The Daughters of Awichita

Shortlist 2015

Omar Lucas

Omar Lucas is a documentary photographer who commits long-term projects throughout his home country of Peru, exploring issues such as human rights, environment and identity.

The Conflict

The Daughters of Awichita

Now exporting more illegally-produced gold than cocaine, Peru is one of the worlds largest gold exporters and also its dirtiest. Though there are many who profit from this gold rush, hidden in the snowy Andean mountains exists a population of women that are slaves to its feigned bounty: the Daughters of Awichita. About five hours away from Lake Titicaca, there is a population of about 70,000 people who live on the gold they extract from the edges of a snowy mountain. At 5,400 meters above sea level, it is said that its the highest city in the world. The pollution is brutal. There is no water or sewage system, the violence is out of control, there is childhood prostitution. Women, known as pallaqueras, are not allowed to enter the mine. The local belief is that the mountain, known as Awichita, is a jealous Sleeping Beauty, and any female presence within can make her take away all the gold. But their economic need is huge. So, the women wait outside the mine and search the waste from which the men have extracted minerals. During 12-hour-long trips, they search for tiny pieces of gold. On a good day, they make as much as $8. The conditions are terrible: day and night they work along the unstable hills of waste, in severe weather and without security. Many of the women are widows or single mothers. These women miners are the last link in the mining chain and they do the job that nobody else wants to do. They feel nobody cares for them. They are worried about the future and fear that they will be even worse in years to come. They live in La Rinconada because it is the only place where they can find work and are locked permanently into a state of poverty. This is the great paradox. Per is one fastest growing countries in South America, yet a large part of their population lives in extreme poverty and hunger. La Rinconada, Peru. 2014