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Clarita, a process of hope and teamwork in a post-COVID world

Posted Friday 03 February 2023
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Clarita is a surprisingly composed and calm soul considering the storm she lived through during the harshest moments of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Her story enables us to understand the pillars of a community-based project in a more organic and human way.

As we approach her house, she runs to welcome us, and her gaze unveils a lifetime of struggle finding still its way to be at peace. A sort of wisdom long searched by many.

We sit down by the oven where she now bakes her bread, but her story starts way before this moment. She used to bake bread in a rented home oven of a neighbour, small and very old. She baked for the neighbouring communities and her family of three, her husband and a son with a disability, still living at home with the support of his parents.

As the pandemic hit Perú, the country closed as many others around the world. Communities like Santa Rosa in the buffer zone of the Rio Abiseo National Park were left alone. Clarita’s small business got hit and the family economy collapsed. As people still had to go out to get supplies, the spread of COVID started to get worse, forcing communities to also face a long-term deficient medical system. They were left to fend for themselves, and Clarita experienced the most painful moment of her life as her husband became victim of the virus and died.

Her journey, as a single mother in the midst of a Pandemic, begun and as communities and countries started to open their borders again, she was faced with the dilemma of how to care for her son and maintain the household economy afloat.

Under these circumstances, IUCN, and the German Government through GIZ, joined forces with our implementing partner Planeterra to build the “Sustainable Tourism and Protected Areas in a Post-COVID World” project in Perú and Vietnam, responding to the impacts of the pandemic. As part of the implementing activities, communities in the Rio Abiseo National Park and the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve created Community Action Plans, prioritizing and developing sustainable community tourism products realized through the Cash for Work mechanism.

Santa Rosa community, where Clarita lives, was one of the communities in Rio Abiseo National Park that was part of the project. As they began their prioritizing process, they chose to build a big artisan oven for Clarita, not only to get her bakery business back on track, but also to develop her knowledge and skills into a tourism product where visitors participate in Amazonian artisan baking. A clear example of empathy and humanity, characteristics that built the roots of the Sustainable Tourism project.

The oven was built in record time, the whole community was involved, including Clarita’s son. She went from baking small batches of bread in a rusty house oven, which could only be sold to nearby communities, to baking large orders being sold even in cities such as Juanjui.

As we sit by her oven and this story unfolds, we feel she embodies the success of the Sustainable Tourism project in Perú by enabling us to see how her journey and the support from the community brought back her hope and the hope of many of the communities in times of uncertainty and pain. Many times we feel projects end and we do not have a clear understanding if they will be sustained through time, but in this case we felt that seeds were planted in fertile soil, supporting a community that has all the human conditions to turn a small project into a lifetime action plan and to build their future upon it. Clarita smiles as we leave with our bags full of her amazing bread, we know we will meet again.


Photos by: MAIA Films and Ulrika Åberg

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