Exquisite Foods: Special People Learn Life Skills

Fr. Chris Baker
April 5, 2010

Ten years ago, in an inner city Lima, Peru, parish where I was working, we launched the Association of People with Special Abilities (ASPHAD) to serve people of all ages who have physical or intellectual difficulties. With the Lord’s help and generous support from friends in several countries, we purchased an old family home and gradually added a couple of storeys to serve as the ASPHAD Center. We set up a variety of small workshop areas and a large exercise room for the special people who come to us. Our friendly center serves approximately 40 families that have at least one member with serious learning or physical difficulties. The ages of the special people run from 15 to 50 as they are welcome to continue learning at the Center indefinitely.

Caring for the cuyes at the Center

This year we have been equipping space for training and production workshops including a kitchen, computer room, rooms for sewing by hand and machine, leather work, physical therapy and stimulating games, handicrafts, traditional music and dancing. On the flat roof, protected by an arched roof of hard plastic, more than 50 breeding cuyes (small animals like guinea pigs), are producing two or three little cuyes approximately every three months.We are pleased to see how caring for the cuyes helps the special people to have more stimulation, friendships and happiness in life.

Over the last few months, we have held two sales of cooked cuyes. It is common in Lima to see publicity for fund-raising events offering “exquisite food, drinks, and dance music.” There is a high standard here, and the women, many of them the mothers of the people who attend the Center, doing the cooking in our kitchen truly exceeded expectations. They prepared “exquisite” plates of cuy surrounded by rice and potatoes, enriched by delicious sauces. The sale of the meals provides a return on the investment in the cuyes and helps to cover some of the additional costs of running the Center as well.

ASPHAD students and their caregivers

Encouraged by the success of cooking and selling the cuyes, the cooks decided that they could also prepare and sell a large variety of bread and pastry items. With their shared talents and some of the special people assisting them, they needed a much larger oven and mixing bowls. One of the mothers, Ayda, whose son has a serious physical and speaking handicap, is a retired school teacher very good at all kinds of baking. She has become our main cooking and baking teacher for most of the other mothers plus our special students.

The bakery will emphasize the training of those with handicaps since, in varying degrees, they can help with the mixing and shaping of whatever is being baked. The students will also get some of it to eat, as we finish around 5:30 each afternoon with some kind of a sandwich or cake and a drink, generally hot these winter days. Our hope, of course, is to have enough products left over to keep selling them to hungry neighbors, who happen to be without any pastry shop in our area.

Hopes are high that next time our cooks and helpers prepare tasty plates of cuy, they will also be able to offer the customers an additional assortment of exquisite cakes and pastries to top off their meal. The long term goal is that the special people will also be able and willing to share in the preparing and serving of meals in their own homes. Some at least also will be able to prepare really tempting food for sale on the streets. Preparing the exquisite foods helps the special people become more independent while the money raised from the sale of the food goes to the Center to fund more projects.

Chris Baker

Columban Father Chris Baker lives and works in Peru.