Leaders can be any age
The experience of a young Kamayoq girl
Everything is ready for the fair of the eighth promotion of the Kamayoq School for Alpaca-raisers in Toxaccota, located at 4,800 m.a.s.l. in Cusco, Peru. After an intensive year of studies, practices and some results, one of the 45 women who will graduate in December will make a presentation of what they were taught in the course that Practical Action began in November last year, in order to improve the standard of living of alpaca-raising families in the Andes.
July Quispe Quincho is full of enthusiasm, feeling nervous but very excited about speaking in public. Slightly over a year ago she found out that her mother would be joining the school and she wished with all her might that she could do so as well, even though she was only fifteen. “I was waiting for an opportunity to develop my love for animals. However, when I made more enquiries, I was told that the minimum age was 25”, she recalls.
Nevertheless, that did not hold her back. As a result of the inherent passion she feels when she is close to animals, which makes her wake up every day feeling proud to live in the Pumariota community 13 hours from Cusco, she gained the confidence of her own community who proposed that she should become a Kamayoq alongside her mother Vistación Quinco. Consequently, July became the first fifteen year-old Kamayoq student.
July and Vistación feel that the alpaca-raising classes they attended at the Kamayoq school went beyond the limits of a simple learning experience. In the Peruvian highlands, farming and livestock-raising are the main source of income for families like the Quispe Quincho family. Moreover, it is the women in the households who carry out those chores. That is why having learnt to improve their production and market their wool has made them feel much more secure in their role in the household and in the community itself.
“This has been the greatest challenge of my life”, said July, as she stood in the midst of the alpacas that will be her own within a few years. The bright colours of her clothing and the special sparkle in her eyes when she talked about her future confirmed that she still preserves the innocence of a child. “I want to study animal husbandry, like my uncle”, she pointed out. Although she is still a young girl, her determination to educate herself so that she can develop her community conveys a sense of self-confidence that makes her stand out among the other girls who have gone to the fair to listen to her.
Her mother, 36 year-old Vistación, cannot help feeling very proud of July. She is the eldest of her three children and even though she admits that she had her doubts when July suggested going to the Alpaca-raising Kamayoq School with her, she now has the utmost confidence in her. “To see my daughter learning from such a young age is very satisfying. I myself only completed grade three of primary and there were not many opportunities available for me”, said Vistacion. She had to leave her studies behind when she was very young to devote herself to bringing up her family.
Just as the economic activities have not changed for centuries, many households in the so-called “puna” – the highest region in the Peruvian highlands – have preserved many of their ancestors’ customs. Initially, July’s father was not at all pleased at the idea of his wife and daughter leaving home for five days a month and it was a difficult task for Vistación to convince him. Now, as she listens to July talking confidently about the alpaca shearing process or how the women should act in their communities, Vistación knows that supporting her daughter was her best alternative. “My husband has also understood this and now he stays home taking care of the pastures and the alpacas when we go to the school for training”, she explained.
Now July’s father talks to her about the alpacas that she will soon manage on her own and she can hardly wait for that time to arrive. “It is the inheritance my parents will leave me and I must look after them in the best possible way”, she confirmed. She began talking about the beautiful high quality sweaters she could make, which is something that had never crossed her mind before. “In the Kamayoq school we were taught to take the utmost advantage of our production”, she pointed out.
The support July receives at home and in her community has also been felt in the school. She is in the third year of secondary school and is the new leader of her classroom. “My friends want to participate because they have noticed something different in me”, added July with a broad smile. “I have explained to them that it is a process and that they must obtain the support of their community, but they are eager to learn more about the alpacas”, she continued. She has already promised them that she will soon start teaching them gradually about mating techniques, business management and handicrafts, three of the subjects that have most attracted her attention during her year of studies.
“I already feel like a Kamayoq, I am proud to have been part of this course”, she said happily. She continued explaining how her friends from the Tahuantinsuyo school keep asking her what she has learnt and she is already setting an example. “I could live in the “puna” forever, alongside my animals, as long as I am a professional”, she ended. That is her goal in life and she will always consider the Kamayoq school as the first step towards her preparation for the future.
Strengthening the Food Security of Alpaca Farmers in Peru
Practical Action is working with alpaca farmers and local government officials in the Ayacucho and Apurimac regions of Peru, to increase the incomes and ensure the food security of 30,375 people.