Peru: Real solutions to tough problems

Laurie Lee
Children and their mothers on an outing in the Puno region, Peru

I’ve just got back from my first visit to Peru – where I got a great insight into the variety of ways CARE is empowering women, girls and poor communities to fight poverty.

In the Peruvian Altiplano – a plateau region in the Andes over 3,000m above sea level – harvests can be unreliable because of the harsh weather conditions, and so livestock are an important part of people’s livelihooods. CARE has helped 2,600 families in the Puno region to care better for their dairy and beef cattle, through training local community members to provide health and other services to farmers. It means farmers – many of whom are women – earn more from their dairy produce, or from selling healthier beef cattle.

Yoghurt making in Peru

In the rural community of Chupa, we’re also supporting entrepreneurial skills for girls and boys. At the local high school, as part of the same CARE project, the older students look after the school’s dairy cows and milk them. The younger students turn the milk into yoghurt (see photo above), and sell it in small pouches to other students. They make about $2 profit (not counting their own labour) per litre of yoghurt. Not bad! But it’s the wider entrepreneurship skills they are really learning. They don’t necessarily want to make yoghurt for a living. They have dreams to be mechanics, psychologists, climate scientists – and even the President...

The climate in the Altiplano is tough enough, even before El Nino and climate change. Many families still rely on income from agriculture despite these threats. We ensure they are aware of good practice about the importance of trees to hold water, and rotation of crops and use of cow manure to replenish the soil. And we’re helping them get better weather forecasts from the national meteorological office.

Laurie Lee at the official opening of a lightning tower

We also heard how CARE’s inclusive community decision-making approach – involving communities in making decisions about the things that matter to them – had identified lightning storms as a major threat for the Huancané province. One community decided they wanted a lightning rod to protect their houses and school. To my surprise, I was asked to declare the lightning rod open in the traditional manner by crashing a bottle of wine into it...

Chart completed in community consultation in Peru

CARE’s approach starts by working with the community and listening to their needs and priorities. We saw some of the wide range of data that CARE helps the community to record on each family, to help them think about their needs and priorities. As you can see in the photo above, clean water, modern sanitation, vegetables and clean cooking facilities (the red downward-pointing arrows) are all rare in this community. But most children are nourished and vaccinated. Well-nourished children are better able to survive a harsh winter, we heard.

I tried the local food in the Puno region. I love potatoes, but realised you cannot live on potato soup alone. CARE is helping thousands of families in the Puno region to improve the nutrition of their children, by helping them understand the importance of a more balanced diet, including cereals like Quinoa (yes – the stuff that just got trendy in the UK is a staple in Peru), pulses like Lima beans (so that’s where the name comes from!) and vegetables. We saw a beautiful greenhouse with broccoli, carrots and tomatoes.

People at a vegetable garden in Peru

This impact at the local level is important – but we also want to multiply the impact to as many people as possible. Based on our real-life experience of the diets in rural areas, CARE Peru is a close adviser to the national health and social ministries on child nutrition, thus multiplying the impact of individual programmes across, potentially, the whole country. Between 2007 and 2014, Peru reduced chronic infant malnutrition from 28.5% to 14.6%. That is a 50% reduction in stunting in children under five years of age, in seven years.

Here’s another example of multiplying impact. A few years ago in Azángaro province, CARE persuaded the government – based on global research on the importance to future prospects of early years development – to begin a weekly playgroup for children from 0-3 years, to teach parents how to engage with and stimulate young children. It took me back nine years to taking my own son to our local playgroup every Monday morning.

Mothers playing with a child at a playgroup in Peru

Compared to mothers carrying silent infants on their backs while they work in the fields, playing with very young children makes a huge difference to their mental and physical development. The parents were convinced (dads too, we were told, although we didn’t see any at the playgroup) – and so is the regional government. So they have decided to scale up CARE's approach to another 1,000 government nurseries across the Puno region, using the curriculum we have already developed. And now the staff in those offices are becoming advocates too, to ensure they get the money from the local municipalities to buy age-appropriate toys for all these nurseries.

Peru these days is classed as an ‘upper middle income’ country – but it is a very unequal society. There are over one million people in Peru living on less than $1.90 a day – that is, below the extreme poverty line. Most of them live on the Altiplano. That’s why there is still a need for organisations like CARE to work directly with the poorest people in Middle Income Countries – and to work, even more than we already do, with governments and the private sector to ensure that the country’s economic success includes everyone.

Laurie Lee's picture

Laurie Lee is Chief Executive of CARE International UK – Read his blog posts on our Insights policy and practice website