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And Back to the Story…………

Acchuhuata

Wow. It’s been almost exactly 3 years since I last posted on this blog! Since that time, I have continued to live in Peru. Built a successful solar light distribution program, and gotten lights to over 75,000 people!

I’ve been recognized with several honors and awards, and most recently, been asked to do a TED talk. My life has changed so much in the 4 years that I’ve been living here in Peru. Not only have I been able to give of myself, my time and my knowledge, but I have LEARNED an awful lot. And so it is that I am on to my next chapter….

I have come to realize that in this world – we are people. We are all just people. And we all have a lot to share. And so often, we get stuck in our own little worlds, our own little bubbles, doing our daily tasks – surviving. But we ALL have the ability to reach out to others – to learn a little bit about their worlds – and to ultimately have more purpose in our lives. We actually become a BRIDGE between two things. Between ourselves and them. And in doing that, we can make not only our lives better, but can contribute to a better world.

And, so, my dear readers…. I ask you to follow along with me on the next chapter of the story. The bridging of two worlds. Follow me on my new site and learn more about what it means to BE A BRIDGE.

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Lights Have Arrived!

Yes, they have! What an exciting time. I have been back in Peru for 2 months now, and together with my business partner, Washington Gibaja Tapia, we have opened an office, hired a bunch of local people, and started getting solar lights out into the communities where people have NO electricity at all! The last months have been exhilarating  exhausting, and rewarding. Our first real shipment of lights arrived a few weeks ago, and we have been able to start our distribution to the wonderful people in the communities.

Instead of my usual ramblings, I would really like to share with you a glimpse of our work through Washi’s eyes as he tells about our trek to Yanamayo and Testayoc:

October 26th and 27th were memorable days in our lives, when we departed Cusco, the capital of the Incas Civilization, to drive 4 hours to the Andean communities of Yanamayo and then walk to Tastayoc, at 14,000 feet. We took Solar lights

Bringing the Lights

Bringing the Lights

with us to share with approximately 78 families that since their Ancestors are living with no Access to electricity. They use just kerosene and candles that have cost so much pain in their communities, because their homes made out of Straw and wood roofs have been in fire and damaged and killed so many children and entire families in this part of Peru and as well around the world. As well, they spend 75 to 80 dollars a year in buying these low light Candles and kerosene.

Washi Explains Solar Light

We shared the lights and explained every single detail on how to use them with all the families of Yanamayu, and we experienced the connection with all the children, smiling and being curious with the solar lights. We then walked for 4 hours to the Paso at approximately 15,500 feet and to the community name Tastayoc, were a hailstorm came back for some time and then the sun returned to charge every light that I am sure were used by the families the night before.
Every family now in those two communities has the three lights S1=$14, S10 = $19 and S250 = $49 that will be used for many years, because every one of them has a 2 year warranty and they are LED lights which last about 30 years.

She will have more time to weave

During this trip, we distributed lights to 78 families. 61 families were subsidized through Path of the Heart www.pathoftheheart.org , and the rest were from other donors. This is why we are excited to bring more lights in the near future to more communities with your help. The cool rain, hailstorm, sun and low oxygen won’t stop us from keep doing the good work in all the communities that are waiting for us to change their lives in the best positive way and change the darkness of the past with lights of the future.

Her First Light

Her First Light!

Best wishes and thanks for your support on bringing lights to the communities.
Washi.

In closing, I would like to thank Washi for helping to make this incredible journey possible. Without his help, knowledge and hard work, Lights for Communities would not be possible. If you would like to help support our project, you can go here to buy a light! Thanks to everyone for your support in the past, and your continued support.

Look at those lights!

Beautiful Family with Lights!


And Then There Was Light

In my last post I shared with you the  incredible solar panel project we did for the community of Qelqanqa. Well……… that project changed something inside of me. I mean really changed. Although I had been living in Peru and working with people from the poorest of communities, it was the gratitude of those community members that really made me realize what a difference one person could make in the lives of others. The tears of joy that were shed that day as parents relayed the fact that their children’s lives would be different set off a burning fire in my heart. They would have more opportunity, because they now had light. They would be able to actually read and do homework after 5:30 at night when it gets dark. What a simple concept. So simple that most of us in the First World never even think about it.

Visiting Families in Testayoc

The community members asked me – no, begged me – to help them get more panels. Could I teach them to make them? Well, the wheels got turning, and I started doing research. What they really wanted was light. In their houses. But to make an entire system for each house would be oh, so costly. Then I came across a solution that is being used in quantity in India, Africa and China. Personal Solar Lights. Brilliant! Long story short – I was able to secure these lights for distribution in Peru. That’s right – we can now bring these very cool – very well made – very AFFORDABLE – lights to the 21% of the population in Peru that have NO ELECTRICITY at all!

