Bear Creek seeks to contribute to the sustainable development, growth and quality of life of local communities. To do so requires respect for the traditions, customs and ancestral relationships of the indigenous people of the Corani area.
Bear Creek Mining’s community relationships and initiatives are guided by the following principles:
- Open, honest, and transparent communications and interactions
- A collaborative partnership approach, allowing communities to determine their own priorities, to share the responsibility for enacting them, and to take pride in the outcomes
- Focus on health, education, and economic opportunity
- Prioritize initiatives that will persist irrespective of the Corani mine
- Operate with a high ethical standard, in or exceeding compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and internationally accepted standards
In 2012 Bear Creek and the communities of Quelcaya and Chacaconiza undertook a baseline study of living conditions in the communities using metrics from the United Nationals Human Development Index. Among its many findings, the baseline study indicated nearly pervasive poverty and high levels of extreme poverty, high levels of illiteracy, high levels of malnourishment and infant mortality and limited household access to basic services such as water, sewage, and electricity.
This baseline study underpinned Bear Creek’s commitment to focus its social programs on the areas of health, education, and economic opportunity. Just as society, economy, and environment are interconnected, so to are the issues of health, education, and economic opportunity. We have found that programs directed toward solutions in one area have positive spillovers into the others.
An overview of the company-community initiatives are outlined below. These are meaningful and impactful, grassroots, community-driven initiatives that we believe will endure long term.
Challenge: Insufficient water delivery infrastructure meant that people were unable to clean their hands easily, leading to severe intestinal diseases.
Solution: A “clean hands = healthy bodies” initiative was established, which led to significant reductions in intestinal disease. This campaign had the spin off effect of improving the cleanliness of harvested alpaca fiber and wool, which in turn supported higher revenues for farmers and artisans.
A young boy washes his hands at a portable sink in his classroom
Sorting and cleaning alpaca fiber
Challenge: The natural environment in the Corani region is not well-suited to growing crops and the remote location makes the importation of fresh fruits and vegetables expensive.
Solution: Produce locally grown and locally sourced nutritious foods. Greenhouses were built to grow fresh vegetables and research into local indigenous plants was carried out. Community members were provided with access to equipment to preserve indigenous fruits, and school groups grow vegetables in the greenhouses for school snacks. There has been a decline in anemia and malnutrition levels as a result.
Community members selling dried local foods
Students harvesting locally grown organic radishes from the greenhouse.
Access to Health Care
Challenge: Corani-area communities are small remote villages that can not support full time doctors or dentists, leading to a lack of accessible primary health care.
Solution: Use technology to provide access to on-going and on-demand remote heath monitoring and acute health care solutions. In conjunction with the Corani Technology Innovation Center we designed and constructed health monitoring stations where users can instantly their temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels, upload the data to a nearby clinic and speak with a doctor. The health monitoring stations can be used for wellness checks as well as for triaging acute health concerns to determine if users require medical care. This innovative solution enables early medical intervention and has helped improve health outcomes.
Health monitoring booth
Reading and uploading vital statistics inside a health monitoring booth
Access to education
Challenge: School buildings in Quelcaya and Chacaconiza were old and underequipped, there was little access to modern technology like computers, only primary school curriculum was offered, and regular attendance by students was low. Students wishing to attend secondary school had to travel tens of kilometers away daily, often on foot. As a result, few children had the opportunity to receive a full, high-quality education.
Solution: Build new schools, staff them with qualified teachers and equip classrooms with learning materials, school supplies and modern technology.
Since 2012, we have built 5 new schools in the towns of Quelcaya and Chacaconiza, equipped them with modern supplies including computers and recruited qualified and specialized teachers. With this expanded space and access to resources, older children and young adults now have access to a secondary school curriculum in their villages. As these education services are the responsibility of the state, there is no cost to attend school and the Government of Peru is responsible for basic expenses. These education initiatives have had a significant impact; there has been a 600% increase in school attendance, the illiteracy rate has significantly declined, the number of high school graduates has vastly increased and numerous students have received Awards of Excellence and are now pursuing post-secondary education.
