Our Privacy/Cookie Policy contains detailed information about the types of cookies & related technology on our site, and some ways to opt out. By using the site, you agree to the uses of cookies and other technology as outlined in our Policy, and to our Terms of Use.


You Won't Believe What This Mom Does With Guinea Pigs

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.

Then, the 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 footprint.

RELATED: A Day in the Life of My Mommy Brain

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 world? MOMS.

Even though Carina and I are from markedly different worlds ... we're not all that different.

Carina 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 pet here]?)

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.

RELATED: 10 Questions With Chef Antonia Lofaso

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.

What will Carina inspire you to change?

Image via Care

More from lifestyle