Trekking Lights into the Communities

I came back to the States in early June. Three weeks later, I was on a plane back to my new home away from home – Cusco. I trekked to a few communities to see how the residents would react to these lights.

It was cold – and dark – as we camped out in the communities

The response was overwhelming! Look at the joy on these faces! This lovely family invited us in. You can see here – that even in the bright light of day – their home is very dark inside. There are no windows for light.

Making Yarn at Night with a Solar Light

This woman creates alpaca weavings to support her family. Here she is spinning yarn from the alpaca she has raised and sheared. Previously, she would have to stop work early in the day, as there is no good light to work by. My good friend, Washi, and I set up a S250 lantern for her. It not only gave her light to work by, but literally lit up her whole stone house!

Sisters Doing Homework

Reading by Light

Can you imagine that over 20% of the population of Peru has no electricity? This means that when it gets dark – at about 5:30pm – year round – people go to sleep. Or maybe they use dangerous candles and kerosene lanterns to light their pitch dark huts for an hour or two. Children often have respiratory problems because of these fumes. There are often fires in the straw roofs. As we bring solar lights to these families, children will be able do homework and study – giving them more opportunity to succeed. Parents will be able to work in their homes safely, and for longer. People will be able to hike back from their chakras (farming plots) with light. Women will be able to give birth at night with the safety of light. Life-changing? Not only they, but I think so.

Happy Family!

I have now dedicated a large part of my life to getting this project off the ground. I will be living between both worlds until we really make a dent in providing opportunity to millions. Would you like to help? For as little as $14, you can buy a desk light for a child. Through the nonprofit organization my son Jacob started 10 years ago, we will be able to get lights to families in these mountain communities. 6.5 million people without light. Each one of us can make a difference in one person’s life. See our website and let us know how many you’d like to help. Tell your friends. Pass the word……………..

This baby will grow up with light!

The next morning after I made this incredible trek to Testayoc, I sat in that little stone house while the Mami cooked me breakfast. Boiled potatoes, of course. I sat on a tiny little wooden stool on a dirt floor – as she cooked over a wood fire with no ventilation. Cute little puppies played at the door. Her day would consist of doing basic chores to survive. But right now, her goal was to fill the stomach of her son and us visitors – so that we would have energy to carry on the day. So, boiled potatoes it was.

Yes, that is meat hanging from the rafters

As I sat on that humble stool, looking down into the dirt, and around me, at the meat hanging to dry, the few possessions her family owned spread on the rafters, I literally choked back the tears. Not from pity – not from sadness – but from gratitude. Yes. Gratitude. I was so grateful to be a part of this family’s life. To experience what they do on a daily basis. This is not some Disneyland rendition of a colorful family in the Andes. This is real life. How many people in the First World get to experience this? Only a handful, I am sure. But how fortunate am I- to be able to partake in a life that is so genuine and so humble – and shared by BILLIONS of people on this earth. No electricity. No running water. No lights. For a majority of the world, THIS IS LIFE. All I can do is hope to be able to give some of them more of an opportunity through lights. So, if you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to lately, this is it. Thanks for your support.

14 Bucks. Buy a light if you can. Give a kid an opportunity –

LIGHTS FOR COMMUNITIES


Tis the Season…..

It is rainy season in Perú. A lot of people ask me what that means. To be honest with you, I am not quite sure myself. I have asked lots of locals, and have gotten just as many different answers as the people I have asked. So, for now, I can only go by my last month’s experience. IT RAINS. Well, it rains every day, or night. Really hard. It always stops though, and then it may be gray. Or the sun may come out. Really strong.  What is the pattern? Who knows? All I know is that if you are trying to get crops to grow, the weather is perfect.

I was thinking about the rainy season yesterday as I spent the day in local communities, spreading a little holiday cheer. First, I stood in the rain for many hours, then, in the sun. Many people have also asked me “So, what’s the holiday season like where you are?” My answer…. “Pure.” If someone dropped you here from another planet, you would probably have little clue that this was any different than any other time of the year. No mall madness. No shopping frenzies. No credit card debt. In fact, it is really impossible to even use a credit card here. Well, there is really nothing to buy anyway. Now, if you travel to the big city of Cusco (2 hour drive by collectivo), there are some shops where you could buy things, if you wanted to. But living a simple life, here in Ollantaytambo, I cannot really imagine anything I would buy anyway. I mean, what do I really need that I don’t have? I really can’t think of anything. Ah….. well there is one thing that I did ask my husband for (and we’ll see if I get it when he arrives here tomorrow.) It is a thermometer. “Why?,” you ask. Well, there just are no thermometers here. Anywhere. I guess it doesn’t really matter what temperature it is, does it? I mean it just is what it is. The weather changes so frequently that you are either burning in the strong sun one minute, or shivering in your unheated room from the damp weather. Hot or cold. The bigger thing is if it’s raining or not. The locals find no need to put a number on it. Dress in layers. So, why do I want a thermometer, then? Well, the truth of the matter is that I still talk with a lot of people who do NOT live here. And they are always asking about the weather. So, as a courtesy to y’all, I would like to be able to quantify the “temperature” that it is here. But I digress.

