It feels like it has been a very long time since I have updated my blog. I feel like time passes a little differently in Peace corps. Another volunteer said it best, the days seem to stretch on, but the months seem to fly by. Sometimes I forget how much has happened since my last update.
My last entry I mentioned the business contest I was working on with a few guys from my town. I gave 14 classes on basic business concepts and helped them develop an idea they had for a business.
Before I tell the whole story I feel like I should give a brief background on the two boys. First there is, we´ll call him Aldo. Aldo is about 23 years old and comes from a very nice family. Both his mom and dad have been very helpful and supportive in my work as a volunteer. They have a few ranches were they herd cattle. Aldo studied at an institute in Arequipa for agriculture and how to care for livestock. He also took a few business classes at the institute. Because Aldo had a base knowledge of business, it was easy to motivate him to come to classes and work on this project. Aldo is a very smart and motivated kid with million business ideas.
Alex however comes from a different background and was not as fortunate with his upbringing. Alex is around 20-22 years old. His real father left when he was little so it was just him and his mother until she remarried. His step father drank a lot and was abusive to the whole family (not uncommon in some of these mountain town families). When he was 11, Alex ran away from home. He lived on the streets in Arequipa, Tacna, and even Lima for a while getting money where he could. There is a lot more to say on this, but lets just leave it as his life up to this point has been very hard. He returned to Callalli for the first time in 9 years, around the same time I arrived in Callalli, to return home to his family. The father, I can honestly say because I know his stepfather well, has changed his ways and is a completely different person. With no business education or much schooling at all, Alex joined my class. I never expected such dedication and determination from anyone in my town like what I saw in him. He came to every class, he participated actively, and the kid is smart. Smarter most people his age and he everything he knows is self-taught.
The contest was based in Lima and was a competition of business plans. After receiving the full course, the group needed to write a full business plan with financial projections, marketing plan, operational plan, and full details on how the business would be structured, run, operated, and plans for progress in the future. My group wrote their plan on a horse back riding business. The idea was to combine horse back riding and a cultural family home stay in one tourist package. Because there are so many tourists in the Colca and no horse back riding competition in the upper part of the Colca, it was a very feasible idea. After submitting the plan, I traveled with them to Lima for the actual presentation part of the competition.
They procrastinated a lot on preparing their presentation which made me very worried. The fact that neither of them had ever had to give a public presentation and they planned on just winging it just churned my stomach! It was like I was about to witness a full on train collision! I asked them why they had come this far and were not willing to put 100% into the presentation? They told me, “what´s the use, were not going to win anyways”. They had already admitted defeat, before the competition really even began. I think that is a big problem with the mountain town youth in Peru, self-esteem. They see all these city kids with better education, well dressed, well spoken and they feel inferior. Peruvian society, I have noticed, can be bit classist. There is a distinct social economical discrimination between people for the cities (high-class, more money, have a more european influenced culture) and the people from the mountains (low-class, poor, identify themselves with the customs and traditions of the Incan heritage). People from with money look down upon people from mountain towns and treat them as inferiors. So with that said, I could understand how they could see this competition as an impossible win.
When it was their turn to present, my heart was in my throat. They were so unprepared to give their presentation, I almost couldn´t watch! You could tell they were very nervous, their voices were shaky, they were pacing back and forth, nervous twitches and so forth….but they did it. They got through the presentation and answered the judges questions without having a nervous break down! After they were done presenting, that was it. They were done. They had come so far and worked so hard and now all we had to do was wait. I have to admit, I was really proud of them. The courage it must have taken, first of all to travel outside of Arequipa to a completely foreign land (Lima) was a big feat in itself. Yes, Lima is still Peru, but it’s not at all, and traveling is a scary thing for a lot of the campo kids. But secondly to have the courage to stand up in front of these judges and something like 35 people in the US EMBASSY and give a public presentation for the first time in their lives?!?!?!?! That is a lot of pressure! And they did it! Win or lose, what a great experience for them!
It was time for them to announce the winners. After hearing the other business plans, I honestly thought we had a shot at winning something. Yes, there were city kids with business educations and big words, but their ideas didn´t seem that feasible or that profitable. This took place in a the embassy with the U.S. ambassador present plus an army of news cameras, sponsors, and big wig embassy workers. They announced third place…wasn´t us. They announced second place…nothing. By this time, I was almost sure we weren’t going to win first place…but I still had a shimmer of hope. I will never for get this moment for the rest of my life. I will be telling this story to my grand children. Alfredo says “And first place winner…….coming all the way for Callalli, Arequipa, Sumac Hacllpa!” Aldo was almost dumbfounded. Just a look of complete surprise and disbelief. Alex however, couldn´t control himself! He started jumping up and down and throwing his fists in the air! After all the hard work and preparation, it finally paid off. After the boys were so certain they weren´t going to win anything, we won first place! That means S/. 5,500 to invest in their business! I am certain that neither of them had ever experienced anything of this magnitude or felt anything close to these overwhelming feelings of success. The whole experience was unforgettable for all three of us.
The competition was in August. Since then we received the money and bought two horses with all the equipment two days ago. The boys are very excited to start their business. If anyone is coming to the Colca, I highly recommend their horseback ride.