Sherlin is 17 years old. He joined the NPH Peru family in July 2011 with his two siblings, Michell and Marcel. Sherlin finished high school in 2020 and currently he is doing his year of service at Casa Santa Rosa. Every day he helps to prepare meals for the 78 children and 54 staff of NPH Peru.
When Sherlin was born, his family lived in Santa Ana, a rural village located 15 km away from Casa Santa Rosa, on the outskirts of the populous Imperial district in Cañete province. Sherlin does not have many memories of his father Juan, who died when Sherlin was very young.
Sherlin does have one clear memory of his father, watching him teach his brother Marcel how to plant fruit trees. They used to grow peaches and bananas. “My father was passionate about fruits,” he says.
Agriculture and livestock are the most common ways of making a living in this small village of around 3,000 people. Farming is still done following the basic traditional techniques of the Andean region. In a good year, they can produce enough to eat and have a little extra to sell. Though minimal, this subsistence farming offers the only source of regular income for most families in rural Santa Ana.
Cotton, sweet potatoes, vines, and fruits are the most important crops grown in the low-lying Cañete area. Its farmlands are very productive thanks to its flat terrain, crisscrossed with irrigation ditches that distribute water from the Cañete River.
The house in which Sherlin grew up was not always a happy environment. His parents struggled to find stable jobs and they often fought, sometimes neglecting Sherlin and his two siblings. Poverty meant that their home was inadequate and food was scarce at times.
“Our house was very small and its metal ceiling had many holes in it. When it rained, you could hear it pounding loudly and the leaks could flood the house. The walls were flimsy, so in the winter it got very chilly. When we hadn’t eaten anything, you would feel the cold inside even more,” he remembers.
In 2011, when Sherlin was 8, he was sent to live at Casa Santa Rosa, along with his 10-year-old brother, Marcel and his little sister, Michell, age 3.
“When I arrived at NPH Peru,” he continues, “I had to be fed a special diet because I was malnourished. We never had much to eat at home because my parents never held steady jobs. The medical staff was a little worried because malnutrition could have caused me long-term developmental effects. Nowadays, the caregivers sometimes remind me of this, but they are happy to see that I am healthy now.”
Today, his older brother Marcel is 19-years-old and belongs to the University student programme, supported by NPH. Marcel is majoring in Hospitality and Tourism at the University of Cañete. His sister Michell is now 13 and lives at NPH Peru’s “Señor de los Milagros” girls’ home.
“Sherlin is a fairly calm, respectful, and responsible young man who likes to play football,” says Eddy Martinez, a social worker. “He gets along with his NPH siblings. Sherlin dedicates part of his time to planting and caring for plants and fruit trees in the small garden near his house. He talks to his brother Marcel on weekends about their daily activities and caring for plants, which is a shared interest of theirs.”
Sherlin’s brother Marcel used to grow some fruits while he lived at Casa Santa Rosa. When he left to start university, someone else had to take care of the bananas, tomatoes, and cucumbers he had planted in the garden of the San Francisco boys’ home. Sherlin not only took over this task but expanded the types of fruits and vegetables grown there.
“I learned about germinating seeds by watching videos on YouTube, then I began growing lettuce, chili peppers, and passion fruit. This year, I have planted figs, bananas, and sweet potatoes, so I hope to harvest these soon. I would like to use them to make juices and desserts for the children, especially the kindergarteners. Or maybe we can sell these fruits. They may only earn a little money, but at least this could be a small way for me to pay NPH back for the immense support we have here,” he says.
Sherlin wants to study agronomy because he enjoys a sense of freedom and peace when he is in the fields, a connection with the plants and animals. This is his last year living at Casa Santa Rosa, but he is excited about his future. “I know next year I will leave this NPH home to start my university studies. Many things in my life will probably change, but I feel calm because I know NPH will continue supporting me. I will be a part of the University Studies Program, just like my brother,” he reflects.
Sherlin would like to manage a farm one day. He sees himself working the land, teaching others what he has learned. His dream is to plant in the same fields that once belonged to his father when he was a child. Sherlin imagines exporting Peruvian fruits to other countries. “Why not even send them to our godparents’ countries?”, he adds. “That is my dream, surely my father would also have liked this idea.”
Sherlin feels that agronomy is a very practical activity, one of the main reasons why he chose it as his major. He knows that it includes theoretical knowledge that will allow him to work the land more productively. Sherlin is ready for the challenge of university classes and for the benefits that it will offer. “I can already grow some crops with what I already know about farming,” he says, “but I also understand that if I really want to dedicate my life to this, I still have a lot to learn.”
Harvesting crops is Sherlin’s favorite part of farm life. When it is harvest season at the NPH farm, Sherlin is the first one who arrives and the last one to leave. He likes to see the results of the whole process of working the land. Sherlin feels great satisfaction in seeing the crops ready to be taken to the kitchen.
There are two large planting areas at Casa Santa Rosa. The larger one covers two hectares (almost 5 acres), where sweet potatoes and carrots were grown this season. The other field, measuring 2,500 m2 (over half an acre), grew a mix of fruits and vegetables like avocado, apple, orange, onion, tomato, and celery.
The last harvest was productive. 61,020 kg. (134,526 lb.) of sweet potatoes were collected, with each kilogram selling for $0.06, for a profit of US$3,661.20. The carrot crop weighed 24,103 kg. (53,138 lb.) and sold for $0.05 a kilogram, generating US$1,200.65. This income can be invested into the next harvest and used to cover other expenses for the NPH home.
Casa Santa Rosa also has a small bio-garden where a new irrigation system was installed some months ago, a donation from Rivulis, an innovative company that offers efficient irrigation solutions. This new system helps to save water by using it more effectively. This season, the bio-garden grew lettuce, cucumber, chili, and passion fruit. All of this produce goes straight to the NPH kitchens to prepare healthy meals for the children.
Currently, Sherlin also takes care of the animals on the farm. After helping in the kitchen area, he feeds the pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens. Some of the farm’s meat and eggs are sold to the local markets, while the rest goes directly to the NPH kitchens. Consuming self-grown food from the sustainable programs, both from the bio-garden and the animal farm, plus some from the larger fields, reduced NPH Peru’s food costs by around US$2,000 last year.
Sherlin does not have many memories of his father, but he inherited his passion for work on the land. In a few months, he will have left Casa Santa Rosa and begun studying agronomy. Agriculture provides a way for Sherlin to connect his present with his past. “I did not know my father very well, but I think he would be proud of my decision. Farming is one way to remember my dad, and it is an opportunity to be connected to him.”
*Names changed to protect child’s privacy.
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