisfaction among participants has increased. Next month we hope to offer Tai-chi classes and other courses aimed at teaching our women how to relax and mange stressful situations. Please stay tuned!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

InformationTechnology Classes Made Reality for Village Banking Project

As you enjoy the 4th of July, eat delicious food and spend time with friends and family, I thought it only proper to get in on the excitement and share with you an example of the wonderful work we are accomplishing here in Cajamarca thanks to your generous support.
Four months ago, Board Members Maggie Miller and Hector Dominguez’s came to Peru on a mission to begin discussing our future with local partner, MULTICREDIT, and identify ways to improve our line-up of educational trainings in the HopeHouse. It was at that time that Hector came up with a great idea to begin merging technology with our women’s businesses and to also fulfill women’s desire to learn how to use the Internet. Collecting donations from friends and family, DHF purchased 11 Kindles that have now allowed us to develop Information Technology Classes at the HopeHouse so our women can become both technology literate and gain access to social media sites to improve and promote their businesses.  

Once the Kindles were in hand we now had to figure out a way to ship them to Peru and avoid the red tape tap and fees associated with international shipping. Thanks to the Texas-based association, Villa Milagro, a team of nurses and doctors in route to Cajamarca for a 7-day medical campaign in June agreed to bring the Kindles free of charge. Once we had the kindles in hand, the last piece of the puzzle was to identify a qualified instructor with enough patience to teach our women the ins-and-outs of Facebook and Internet browsing. Lucky for us, Charo Yupanqui, our HopeHouse Community Education Coordinator and crochet teacher extraordinaire, recommended her computer instructor as a candidate. Professor Salatiel (as we call him) passed the interview with flying colors and helped us develop a 6-week curriculum where women attend classes twice a week for two hours. By the end of the course, women create an E-mail account, FaceBook Page, and learn how to browse the Internet to help themselves and their children with homework assignments.

This Monday we officially commenced classes with a group of 10 women representing 6 village banks. Needless to say our students were excited and arrived 20 minutes early ready to take on IT 101. The demand for classes is extremely high, we’ve have a waiting list of 40 eager women lined up for the second round of classes in mid-August.
I personally would like to thank all the individuals who donated both money and/or Kindles to such a worthy cause. Without you, this project would not have been possible a just a mere idea yet to be realized.

Happy 4th of July!




Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Village Bank Profile: Rosa Condor, Mother and Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

Rosa selling her delicious potatoes and ceviche
Petite in her blue coat, Rosa Condor navigates the streets and markets in Cajamarca, looking for fresh produce to prepare her daily recipe of ceviche and potatoes. With help from DiscoverHope, Rosa has achieved her independence and is able to provide for her four children. She has a successful small business and even before Rosa sets up her food, clients are already waiting for her.

This is for sure a success story, and one of many I have heard since arriving in Cajamarca. There are hundreds of women whose lives are being changed by the DiscoverHope/Microcredit alliance, which provides low interest micro loans and complements them with capacity building. But Rosa’s story, though I’ll share a bit here, is yet to be told.

She is a single mother of four – two girls and two boys. Her oldest is 14 years old but when he has no school, he contributes to the family income by working in a combi (microbus). Tania and Nataly, 9 and 7 years old respectively, go to school during the day. And there is Brian, about 2 years old.

Three times a week, Rosa wakes up at 4 a.m. and walks long distances to catch a combi that will take her into town to make the purchases for her ceviche. On those days, she leaves her children sleeping and does not return until 6 or 7 a.m. Already, this has presented grave problems. A few years ago, one of the girls lit up the stove and caused a fire that almost took the two girls’ lives. Now Rosa has her locale two doors from her home, but she still must leave her children alone at dawn.

In her makeshift kitchen, small chores become harder. She often squats to peel potatoes and corn; runs inside the living room to use her blender; and has to haul her food two doors down to her small restaurant. In the restaurant, she has no running water or a proper stove, so she has to prepare everything at home and then carry it to the restaurant. Many buy Rosa’s ceviche but few know the cost at which Rosa is able to maintain her small business.