Ceremony at the opening of the new school in Chacaconiza
Elementary students with school supply backpacks in their new classroom
High school students studying in their new school
Students now have access to computers and the internet for learning
Maximizing Revenue from Alpaca Fiber
Challenge: Alpaca farming, for food and for revenue from the sale of alpaca fiber, has deep cultural roots as the traditional occupation of the Andean Quechua people, including the vast majority of residents in the villages in the Corani region. Traditionally, alpaca fiber was sold through an upstream series of buyers which provided minimal revenue to the farmers. Value-added alpaca fiber clothing produced by local artisans was labour intensive and there was little access to any external markets.
Solution: Look for opportunities to increase the flow of revenue to farmers directly. We were able to connect local alpaca fiber producers to Lima buyers directly, resulting in a 10-fold increase in the price per kg local alpaca farmers receive for their fiber. Modern knitting machines were purchased, and artisans trained on their use, which increased the quality of the goods being produced. And we helped establish Quechua Alpaca, a fair-trade local cooperative that creates, markets, and sells fine alpaca garments and products (www.quechualpaca.com). As a result of these initiatives, the average family income in Chacaconiza and Quelcaya has gone from 200 Soles (~ USD $50) per month to over 2500 Soles (~ USD $750) per month, helping to alleviate the extreme poverty endemic in the region. Importantly, this has also resulted in female empowerment and gender equality as women artisans contribute to their family’s income.
|Quechua Alpaca artisans from the villages of Chacaconiza and Quelcaya, Peru|
The Quechua Alpaca cooperative creates beautiful, high quality hand-knit and machine-knit garments and products.
Quechua Alpaca goods for sale.
Improving Alpaca Health and Quality of Fiber
Challenge: Modern breeding programs and veterinary care were not practiced, resulting in sub-optimal fiber production.
Solution: Introduce state of the art animal husbandry programs and improve veterinary practices. We connected Corani alpaca farmers with veterinarians and established the Corani Alpaca Program to establish best practices in animal health and welfare, breeding programs and record keeping, which resulted in healthier livestock and a vast improvement in the quality of the alpaca fiber being produced. Alpaca from Chacaconiza and Quelcaya are now considered to produce amongst the finest alpaca fiber in the world. In 2018 Corani alpaca breeders participated in the Alpaca Fiesta Tournament where they were awarded the first prize “Grand Champion of the Race” in the category Huacayo female natural color wool. This prize recognizes the superior genetic quality of the winning animal and certifies its wool as the finest alpaca fiber in the world. Additionally, in 2018, the International Alpaca Association granted Quechua Alpaca the right to use the prestigious international Alpaca Mark on their products, certifying the cooperative’s compliance with IAA regulations and high quality standards.
Fine Alpaca fibre
2018 Grand Champion of the Race winning alpaca
Quechua Alpaca is licenced to use the prestigious Alpaca Mark on its alpaca products.
Creating new Economic Opportunity
Challenge: Economic activity in the communities of Chacaconiza and Quelcaya is almost exclusively driven by alpaca farming. While the Corani operation will bring new jobs to the area, Bear Creek is committed to helping develop other opportunities to sustainably diversify the local economy.
Solution: We established the Corani Technological Innovation Center (“CTIC”) to cultivate opportunities for economic diversification and skills training, using local natural resources wherever possible. At the CTIC, teachers provide instruction and training focusing on physics, math, chemistry and technology to villagers and youth, and creative solutions and products are imagined, developed, tested, and produced. The CTIC has been extremely successful in incubating new, sustainable economic opportunities and in demonstrating that the local economy can be diversified. Not only have a number of marketable products been developed (see below), but youth are engaged in learning modern technologies that they can put to practice in, and for the benefit of, their communities. Bear Creek is assisting the CTIC in creating a local company to enable the formal commercialization of some of the products they are developing and producing.
