There are two ways of looking at the remote Peruvian valley where 13-year-old Rodrigo has grown up. You can see it as a place of poverty and violence, overshadowed by the cocaine trade, where kidnappings and killings are regular occurrences. A place where teenagers and young adults see no future and want to leave as fast as they can.
But you can also see it as a fertile valley lush with promise — specifically, the promise of world-class chocolate. That’s Rodrigo’s vision, because he’s seen with his own eyes that it's possible.
"I've been helping since I was six," says Rodrigo of his work on his family’s cacao farm. Keeping the cacao plants and pods healthy and safe from pests is a full-time job for his parents William and Daria. After school and on weekends, Rodrigo learns the skills he needs to sustain the family’s cocoa business.
"It's my responsibility as a son," says Rodrigo, but he also enjoys the work. “Everything's fun. I like all of it."
Your generosity keeps family farms going
With your support, his parents have learned farming techniques that help them combat pests, harvest the best cocoa beans and ferment them properly. Farmers receive assistance in the bean-to-bar process from experts, making sure the quality is high.
Rodrigo’s mother, a leader in the Qori Warmi ("Women of Gold") cacao cooperative, was thrilled when the co-op women won an award for their chocolate. Rodrigo knew he had played a part in that success. "When I heard about the prize, I was happy," he says.
In stark contrast to the notoriety the region has gained because of cocaine dealers, the co-op's women are becoming well-known for a legal – and delicious – crop. "It’s changed the perception of the valley from being known as the valley of cocaine to being the valley of the best cocoa and Peruvian chocolate," says Edgar Isla-Sanchez, Project Director for Lutheran World Relief.
A better future for Peru’s young women and men
In a region where machismo dominates the culture, the women co-op's success has also been a visible example to young girls. From the age of 11, Angye – now 15 – has watched as her mother Sonia Doris Rodriguez became an energetic co-op leader. For five consecutive years, Angye has seen the Qori Warmi women win gold, silver or bronze medals in the International Chocolate Awards.
Today, the teenage girl spreads the word about the chocolate, telling the story of women entrepreneurs like her mother. Angye's dream is to one day represent the cooperative at international events in different languages.
You've changed the game for Peru's youth
Rodrigo, Angye and other youth in the valley see their families' household incomes increasing thanks to the chocolate production. At school, they are proud of how their parents are succeeding. When foreign visitors arrive to see his family's cacao groves, Rodrigo asks for a photo. "I told my friends at school that this is why I couldn’t attend today. They didn't believe me," he says, grinning.
With a school education and expert training in cacao production, Rodrigo knows he can keep the family farm profitable when he’s grown up. Unlike youth who leave the valley for other parts of Peru or other countries, Rodrigo looks forward to staying.
"He wants to stay here," says his mother Daria. "Not like other students who are going to look for jobs in other areas.
“He says, 'I’m going to process chocolates. I’m going to work here,'" she smiles. "'There is going to be income.'"