Rosa’s profits have allowed her to put food on the table for her own family. She has also acquired proper beds for her family and a few commodities, such as a TV and a dresser. But she still has higher aspirations. Her dreams are to have a locale with everything necessary to prepare her food in it. She also wishes to learn more recipes so she can provide a wider variety of foods for her clients.

As Rosa sits outside her locale, during the rare moments when she has no clients, she barely stays awake. Her mornings are tough. But twice a week, her afternoons are filled with joy as she visits her communal bank for knitting classes. The morning version of Rosa, tired and overwhelmed, becomes alive at the knitting sessions. Surrounded by her peers, she is less shy, has an easier smile, and a quicker laugh.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Alfajores Recipe is Income Generating for Peruvian Women

“Alfajores de maicena” are soft and delicious pastries in South America made with cornstarch and filled with “dulce de leche”, but in Cajamarca, Peru, they are filled with the delicious “manjar blanco,” a variety of “dulce de leche”.

Alicia Yupanque, a 15-year old instructor, taught women how to make alfajores at the Hope House last Wednesday, May 15th.  Alicia  started her own business baking alfajores on weekends and sold them to street vendors and local stores in Cajamarca. She shared her baking skills with 25 women and her students got excited with a new business opportunity that triples their investment. It costs about $6 to make 50 alfajores in Peru, but they are sold for 0.40 cents each, leaving a net profit of $14. Below is Alicia’s recipe.

Recipe for Alfajores de Maizena (Peruvian Pastries)

 To make 50 units

 4 cups of all-purpose flour

1 ¾ cups of butter

½ cup of powdered sugar

4 cups of corn flour

1 cup of corn starch

2 eggs


1 ½ cup of manjar blanco (dulce de leche)

1 cup of grated coconut

¾ cup of powdered sugar


1. Sift the all-purpose flour, corn flour, corn starch, and sugar. Then, use a bowl to mix flour, corn flour, corn starch, sugar, eggs, and butter until mixture is soft and uniform. Place the dough into a plastic bag and wrap it tightly. Place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together). Stamp out 50 circles using a plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter, rerolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone. These will become the outside cookies.

3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line eight baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

4. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet and at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are firm and slightly golden on the bottom, about 20 minutes. (The cookies will remain light colored on top.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. Flip half of the cookies upside down and gently spread about 2 teaspoons of the dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. Dust outside circles with grated coconut on top and bottom layers with powdered sugar.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In Peru, Witnessing the Power of Microcredit Loans in the Lives of Driven Women

Mila with the women of Village Bank "Las Azucenas"

It was an honor to meet the joyous women of the Azucenas village bank. Rosario Yupanque “Charo”, a DiscoverHope instructor, who travels to the village banks outside the city, invited me to one of her classes. I was greeted with a glass of yellow Inca Kola as the women prepared their yarn for their lesson. This was going to be both a knitting class and a repayment meeting. It didn’t take long before the women welcomed me and soon the room was filled with laughter. It was obvious that the women were more than just members of the same village bank. They were friends, supporters, and teachers to each other. They laughed together, shared stories and exchanged tips. I heard tips on what to do when a baby is sick, how to knit a specific pattern, how to heal a cut using spider webs, and most importantly how to price a knitted creation. 
On this occasion, I would be able to see the many aspects of DiscoverHope. It started with the lesson where the women asked Charo many questions. As we arrived, everybody had their yarn out and many hands were already hard at work. Within the hour, I was able to see the transformation of a ball of yarn into the formation of a sweater-magic. The women proudly showed off their creations. Some of the women were making clothes for their kids and others had presold their knitted items.
Next, I was able to see the repayment meeting that was guided by the “Promotora” Maricela and the village bank treasurer. The women were called up for their monthly repayment one by one. It was exciting to see how sharp the women were during the accounting and record keeping. It was also impressive to see many women choosing to leave additional savings.
Overall, in one evening I was able to see and hear about the translation of hard work and drive into results. I am very grateful for the visit because it reminded me of the fighting spirit of women and the power of self-reliance. The Azucenas bank will continue to inspire me even after I leave Cajamarca.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Introducing the 2013 Meadow's Fellows