Nativity Scene in our Main Plaza

Back to the season at hand. It is Christmas Eve. A small nativity scene was put up in our main Plaza, just a few days ago. Very nice and simple, it is decorated with all natural mosses and plant things from the jungle. People here in town will celebrate with their families. They may go to Church, and will definitely have a big meal and lots of chicha and beer. Perú is predominately a “Catholic” country, as it was conquered by the Spaniards. They built many churches and cathedrals on top of the native Incan places of worship. Peruvians have adapted the Catholic religion, incorporating their own traditional belief system. It is truly a syncretic religion. So, although they may attend Church, many still have their own polytheistic worship which dates back to their Incan culture. The Peruvian Constitution states that there is freedom of religion, but the law mandates that all schools, public and private, impart religious education as part of the curriculum throughout the education process. So, if kids go to school, they are taught Catholicism. But I believe that privately, in homes, a combination of religions, or a syncretic religion is practiced.

The Tree in Rockefeller Plaza – It Ain’t

I would like to believe that this is why the holiday season is still so “pure” here. People will practice what they will. No bastardization of a religious holy day into a frenzy of commercialism. I may be idealistic in that thought. It could very well be that capitalism and commercialization just haven’t made it here yet. I mean, after all, you can’t even use a credit card here – yet.

I know that in the mountain communities that our girls come from, there will be no Christmas tree, no presents, no holiday meal. I don’t know how to explain it more plainly. These people have very little. So, there are a few organizations around that spread a little holiday cheer to the poor children in the communities. And that’s what I was doing yesterday for 10 hours in the rain/sun. A community persona “Washi” has been bringing chocolatada (homemade hot chocolate) and pancito dulce (little sweet breads) to children in the communities for the last 10 years. He, as well as dozens like him, is like a Peruvian Santa Claus.

Waiting for Papa Noel to Arrive

Waiting for Chocolatada

Yesterday, we visited 6 communities in a very sparkly van – with tinsel streamers and loudspeakers on top. Today, 7 more will be visited. We were playing fun Christmas songs – from Spanish songs to dogs barking Jingle Bells to Feliz Navidad. As the van rolled into the communities, children flocked in, clutching empty mugs to get their chocolatada. We saw up to 100 kids at each stop we made. Community leaders already had a huge pot of water boiling on an open fire, and Elisabeth, a friend of Washi’s, would get to work, adding oatmeal, pure chocolate, sugar, milk and cinnamon. We had about 9  local Ollanta kids, mostly teenage boys, with us in the van – who hauled ingredients to the cooking station. One was even dressed up like Papa Noel to bring further delight to the kids. The kids waited patiently as the hot chocolate was made, then lined up to get their cup filled, and have a treat of sweet bread.

Elisabeth is the Chocolatada Making Queen

The moment everyone’s been waiting for!

Oh, to see the excitement of kids at Christmas! There were not dozens of brightly wrapped presents under a tree. No huge “wishlists.” There was not days spent buying the perfect ingredients for the perfect meal. No holiday cards. No decorations…. Just a cup of hot chocolate and a sweet bread. In the rain. The gratitude from these kids was more touching than I think I have ever experienced. So much for so little. I think back to all of the time and money I have spent “getting ready” for the Christmas holidays, as well as the stress that goes with it. Of course, it’s always turned out to be lovely. And of course, I have always enjoyed the time spent with my family. And I think about the fact that here, there was none of that. Just about a buck spent on each kid, and stopping at the market and bakery to pick up some supplies, the same morning. So much for so little.

This year, the holiday season has new meaning for me. It is not about all of the trappings we so easily get caught up in. It’s not about finding the perfect gift or planning the perfect meal. It’s not about taking the perfect photo to commemorate the season. All of these things will come and go. It is about taking the time to think about your beliefs, and quietly celebrating them in an appropriate way. It is about doing what you can to bring joy to others. Even if that means standing in the rain.