Learn more about the Corani Technological Innovation Center in this video.
Healthy and Smart Clothing: The CTIC developed a technique to incorporate silver nanoparticles into alpaca fiber (two natural local commodities) to create clothing with natural antibacterial properties. They also created “smart” clothes that have sensors built into the silver-imbibed alpaca fiber sweaters, which allows the wearer’s location and health conditions such as temperature, heart rate and respiration, to be monitored. These smart garments are being field tested by the Peruvian military.
Ichu grass panels: Ichu grass is an indigenous plant that grows prolifically in the Corani area. According to studies carried out at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Ichu grass has excellent thermal insulation properties. The CTIC developed a process wherein Ichu grass fiber is mixed with a special resin to create highly insulative construction panels. These panels are being used to improve the insulation in local homes and livestock barns and to construct the health monitoring booths. Recently the CTIC designed and built a prototype dome structure using these Ichu grass panels. The design of this structure is entirely self-sustainable - able to generate its own energy and water and process its organic waste. This structure design is being considered for housing options at the Corani mine.
Natural wellness products: Using local plants and herbs, a number of health and wellness products have been developed at the CTIC including: sunscreen made from naturally zinc-rich Ichu grass extract; analgesic ointment made from Sallika; shampoo made from the mineral-rich Huichullo root; and teas that treat altitude sickness, fever, headache and kidney function made from the local herbs Sasawi, Wamanlipa, Palma Real and Muña.
Electronics: The CTIC has developed and built numerous electronic devices to solve local challenges. These include: a 220-volt portable charger that enables community members to run their devices during the frequent local power outages; a Bluetooth enabled keychain and locator app; portable radios with USB recharging cable and long battery life, which have been delivered to local students in order to help them continue home schooling during Covid-19.
Social Permits and LOM Agreement
Bear Creek Mining’s Corani Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (“ESIA”) provides a framework for the project’s environmental and social assessment and management processes, in compliance with all applicable Peruvian laws and regulations. The ESIA process included extensive community consultations and the provision to communities and to government agencies of fulsome transparent information related to the Corani project and its potential environmental and social impacts. The Corani ESIA was approved by the Government of Peru in 2013, and technical modifications made to the ESIA were approved in 2016 and 2019.
In 2013, in connection with its completion of the Corani ESIA and stemming from the results of the Corani Human Development Index baseline study, Bear Creek entered into a formal framework agreement to support sustainable social development programs in the Corani region by signing a Life of Mine (“LOM”) agreement with the District of Corani, five surrounding communities, and relevant, ancillary organizations. Under the LOM agreement, Bear Creek is committed to an annual investment into an arms-length, community directed trust fund, of 4 M Soles (~ USD $1.2 M) per year which payments commenced in full in 2018 and will continue throughout the Corani mine life. A committee comprised of community leaders, with Bear Creek participating in a non-voting oversight role, considers and approves investment projects paid for out of the LOM agreement trust that benefit their communities as a whole, such as schools, medical facilities, roads, or other infrastructure. The communities have the ultimate responsibility for deciding how to direct the trust funds stemming from the LOM agreement and the programs and purchases the LOM agreement trust makes are above and beyond the community initiatives that constitute our corporate social responsibility programs.
Our Corani project was the first proposed industrial project in Peru to complete the Consulta Previa process. Literally translating to “Prior Consultation”, the Consulta Previa law provides the opportunity for the state to engage directly with indigenous peoples that may be affected by legislation or regulatory measures. In respect of the Corani project, the Government of Peru conducted Consulta Previa consultations and interviews with Corani-area communities prior to granting the project a Construction Permit in 2018. Without the involvement of the Company, extensive interviews were held with local individuals and community groups to establish whether they were knowledgeable about the Corani project activities and potential impacts and whether they were in favour of it proceeding. Fully 100% of those interviewed indicated they were supportive of the Corani project proceeding to construction and operation. The Consulta Previa laws and process in Peru is equivalent to the concept of free, prior, and informed consent.
The Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted the health, movement and incomes of citizens and the economies of countries throughout the world during 2020. Because of their remote location, reduced-oxygen environment, and limited economies, high-Andean communities such as those in the Corani district may be particularly susceptible to the health risks of Covid-19 as well as the economic fallout from restrictions put in place to fight its transmission.
Immediately upon emergence of this novel virus early in 2020, Bear Creek began formulating and implementing measures to mitigate the risk of transmission of Covid-19 to the Corani district, and in partnership with local communities, pivoted the focus of the CTIC and community programs to practical Covid-19 risk mitigation solutions. These initiatives are expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
- We immediately reduced our staff at the Corani camp to a small core group, and we ceased staff changeovers in an effort to reduce the potential importation of the Covid-19 virus. Our staff remained onsite for over 70 days without a shift change and dedicated their time to implementing safety measures, helping communities respond and adapt to local and national anti-transmission measures, and developing protocols and products to combat Covid-19. As of late 2020, on-site staffing levels remain lower than normal but have returned to regular rotation. We will remain responsive as national Covid-19 measures and restrictions shift.
Our Corani community staff, onsite for over 70 days in the spring of 2020.
- We enacted daily screening and disinfection measures and protocols for anyone entering the Corani camp, and prepared onsite isolation facilities.
Daily testing and surface disinfection of staff upon arrival at Corani camp
Quarantine unit at Corani camp
- The CTIC developed a prototype health monitoring apparatus consisting of a glove-mounted indicator with specific frequencies to monitor the temperature, heart rate and oxygen level of individuals from a safe distance, which measurements are then relayed via Bluetooth to a CTIC-developed app. This will allow health workers to safely measure and monitor the health of local residents so that potential cases of Covid-19 infection can be quickly isolated, and their health statistics uploaded to regional health centers.
- We provided additional financial and logistical support to local health clinics and community organizations in Chacaconiza and Quelcaya to purchase PPE, Covid-19 test materials, medical supplies, and medicines, and to better prepare their facilities for the treatment of Covid-19. In October 2020 we helped to implement a rapid response health care center in the community of Isivilla to provide local, specialized therapy for Covid-19 infection, including oxygen concentrators and ten intensive care treatment beds.
One of 5 ambulances purchased by Bear Creek and local municipalities to help strengthen health care delivery during Covid-19 and for the future.
- We assisted communities throughout the Corani district deliver home-based education, helping to salvage the school year and adapt to remote learning for as long as necessary. We installed satellite internet at strategic locations throughout the district, arranged for local radio stations to broadcast lessons for all grade levels throughout the day, distributed educational materials and supplies to students and hired several dozen university students specializing in a variety of fields to teach curriculum via virtual classrooms and provide tutoring.
Satellite internet was installed throughout the Corani district to facilitate in-home education.
- The CTIC tested methods for transforming locally abundant Ichu Grass into cellulose, and subsequently paper. They then designed and tested non-medical face masks combining Ichu Grass and indigenous potato cellulose with silver nanoparticles, using 3-D printers to build prototype molds. Testing of these innovative face masks demonstrated their effectiveness. Production of the Ichu Grass masks has been scaled up and the masks are being distributed to local residents and sold to hospitals and regional government offices. We are assisting in creating a local company to enable the formal commercialization of these products.
Bear Creek’s corporate social responsibility program has been cited by Peruvian officials as a model of success that should be followed by exploration and mining companies throughout the country.
In late 2019, Bear Creek Mining commissioned On Common Ground, a global expert in social performance, human rights and sustainability, to conduct an independent review of our Corani corporate social responsibility program. The resulting report, based on site visits and extensive discussions with local community members and available here supports our beliefs that our social programs are impactful and that we have earned social licence at Corani.