This is a story about Felicita Purihuaman Manayay. She lives in the rural highlands of northern Peru in a community called Inkawasi (Quechua for “house of the Inca”) with her husband and four children: Carmen (age 12), Cristina (age 10), Manuel (age 2) and Mirium Anayis (age 8 months).
Felicita’s primary job is to take care of her family, household, and fields. In addition to caring for her children, cooking, and cleaning, she looks after her sheep, cows, horse, burro, and chickens, and manages fields of wheat, corn, potatoes, and peas. On a typical day Felicita wakes up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to make breakfast for her family and take her animals out to pasture. The mornings are spent planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, or harvesting her crops. There is a saying in Peru that goes, “De la chacra a la olla,” or “From the farm to the pot,” since most of the food families consume is cultivated with their own hands. Very little of their agricultural production is brought to market, with wheat being the exception. A 50-kilogram sack can be sold in the largest regional city for around USD$20.
Felicita returns to her house around noon to prepare lunch, usually a soup and maybe some fried egg or homemade cheese for protein, and waits for her daughters to return home from school, a 30-minute walk away. In the afternoons she will hand wash clothes (which pile up quickly) in the little water hole near her house. The garments dry relatively swiftly in the striking mountain sun, which is fortunate since some of her skirts and blankets are made from spun and woven sheep’s wool and sit heavy on the line. In the late afternoon the animals must be corralled closer to the house and dinner prepared over her wood-stocked fire. Since electricity has not been installed in the community, the family retires around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. with the setting of the sun, the children gathering to complete homework by candlelight.
But Felicita’s aspirations stray far from the patchwork landscape of fields that characterize her Andean home. Never formally educated as a child, Felicita nonetheless taught herself how to speak Spanish in an environment where the overwhelming language of choice (especially for women) is Quechua. After she married at age 16 and moved out of her parents’ house, Felicita enrolled in an adult literacy program where she learned to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. She takes pride in being an economic contributor to her family, and, for many years, she worked as a cook, traveling long distances on winding trails to spend a few days making meals at local festivals. As her family grew, however, it became less feasible to walk multiple hours with small children and all her cooking supplies.
Felicita is now the president of a weaving association she founded with ten other women. These entrepreneurs are turning their centuries-old cultural tradition of backstrap-loom weaving into an income for their families. Felicita’s organization is also preserving an ancient technique that includes naturally dyeing the spun wool using local leaves, roots, and flowers. Felicita, as an accomplished and self-taught seamstress, turns the woven fabric into beautiful handbags, jackets, and table coverings.
Felicita’s husband is currently studying to become a bilingual Quechua-Spanish elementary school teacher whose education was funded largely by the sale of all the family’s cattle. He travels every weekend to the closest city (a six hour journey by bus that drops from 10,000 feet above sea level to the ocean). Britaldo’s career prospects are not promising, however, as there exists a glut of teachers in Peru by people who are attracted to the guaranteed job security of a government position.
The family is a proud owner of a Mighty Light, which, Felicita says, dramatically changed their daily routine. They no longer buy candles (an expense of USD$2 a week) and her children are able to do their homework in the evenings with a better light source. Determined to provide her daughters with the educational opportunities she did not have, Felicita often speaks of a day, not too far down the road, when they are both in university.
Julia Barmeier spent two years living and working in Inkawasi, Peru, with the Peace Corps. She counseled multiple artisan groups, including Felicita’s organization, on how to improve and expand their business practices. Her primary goal was to ensure the sustainability of small artisan businesses in Inkawasi, in addition to improving the organizational management, leadership skills, accounting, pricing, and product design and quality. In her spare time she helped plant family vegetable gardens, became proficient in the native language of Quechua, and a novice weaver.
When Julia became aware of Mighty Lights, she realized that they could make a difference in the small communities in which she worked where electricity is not available. She initially received one Mighty Light, which she gifted to Felicita. Soon, through word of mouth, she had orders for many more, and eventually was able to distribute a total of seven Mighty Lights.