I gave my hat to this cute girl in Sillky

As my holiday gift to you, I would love to share some of these kids and the joy that they bring ……… Enjoy them, in addition to your family and friends, this holiday season.

Happy Holidays!


I am Where I am….

I can look out my window and see, 100 feet in the distance,  a solid wall of mountain. It goes straight up for about 3,000 feet. That’s right, over half a mile. It is beautiful. It is breathtaking. It is like something I have never experienced before. Slightly to the right is another mountain – with a glacier of top.  A flipping glacier! Imagine that – not only to see a glacier – but to live right next to one. That’s right, here it is burning hot in the midday sun, and I am looking at a glacier. A world far away from manicured grass lawns or cement sidewalks. This is awesome.

Glacier Out my Window

Every single day, I catch myself, not once, not twice, but many many times, just looking up – how is it that you cannot ignore the shear awesomeness that surrounds you? If I go downtown to pick up some shampoo, recharge my phone, get some over-the-counter antibiotics without a prescription, or get some photocopies made (in our WalMart of sorts – all being overseen by one of the many varieties of Jesus that is ever-present – Señor de Choquekillka)

One Stop Shopping

– there they are…

Downtown

If I turn to rest in the plaza, I still can’t escape them –

Our Plaza

They are gorgeous, awe-inspiring, and need I say more? They just really kind of put you in your place. They sort of make you feel insignificant. I mean, here they are, in all of their massiveness – their beauty – their downright powerfulness. All of a sudden you feel like a little speck of sand on the face of the earth. Your problems, your worries – just seem to fade away. I mean, compared to the grandness of these mountains, everything else seems teeny. Really.

But that’s not all. Carved into the mountains are ancient Incan Ruins. Outposts for the military to guard the Incan trail from Cusco to Macchu Pichu. Grain storage houses. And royal thrones carved into the mountain so that the emperor could sit and look out over his people and watch the sun set. Yes, it’s all right here, in my little town.

Incan Ruins

And the streets themselves are original Incan roadways…

Typical Street

And that’s because Ollantaytambo is the oldest continuously inhabited Incan town that exists! Imagine that… it really blows my mind to think that the stone houses that are in this old section of town were actually built by the Incans. And their families have been living here ever since! They are set up communally – so if you go in one of the doorways you see below, you will find a courtyard surrounded by dwellings where several families live.

Our streets are..... quaint!

The townspeople are quite colorful, too. For instance, here’s a local kid that hangs around with her mom and sisters. Granted, they are looking for tourists to take their photos, and I did give her 50 centimos, but they are, nonetheless, a beautiful indigenous people just trying to make a buck. No protesting for them! They’re just out there working to put food on the table – and happy to have the chance to do it.

One of our local kids

Someone not posing for photos is the bread lady. She sits outside the market every day – and for 1 Sol (about 30 cents), you can buy a bag of 5 panacitas (little breads) that are fresh from the bakery. The bread lady is there, rain or shine, and is a real fixture in our town. You’ll notice her traditional dress, braided hair and hat. That is NOT for show. Most traditional women dress like this. Every day.

Bread Lady

My new apartment is in a newer part of town. It is, in fact, in one of THE nicest houses in Ollanta. We really lucked out to get such a nice place. Our road, though, is not new. Or maybe it is too new. Either way. It is not paved, nor is it cobblestone. It is dirt. And rock. And you never know what you will find in it. I have come out of my front door to find random horses – just kind of hanging out in front of my house. Not tied up, mind you. Just chillin’ in the road. Of course there are always stray dogs, but several times I have woken up to the squealing of Pigs!!! Right out my front window! And, on more than one occasion, I have come home to find a burro tied up outside the house.

You just never know what awaits you on our street.........

Our house is actually a little further down the street, next to the house with the Pepsi sign on it.

We're right next to the Pepsi sign...

The new house on the block!

Our House

Which brings us full circle. Back to my house, and my own little view. Of the mountains in my yard – and out the window. As you can see, there is no escaping the mountains. Wherever you go, wherever you are – just look up – and there they are. Giving you a sense of security, a sense of belonging to something far greater than you can comprehend. And I realize that it is not just MY view that does this to one’s soul. Anywhere that I’ve lived, or that I’ve been, there is always that nature-inspired awesomeness. Whether it’s the waves lapping in the ocean or the dense, lush forest, the starry night in the city or the throngs of people on the subway – we are part of something a lot larger than ourselves. Everything is one – and we are just a little speck in it. But all of our specks together create an incredible being. I love to look around every day, and find all of the reminders of that. It makes you feel like you are contributing to something bigger, something grand… something good.