As the pandemic continues in Peru and across the world, we continue working to make sure that our artisan partners and their families have food security during this difficult time.
Back in March, we all hoped that life would be getting back to normal by this time. It is clear that is not the case. Peru had one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world; despite these drastic measures, it has also had one of the worst outbreaks anbd highest fatality rates in the world. After over three months in military-enforced lockdown, during which adults were only allowed to leave their homes for necessities, children were not allowed out to play, and basic services like public transportation and the mail were suspended, the country began the reopening process. Many regions, including Cusco, saw a quick resurgence of the virus. After only a few weeks, Cusco was out of ICU beds and cases were continuing to rise, and the reopening was paused or reversed.
Our artisan partners and the people of Ollantaytambo have been scared. The town is 1.5 hours from Cusco and doesn't have health facilities to care for COVID patients. The people of the town have imposed a voluntary quarantine that they are asking surrounding villages, nearby towns and transport operators to honor. We are hoping that this will keep the people of the town and the villages from further spread. However, it does mean we are back to a situation where markets are inaccessible to our artisan partners and they are isolated in their villages without any way to earn income or access food beyond the potatoes that they planted last August and intended as supplemental to what they normally buy.
When you and others contributed enough for four rounds of food distribution we believed that it would be enough to see our artisan families through this pandemic. It is becoming clear that the hardship will last for longer and our goal now is to support the families through the duration of the crisis and all the way out the other side. We are so grateful for all your generosity which has enabled us to provide this support so far.
In the meantime we have been speaking to our artisans about what life is like in quarantine. They have told us about returning to older ways, supporting each other with the custom of Ayni. "There are many people working in the Ayni," artisan Simeona from Huilloc told us. The principle of Andean reciprocity, Ayni means "today for you, tomorrow for me," and this idea has guided Andean life for centuries. Ayni governs how villages work together to farm each family's fields and share resources. In the pre-tourism economy, this shared community effort was necessary for small farming communities to survive in the harsh and remote Andes. "Our grandparents used to practice Ayni, then the farms were abandoned," said Agripina. Now, as the planting season begins, families are taking turns working in communal labor parties in each others' fields, trying to grow as much food as they can for the coming year.
They also explained how Ayni has guided other aspects of life. "There is no internet connection. We lend each other our cell phones so our children can take classes," Hilda from Huilloc explained. Artisan Gregoria from Kelkanca told us, "Ayni is done with food as well. We don't always have our pantries full."
These communities are strong and resilient. It is an honor to work with them and support them as they draw on their customs and the resources they have to build a better future, even facing the threat and uncertainty that the pandemic has brought.
Thank you for all you are doing to walk with us and our artisan partners through this difficult time.