Jill and Eddie Neuwelt, a couple from Portland, Oregon, took a dream vacation to Peru in December 2012. During their trip they stayed with the Yanarico family on Amantani Island in Lake Titicaca and were impressed by the family’s hospitality despite their humble and often difficult lives. To help, Jill and Eddie gave the family the gift of a solar power system to provide their home with heat and electricity.
Amantaní is a small 6 square-mile (15 square kilometer) island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca that is accessible by boat from Puno. The island is home to around 4,000 people and most livelihoods are based on manual agricultural labor. The island has no cars or hotels, one health clinic, a few schools, and local stores that sell basic goods.
The island community used to get a few hours of electricity each day from a generator, but with the rising price of petroleum, it is no longer cost-efficient. Now most island residents use candles or flashlights powered by batteries, but small solar panels have recently been introduced as an alternative source of power.
Some families on Amantaní open their homes to tourists for overnight stays and provide cooked meals, arranged through tour guides, that give travelers the unique experience to interact with locals. Jill says, “Everyone thinks of Machu Picchu when they think of Peru, but Kelly, our travel advisor, recommended the homestay on Amantani, and it became the highlight of our whole trip.”
Jill says, “They were a lovely family – there were aunts and a grandma and children all living under the same roof.” It was during their homestay with the Yanarico family that Jill and Eddie were exposed to the chilling night temperatures endured by the family. “My husband was sleeping in his gloves and parka!” Jill explains. After learning that it would take the family more than six years to save for a solar power system, Jill and Eddie were inspired to buy the family their own to provide warmth during those cold nights. “We were really happy to pay for it,” Jill says.
She adds, “Staying on Amantani was wonderful: a unique and unforgettable experience.”
Jill Neuwelt suggests that visitors going to the islands of Titicaca: “Take an instant camera. Nowadays, most people just take digital cameras and show people the photos they have taken of them on the screen. I took photos of the kids using my own instant camera and was then able to give the mothers the pictures of their children to keep. They were really happy with that. Plus, it’s a great way to bond over the language barrier.”