Yuli Vásquez became a mother at 16. Her husband, her son and her were given a room in a house in the Indoamérica neighbourhood in Carabayllo. In the surrounding, there were cultivation lands where she used to pick up the chopped tomatoes that were left over after the harvest to sell them. Years later, those lands became building sites, and there she lived. She only attended the first year of primary school, but that never discouraged her. Today she is president of the “Cristo Única Esperanza” soup kitchen, and she and her colleagues won the contest that led them to participate in Mistura. Her story is that of thousands of Peruvians who have overcome hardship and fight to improve their quality of life and their community.
How much did it affect you not to have attended school?
I have no studies, but with my abilities I have done a lot; that I tell my children. I also tell them that if I had attended school, I would have done a lot more! That is why I teach them to be grateful, because they have what I lacked.
How did you get this piece of land?
That was a quite a story. I always liked business. I used to sell potatoes in the 18 de Setiembre Market and saved some money, but I did not know how much because I would give everything to my husband. If I had kept the money, I would have spent it (laughs)... He was in charge of using it in what we needed the most.
So you two are a good team.
Yes. One day it was my birthday he said “Let's go to the avenue, I’ll buy you whatever you want”. I always wanted still! to have a big stove, like the one I used when I was a child working at a house. The lady of the house would put a stool for me. It had six burners and was made of bronze.
How old were you?
That was my dream! But I said to myself, “Where am I supposed to put it anyway?” Instead, I told my husband, “That’s what I want”, while pointing to a sign: “Land for sale. Immediate delivery”. “Let’s go then”, he said. “For real?” I asked. I could not believe it, I asked him to pinch me (laughs)...
Was there a soup kitchen in the area?
No, I was part of the Indoamérica soup kitchen, in the neighbourhood where we used to live, and when we came here, there was almost no inhabitants. There was no electricity and no water.
What material was your house made of in the beginning?
Wood, but I did not care! We came here as fast as possible because my son was bullied. The day someone threw a stone at him, I told my husband that we were leaving for good, that we would live in a hut or whatever as long as we were safe in our own land. I remember when we finished building our little house, my little boy asked, “Daddy, no one’s going to beat me here, right?” We ended up crying that day...
Your son is now 23 years old. What is he up to?
He studies Environmental Engineering at the César Vallejo University. He finishes next year... I am so happy. As they say, “I did it!” (Yuli's voice breaks)...
How was “Cristo Única Esperanza” soup kitchen born?
I told my neighbours to make our own soup kitchen. At first, we lent each other the pots and the kitchen. One day, I heard that some soup kitchen was going to close because the women no longer wanted to cook. I asked them to give it to me with all the help it already received.
This soup kitchen was part of the last Mistura edition, and you and your partners were awarded by Gastón Acurio and the Minister of Development and Social Inclusion. How did that happen?
Phew! It was not until after a lot of sacrifice, but impossible is nothing. For a woman, nothing is impossible! The husband of one of us did not want his wife to do it though…
Some men do not want women to be empowered, they think that their wives will become “rebellious”.
Right, but we have made progress little by little. He came round after we brought him to see what we do here, and we showed him that we do it because we like it! We are demonstrating that we can, that we do not need a man to be someone.
How did you decide to apply for the prize that led you to Mistura?
I knew about it at some talk I attended. I said to myself, “We have Nalda, who’s an excellent cook, so we have to participate!”, then I asked her, and she said not only yes, but that we would surely win.
Nalda Nano created the winning dish: fried “doncella” (fish) with roasted potatoes in tarwi sauce and corn sautéed.
The whole idea was hers. I also spoke with Doris Arohuillca, and the two promised me that they would not let me down. They said “You might not like cooking but you’ll see!” (Laughs)...
That is funny: the soup kitchen president does not like to cook.
I cook, but business is my thing. I am the businesswoman in the group. Everyone has their gift, right?