Teresa was born 57 years ago in a small rural community called La Soledad (“The Loneliness”) in the north of Peru (Piura Region). She lives with her two sons, Cristian, 26 and Nestor, 20, and her mother Justina, 87.
Teresa, one of seven siblings, has known about hard work since she was a child. She helped her parents to plant and harvest the rice and cotton crops, as well as the domestic chores. She loved going to school, but her father Mr. Nestor, a farmer, could no longer pay for her studies. Her younger siblings had to migrate to the capital to look for work. The family was separated, though Teresa stayed with her parents.
At the age of 15, Teresa resumed her studies. The years dedicated to the home and the field had made her think that it was too late to finish primary school. However, her love for knowledge helped her to overcome the barriers and she was able to finish her studies, graduating with a technical degree in nursing. Thanks to her perseverance, she found a job as an assistant nurse, though located in a community far from her home district, close to Lower Piura, so she moved. At 28 years old, she became a mother and seven years later had her second son. Her second pregnancy was complicated due to health problems and she was let go from her job. Without a job and as a single mother, she was forced to seek out new opportunities in order to support her children. She had several different jobs: house maid, kitchen help, saleswoman, cleaning assistant, etc. On various occasions, she had to face dangerous situations in order to feed her little ones; for example, during the 1997 El Niño, Teresa accepted sporadic work in the city of Huancabamba (in the mountains of Piura), which meant she had to cross a river, even though she didn’t know how to swim.
“When I remember that I swam across the immense Huancabamba river, I am surprised and I ask myself, ‘How did I achieve that without knowing how to swim?’ When I was in the water, I was only thinking about how I had to make it to the other side; I had to do it for my family.”
After several years, Teresa decided to take her children and return to her parents’ house. She found the house destroyed by the blows of nature. She found out that her father had died and the lot of land had been abandoned as the family was no longer able to pay the expenses. But, she didn’t let this devastating scene defeat her.
“I dedicated myself to planting cotton and raising chickens to be able to eat. Many times, I cried in my own helplessness as I saw that it was harvest time but I was not able to harvest my crops due to lack of resources because I had spent all my money on urea and other insecticides.”
In 2004, one of Teresa’s friends, herself a farmer, invited her to participate in a workshop with Heifer Peru. In that moment, everything changed for Teresa. She learned that other options exist for cultivating her crops; sustainable options that are viable and very valuable for families such as hers.
“My friend who works with Heifer Peru invited me to one of their events. After the first training, everything changed for me, including my way of life and my way of thinking.”
Teresa had felt like a person without any opportunities, without hope. However, thanks to the support from the project “Agroecology to prevent the salinity of the farming land in Sechura,” Teresa was part of the 200 families who benefited from trainings and Passing on the Gift. These families received a revolving fund of $500 to start small businesses; additionally, each family received organic fertilizer, 4 sheep, and 5 ducks.
She decided to ‘cross the river’ once again and assumed the challenge of not using any chemical fertilizers on her cotton and corn plot. Leaving behind monoculture, her plot is now diversified with various fruits (grapes, oranges, limes, plums, soursop, passion fruit), vegetables, grains and grasses, all fertilized with compost that Teresa and her family make. Her farm includes 126 ducks, 12 sheep, 6 cows, 3 horses, 20 turkeys, 30 pigs, 10 hens, 30 guinea pigs, 3 rabbits, and 10 beehives. She makes artisanal wine, guava jam, and honey (20 liters). Teresa is able to sell 80% of her produce at market and uses the other 20% for the personal consumption of her family. Her monthly income is approximately $600.
Qualities that uniquely characterize Teresa are her solidarity, cooperation, and desire to share with others. She has Passed on the Gift of her animals and plants with other families and she continues sharing with those who are most in need. Teresa is part of the Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) Communal Association (ACUNES) and is the current President. The most important Passing on the Gift is that of sharing knowledge with other members and organizations. She shares her knowledge of agroecology, livestock, gender equity, political issues, etc, which she has all learned from Heifer. Teresa is recognized as one of the best community promoters in agroecology, and, as such, she helps many others. Her farm has been converted into an inter-learning agroecology center where she receives groups from other places. Over the years, she has received over 1,000 participants. She is continually interviewed by diverse media outlets (television and radio) and participates in a variety of activities including experience exchanges and agroecological fairs.
Giving a small donation to Teresa lit up the small spark that unleashed her success story; it was the fertilizer that fell on the fertile ground of her personal growth. Today, there are no longer limits or obstacles for Teresa. Crossing a river without knowing how to swim is nothing compared to what she is able to do for her family and community. Teresa has won several awards; last year, the agriculture program, Cultivating, recognized her for her success in producing healthy food for the local population.
Teresa is aware that the donations of people from other countries provided the support for her to be able to start anew and change the destiny of her family.
“I am thankful for all the changes in my life, in my finances, my family, and my community. I pray for the donors who made it possible for a woman like me to support my family and the dreams of many leaders. I pray that we can be the people who continue to help others because, in that way, we can make this world a better place.”