Giving hope, one meal at a time
Luzmila lives in the hilly municipality of San Juan de Lurigancho, an extremely poor area on the outskirts of Lima, Peru that more than one million inhabitants call home. When we first met Luzmila in early 2022, she was an active member of the Luchadoras (Community Pot) soup kitchen, where she and four other women cook for their neighbours. At the time, she was happy to be cooking indoors in a permanent location (their prior location was outdoors), and had begun to attend workshops and training sessions provided by Cuso International program partner CENCA.
When we visited Luzmila on January 18, 2023, she had just come from one such workshop, where she and other Community Pot members are learning how to speak in public so they can help advocate for the work they are doing. She explained that she doesn’t see herself as a public speaker, but she knows it’s important to share what she and others are doing.
It was a busy day for Luzmila, as it was also her day to cook in the community kitchen.
At the height of the pandemic, Luzmila reported that more than 180 families relied on the daily meals. She and her neighbours have experienced some improvement since the ebb of COVID-19. In the past six months, the number of individuals who need food daily is closer to 30 families and 80 people.
“There are orphaned children, elderly people, and other families that come to the kitchen, but it is much less than before,” said Luzmila. “In total, we serve 86 plates or dishes each day.” She and her fellow Community Pot members rotate duties and responsibilities through the week from Monday to Friday.
“It is true that there are changes,” said Luzmila. “Before we were in lockdown and we could not do many things, but now that things are a bit more normal, we have been able to attend trainings, and we have been able to go to workshops.”
Thanks to the workshops, Luzmila has also learned several new skills that will serve her and her family well. “I’ve learned how to make shoes and sandals and prepare baked goods, and I have learned how to farm. I am now a member of the Farmer to Farmer initiative—an urban garden that helps provide food to my local community and my Community Pot kitchen.”
We visited the garden next to her kitchen, which sits astride a schoolroom and training room that is also used by the community. Both constructions were completed in the last year as part of the MUSA project. Luzmila went on to explain how the garden was established during the pandemic, and how important this was for them, as they could not leave their community to access local markets.
Thanks to the Farmer to Farmer project, Luzmila and her neighbours have been taught the essentials of urban gardening, soil requirements, pest control, and what products will fare well in their arid climate. In a relatively short time, their plantings have reaped a harvest. Today, Luzmilla grows celery, tomatoes, kale, beans, and peppers—all produce that supports the Community Pots kitchen. “We are now in a time where we need to transplant new little plants,” she explained.
There is now a group of 24 women who work in horticulture. They learn how to plant certain vegetables, and have learned the benefit of vegetables as a way to combat anemia, which is prevalent among children in Peru.
Gardening in Peru’s desert climate is possible only if gardeners can access water—and accessing water in San Juan de Lurigancho requires planning, coordination, and fortitude. As Luzmila shared, “Nothing is wasted. After we wash the potatoes, we wash the rice, and other vegetables in our kitchen, we must use that water for our garden to water our plants. We reuse the water because we don’t have running water.”
There are only three houses in Luzmila’s neighborhood that receive drinking water and she pointed out several large tanks where potable water is stored for the neighborhood. But most homes, like Luzmila’s, do not have a water service. Thankfully, her Community Pots kitchen does.
“My home doesn’t have a water service. In the Community Pot kitchen we have the service, but all the neighbours know we must reuse (save) water for the garden when we can,” said Luzmila.
The reality is that for most who live in this area, proper housing, access to electricity, and potable water is not a given. “I don’t have the service of electricity or water. My neighbour provides me water through a hose, and sometimes lets me access their electricity.”
We noted new construction in her area, and that was a bright spot for Luzmila.
“We do see the progress in the community, and we are grateful for it. But, for my children, I want a better future. I have hope and faith,” said Luzmila.
New Spaces to Support Community Needs
Within the MUSA project, over the past 12 months there has been a
lot of new construction, specifically to build multi-functional spaces
like the children’s classroom we visited next to Luzmila’s community
kitchen. As Freyre Pedraza, the MUSA project coordinator explained,
six of these spaces were built last year, and they are starting to build
more units. “They are important places where women can come
together, talk, decide on things, share ideas,” he added.
Freyre shared that MUSA has also introduced an agroecological
certification that validates types of produce and quality farmed through
the MUSA urban gardens. All products that receive the certification
must comply with safety and sanitation rules. Freyre explained that
this is an improvement. “The certification allows MUSA gardeners to
access new markets and it also provides them with direct access to
the consumer, which is an important part of the project’s advocacy
effort. We are working with our partner CENCA and local government to
Food Recovery Policy
CENCA estimates that 10 tons of food goes wasted in metropolitan
Lima every day. Food that can be salvaged. A new food recovery
program initiated under MUSA soon will allow members of the
community to get the food destined for landfills, recover what can still
be cooked—and bring it to the Community Pot kitchens. The salvage
effort was initiated as a bill that was passed by local municipality last
year. MUSA partners recognize that there is still work to do to ensure it
is implemented as intended.
Farmer Development Project (MUSA)
The Farmer to Farmer project launched in 2022 and currently works
with 40 communities. The program provides tools and equipment to
support urban gardens like the one we visited next to Luzmila’s kitchen.
The project is also beginning to look at another level of production, to
use the farmed produce not only for cooking but also to create value
added products such as oils, marmalades, and jams, that can be sold
by the urban farmers.