Through her nonprofit Señorita, Villafuerte is educating disadvantaged girls in Peru.
“My plan is to see no woman on the streets in my city.”
Shelf Unbound: What is Señorita and what is its mission?
Kuky Villafuerte: I have the need to help other women, and the mission for Señorita is to empower women through education. Education is a good tool that will give them a promising future, especially for girls who don’t have the same blessings that I’ve had when it comes to education.
Shelf Unbound: You’re working with an orphanage?
Kuky: When I was living in Peru I had a cupcake shop; I had my own business. So that gave me an opportunity to manage my time. One day my aunt asked me if I wanted to do some social work with her at an orphanage, and I could take time off so I went with her. The moment I stepped into that house, a bunch of kids came running to me with the happiest faces ever. And I’m like, I’m not Santa, I don’t know why you are smiling at me, because it was during Christmastime, but they just wanted to be kissed and hugged. For me it was love at first sight. And it was what I had been looking for because I had always felt like there was something empty in me.
I established a good working relationship with the pastor in charge of the orphanage, Jose, and his wife, who take care of the 40 or so kids of all different ages living there. I asked, “how can I help you?” And they said that they had people who brought rice but that they didn’t have fruit or vegetables because those foods rot so quickly. So I went to the company I was working for and asked if they could supply fruits and vegetables to the orphanage weekly. They said, “yes, no problem.”
With that covered, I asked again, “how can I help you?” Jose said that between getting all the kids to school and back and everything else, he didn’t have time to take them to the park or elsewhere to have fun on the weekends. So I put myself in charge of that, and once or twice a month, depending on my schedule, I would celebrate their birthdays and take them out for a movie, swimming, things like that.
As time went by, I started having a really good connection with the teenage girls. I felt like they were very shy, very introverted. But whenever they were with each other, they were different. I had a roommate from Canada who suggested we teach them how to swim. So we started taking them to the pool for swimming lessons. But I noticed over time that we had fewer and fewer teenage girls with us. Jose explained that when most of the girls turn 18 they decide to leave, and often the girls will come back pregnant and then the story repeats again. They have a need for love that they haven’t had, and whoever gives them attention first, they feel like that guy is the love of their life and they give everything to him. But it’s just another little teenage boy that doesn’t know anything about life yet.
After three years of seeing what was going on, it was time for me to come back to the United States; my family is here. But I didn’t want to just leave the orphanage behind, so I proposed a program to Jose.
I asked him what he thought would most help the girls coming out of the orphanage. He said, “Kuky, give them a skill. It will give them more confidence and they will be able to find a better job.” In Peru it’s not easy to get a job.
When you go to a national school, your education is really bad and a lot of people will not hire you. So these girls will just end up working in a house as a maid and will be there the rest of their lives. The plan with Señorita is to create something where they can go to an institute or to college, where they will learn a specific skill.
Shelf Unbound: That’s great, so you’ve got three girls in college right now?
Kuky:Yes, we found three girls who had finished high school and were ready to get out of the orphanage. Two of them are staying in the orphanage while they attend college and one has a part-time job that is paying for her apartment. Señorita covers their monthly tuition, books, daily transportation, and clothing for their career.
They started to college in March of this year;I have two girls who are studying to be chefs and the other one is studying to be an accounting assistant.
Shelf Unbound: Do you do follow them to see how they’re doing?
Kuky: Yes. Before I left Peru, I talked to a group of girls who used to do community service and told them about the project. We were concerned about giving these girls an emotional education as well and wanted to check in on how they are doing emotionally. So I asked this group to mentor the girls, and they meet with them individually on a weekly basis and as a group once a month. Usually it’s either to celebrate somebody’s birthday for that month, or we also have a friend whose aunt is a psychologist, so she will bring a topic to talk about, like how to manage your time correctly—something that will give them tools to continue their college career.
Shelf Unbound: Great. Are you able to cover all of their expenses?
Kuky: Right now, I get a little bit of scholarship money from the school they attend. I cover the rest of everything. I’m a kickboxing instructor, so I give from my paycheck if I don’t sell enough jewelry for the month.
Shelf Unbound: What are your goals for Señorita?
Kuky: To be honest, living almost four years in Peru recently, sometimes I couldn’t handle it, just seeing women on the streets with their kids, asking for money. Why were they in that position? Girls are raped. Husbands go away and they are on their own. I wondered, how could I target that? Where is this starting? I decided I needed to target teenage girls, particularly girls who are most vulnerable to be in that situation—girls that don’t have family, girls that don’t have education, girls who are on their own.
So when it comes to Señorita—my mind just goes limitless. My plan is to see no woman on the streets in my city, and then continue growing.