In May of 2022 Sustain Dane staff met with members of Mundo Esperanza to discuss their sustainability story. Among the members it included organization president Vicor Villacrez, vice president and spiritual advisor Rene Heiden, and board of directors’ members Steve Whayland, Missy Tracey and Jennifer Johnson.

While Mundo Esperanza was only recently founded in 2021 the relationship between the city of Madison, Wisconsin and Cuzco Peru spans across generations. Villacrez’s father migrated from Cuzco in 1958 and initially established the ancestral tie that remains important to this day. It was after a visit to Cuzco in 2000 there became a realization that there was something more to this connection to be explored.

There were multiple attempts to establish a sister city status between the city of Madison and Cuzco, however it wasn’t successful until the fall of 2020 as the organization began to explore its more ancestral and spiritual ties. In furthering this connection, they were introduced to a prophecy that quickly became the mission statement of this organization.

The prophecy reads, “when the condor meets the eagle, great balance and harmony will grace the land, bringing hope to the people and healing energy to the planet.” This led to the creation of the organizations name of Mundo Esperanza, meaning “world hope.” Additionally, it helped lay the groundwork for indigenous peoples to have a strong voice in the organization and attracted Municipal Relations Coordinator at Ho-Chunk Gaming, Missy Tracey to the cause. Missy explains the importance of indigenous voices as they are “the caretakers of the planet, we have a relationship between the land, the air, the water. It’s not, ‘it’s a wonderful plot of land, what can I erect on here?’ but rather take only what you need and leave enough for future generations. We need to listen to traditional indigenous knowledge. This coming together of the eagle of the condor is a force and people will take notice.”

Once they aligned with the prophecy, Rene explained that “everything just started to happen.” Victor agreed, adding that after two decades of trying to establish this connection the progress forward “was just uncontainable.” Having this sense of service and life purpose helped shift the mission to show that ancestral cooperation. The pandemic also served as a driver to make this attempt at a connection successful. Rene believes the pandemic lead to an “opening of consciousness. It is much easier for us to discuss these things now than it was ten years ago. Pandemics have a way opening up and enlightening us throughout history.” Missy echoed Renes thoughts, explaining that the world was put on pause and showed us what we took for granted as well as brought us all together and reenforced the reminder to appreciate one another.

With their newfound mission, Mundo Esperanza was able to continue their work with newfound vigor. One of the largest tasks to date is working with Cuzco to assist them with issues regarding their landfill. With their current landfill being ten years past capacity, located on the side of a mountain and degraded due to rainfaall, it has created a perfect storm of problems. With Madison’s current push for the new landfill to become a sustainability campus it only made sense to open communication between the cities and lean on some of the knowledge Madison has with their current landfill undertaking. The work doesn’t end there, as their team is working on planting one million trees to help prevent erosion in the region. While they are halfway to their goal, Mundo Ezperanza is hoping to shadow these efforts in Dane county as well with indigenous knowledge heavily involved in the conversation as it is important that the actions down in Cuzco mirror the actions here as all “efforts on the condor side must be balanced on the eagle side.” Recently, Mundo Ezperanza has even started to look at expanding solar in the Peruvian region. They plan to install solar arrays on orphanages, medical clinics, schools and more!. Unlike U.S. solar, installation in Cuzco is a fraction of the price and offers an even greater return of investment. It has even attracted the eye of another Sustain Dane member, Great Dane co-founder Eliot Butler, and he has donated to further these efforts. Additionally, with 80% of the solid waste being biologic there is a great need to expand composting with a focus on solid waste program implementation, as it is imperative as it directly exacerbates the landfill issues.

Setting their sights to the future, the organization has upcoming plans to journey to Cuzco Peru during mid-June. The purpose of the trip is to strengthen the relationship between the cities, continue education on stabilizing the landfill, visit the progress made on tree planting projects and build trust. Missy explains the need for this trust and retelling of indigenous knowledge as through years of forced assimilation much of that knowledge is lost. “The history is in the land, you can’t erase it, it’s there…That assimilation gave the space for people to ravage the land.” Because of a history of mistrust between indigenous communities and outsiders it is imperative that this project is built on a foundation of trust. Missy continues, stating “there is a reason there’s a lack of trust. When you do what has been done to indigenous people there is an enormous lack of trust with someone coming into their community… it’s all over again, people telling them they’re a savage, we need to teach you, you need to assimilate, lose your culture, lose your language, we have a better way. It has to be approached very respectfully, very intentionally, because there is a lack of trust and rightfully so.” Therefore, it is so important to Mundo Esperanza to have Wisconsin indigenous members as part of the conversation. Steve highlights the importance of cross communication between the two cities citing that “it’s not like we’re saving them, we’re helping them and they’re helping us” and in turn creating a mutually symbiotic relationship.

When asked what an ideal sustainable future looks like to them, Mundo Ezperanza each of the members focuses on a future of unification. In order to meet this idea, we need a shift in values where we have “respect for the planet and respect for one another,” where we are better listeners and learners, and in doing so this change will lead to action. Victor perfectly summarizes how Mundo Esperanza is working toward this future, “there is a vision of the better world that we know can exist. That is where this collective, this hope, calls us.”

Mundo Esperanza encourages anyone interested in learning more, joining the cause, or helping to fund some of these amazing projects to make reach out.

Mundo Esperanza President Victor Villacrez contact

Mundo Esperanza Vice President Rene Heiden contact