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When Carina Nicolas Zamora was 25 years old, she was
living in extreme poverty in Ayacucho, Peru. She shared a bed with her mother, a few siblings
and various family pets. The notion of ever running her own successful business
simply did not exist.
poverty-fighting organization care.org came to her village and offered her a $100
loan. "They suggested I use it to buy seven guinea
pigs," Carina told me
through a translator at Care's recent legislative conference in Washington, D.C.
"Six females, one male." Guinea pigs, a local delicacy called cuy, are a main source of dietary
protein in Peru, as they're affordable, easy to breed at high altitudes
(Ayacucho sits about 9,000 feet above sea level) and have a low carbon
Startlingly soon, those seven guinea pigs mushroomed
into 800, and suddenly, Carina was a microfinance businesswoman. She met her
husband, had a baby and was able to pay Care back and start investing in
quinoa; they now own four hectors of farmland. (A hector is equivalent to one football field.)
"My family is living comfortably now," she says with an easy,
dazzling smile. "We added a room to our home. Our daughter has her own space.
The kids don't have stomach pains anymore. Before, we ate meat once a year,
maybe on my birthday. Now, we eat meat every day."
Cue Beyoncé singing, Who runs the
Even though Carina and I are from markedly different worlds ... we're not all that different.
recently flew on a plane for her first time to come to Washington, D.C. and
accept an award from Care for her passion and commitment to helping transform
not only her community, but her and her family's life. On hand to present the
award were famous chefs Victor Albisu, Asha Gomez and Spike Mendelsohn (of "Top Chef" fame) who traveled to Peru last year on a Care Learning Tour,
where they learned first hand why 842 million people around the world go hungry
while another two billion suffer from malnutrition. While there, Carina taught
them how to catch, prepare and fry up some cuy
which probably tasted awesome when paired with qapchi, a rich dish of cheese and hot aji peppers, and chicha morada, Carina's homemade sweet purple corn drink. (And honestly, what
tired mother hasn't joked about cooking up [insert your child's annoying
When I spoke with Carina prior
to the awards ceremony, her face lit up while she described her 5-year-old
daughter Jimena, a spunky student with thick black bangs and a dog named Goofy.
Even though Carina and I are from markedly different worlds and needed a
translator to communicate, we're not all that different.
We're both moms
who take pride in being able to provide for our daughters. Neither of us really
needs to hear more about Dora or her backpack again. We both love asking our kids
what they want to be when they grow up (both girls say doctor, although Jimena is also thinking chef or engineer) and marveling at their answers.
And even though the most
creative protein I've ever prepared is grass-fed bison from Costco, Carina's
got me thinking about all the possibilities that surround us when it comes to
potential innovations. For instance, we inherited a drop-side mini-crib from a
friend, and since they're now illegal to sell, we were just going to toss it.
But I just typed in "drop-side crib hacks" on Pinterest and spotted a cool idea
for turning it upside down and transforming it into a costume dress-up area. Just
like Carina "repurposed" the guinea pigs that were running around her
neighborhood, we're repurposing our crib.