Hello DHF Family,

Mila, Sarela (HopeHouse Assitant), Alexandra & Tania
We’ve been extremely busy here in Cajamarca and I’m glad to say we survived Mother’s Day.  Here in Peru, Mother’s Day is one of the most important and celebrated holidays. Most Peruvians travel home to be at their mother’s side and in most schools, plays and musicals are organized in honor of mom’s hard work and dedication. This year most schools and state institutions were given a 4 day weekend!  On May 2nd, DHF and Multicredit organized our 3rd Annual Mother’s Day Event in which more than 200 loan recipients were in attendance. Moms danced, played, and laughed forgetting for a moment the endless list of chores that typically consume their day. We raffled food baskets, high quality yarn, amongst other goodies. We also organized once again our Bi-Annual Uniform Contest in which village banks crocheted outfits demonstrating their skills, creativity, and sense of style.  This year Village Bank “Fuerza y Bendición” (Strength and Blessings) took home first place for an elegant white blouse and skirt ensemble. Seeing the countless smiles made me reflect on how inspiring our beneficiaries are to me. Besides taking on the task of starting a business, most raise 2 or more children and even extended family.
In other news, I am proud to announce the arrival of three Meadow’s Fellows from the University of Texas at Austin.  Alexandra, Mila, and Tania are graduate students hailing from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the McCombs School of Business who have come together to help DHF design two promotional videos of our work here in Cajamarca and help us revamp our social media sites to keep donors tuned into our important  project updates. It was a full-circle moment when the fellows arrived a week ago. Back in 2009, then a first year LBJ student, I was selected as a Meadow’s Fellows to help DHF conduct an internal audit of the village banking project. Thanks to the fellowship, it landed me my job here in Cajamarca and the rest is history. This week the girls will be writing blog entries about their time here in Peru and provide more insight into our important labor of love with the women of Cajamarca. So please stay tuned!



Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Hello DHF Family,

This is an exciting time for all of us here in Peru and back in the United States. With so many new and motivating things occurring right here, right now, I think it’s only fair to rewind and reflect on our amazing accomplishments in 2012. With that said, I am excited to announce that our 2012 DHF ANNUAL REPORT  is ready for review! As you peruse the report, please realize that this document is a living testament of our incredible labor of love due in part to your generous time, talent, donations, and unwavering commitment to bring opportunities of abundance to the women of Cajamarca.

 Since 2008, we’ve provided more than 1,200 loans and funded over 2,400 development trainings related to business assistance, literacy, computer skills, family wellness, culinary, and artisanship.  Some of the 2012 highlights include:

510 ADDITIONAL LOANS BORROWED – 30% increase over prior year
$65 AVERAGE INDIVIDUAL SAVINGS PER CYCLE – 71% increase over prior year
942 TRAININGS OFFERED – a 20% increase over prior year
$11,886 IN REPORTED EARNINGS FROM TRAININGS –163% increase over prior year
100% LOAN PAYBACK – maintained since 2008
Visit to Village Bak "Friends Forever" with Maggie, Des, and Hector
The past month has also brought us plenty of insight about the direction of our village banking project here in Cajamarca. Our vision has always been centered on building a path to sustainability in which our partner, MULTICREDIT, has both the knowledge and the autonomy to run a local project incorporating our unique MicrocreditPLUS Model. During Maggie and Hector´s 10 day visit in April we spent a majority of our time in the field visiting village banks and in the office developing a roadmap for success that will allow us to slowly transition over project power to our partner and ensure that the HopeHouse, our educational center, maintains a long-term local presence in Peru for years to come.

As a part of this plan, a decision was made to bring in additional support in the form of two new local positions held by two of the strongest, most inspiring Cajamarcan women I know: Sarela Tirado Vasquez, our new HopeHouse Administrative Assistant and Rosario "Charo" Yupanqui Linares, our new Community Education Coordinator. This decision moves us two steps further to fulfilling our goal of giving total power to the local community. Both women started out as active village bank members serving on their bank´s internal committees as both president and treasurer. Now they are our newest addition to the project helping me identify new instructors, affordable materials, new class ideas, and new markets for our loan recipient´s products and services. With their help this year we are going to revamp our class line-up incorporating new themes like nutrition, leadership, technology, parenting, and business assistance.
So as we begin this exciting new chapter I invite you all to get on board and witness HOPE in action.