Indomitable Genoveva Yucra remained positive even with the daunting prospect of caring for six children after separating from an alcoholic, wife-beating husband. She epitomised her uncomplaining community’s resilience while scraping a poverty-ridden existence at Mullak’as-Misminay, which looks down on iconic Inca site Machu Picchu. When Condor Travel, among Peru’s most acclaimed tour operators, decided they could blend a business opportunity with developments that would support the locals, Genoveva was inspired.
The Misminay Project threw open new doors for the 58-year-old single mother. She plunged enthusiastically into the training opportunities offered, despite her illiteracy, and today offers lodging and food in one of the village’s best turned-out houses. In a wonderful twist, she can now afford to pay the studies of 19-year-old daughter Robertina, her youngest child, and one of the first girls from the village to attend Cusco University.
The Misminay scheme has not only enhanced portering services for tourists trekking to Machu Picchu but created extra jobs and shown how to raise customer service. Rural tourism has increased noticeably with the upgrading of homes and hospitality. Since non-profit association Condor Travel – Wings was born in 2008, the community has hosted 1,300 tourists and expects that by the end of this year to increase guest figures by 50%. Australian visitor Julie Woolcock says: “More people should know about this project to aid these people and help preserve their culture. It was a heart-warming experience.”
Tourism will only ever supplement their authentic way of life. Wings has helped them Increase agricultural production to attract fresh markets. And building on their traditions, it has assisted on refining weaving techniques to provide income for women, normally dependant on the land. Sammy Niego, Condor’s chief executive, said: “We had been supporting the Misminay community since 1998 but decided we needed to introduce some auto-sustainable schemes that could add meaning for travellers, locals and those working in tourism.”
The 300-family village, numbering 1,500 inhabitants, pool their total incomes and it is distributed equally. Daysy Angeles, Head of Projects for Wings, says: “Before the tourism activity they could not afford schooling, doctors, medicines , bathrooms and kitchens or luxury foods such as fruit and milk. They survived through farming and continue to cultivate crops such as potatoes, corns and beans. They now have the chance to invest in seeds and livestock to advance their agriculture and cattle. “Education for their children is very special as most adults, certainly women, had little or none.”
The community used to accept this as the norm. Now new generation parents, such as 32-year-old porter Eulogio Sota and Martina Yucra, 28, want their youngsters to be ready to face today’s world while simultaneously conserving customs. “Before, I just lived by selling weekly some potatoes and corns,” reveals Martina. “It was not enough to maintain my family. “Thanks to being woken up to work in tourism, I have a house that is more comfortable to receive our guests.” Eulogio and Martina once moved away from the village to try their luck in Cosco but floundered because of unemployment and no accommodation. They are back – relishing today’s village life which will become even better with a $US150,000 water storage system. It is being built jointly by IADB (Inter-American Development Bank) SNV (Netherlands Development Organisation) Cusco Municipality and Condor Travel. Right now 300 children are vulnerable because drinking water is available about two hours a day. The project is expected to improve that enormously in 2013.