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!