Lima’s Community Kitchens: Serving More than a Hot Meal

A strong sense of solidarity in poor communities can sometimes give rise to innovative solutions in the face of extreme hardship. One example: the case of comedores populares in Lima, Peru — community kitchens that provide nutritious meals for everyone, and that also play an important role as a local gathering place. Anyone can eat at a comedor, but they are especially important for the most vulnerable populations — namely children, the elderly, and handicapped — who may not have the means to obtain a healthy diet. At the Comedor Hijos de Brillantes in Pamplona Alta, Lima, the handicapped and elderly get a free meal every day. For everyone else, it’s just S/1.50, or 60 US cents.

Roberto Huayhuapuma Vasquez, President of the Association of the Disabled in Pamplona, recently invited the MEDLIFE team to visit the Comedor Hijos de Brillantes to learn more about their work and how we could help. Roberto, who was born with only one functioning leg, started the association for the disabled after facing discrimination and seeing the limitations it placed on others like him. “I realized that together we could do a lot to change the world for disabled people in my neighborhood,” he said. “We are capable of doing much more than we are given.”

The group began serving meals to the handicapped in the area two years ago, and has managed to accomplish a great deal with very few resources. They started out cooking on a wood fire; now they have a small stove, which prepares meals for about 50 people a day. Of those 50, about half eat for free.



The cramped shack that serves as a comedor is ill equipped for people with disabilities, with a dirt floor, narrow entryway, and no handrails. They’re asking our supporters for help with improvements to the structure to make it more accessible so they can continue serving the population of men, women and children who depend on them. If you’d like to contribute to this project, donate to the MEDLIFE fund.

What is a comedor?

Comedores populares began informally in the 1960s and 70s as a survival strategy in the fast-growing pueblos jovenes, or urban shantytowns of Lima. Women came together to form neighborhood organizations, pooled their resources and collectively prepared and distributed meals to their families. As economic conditions worsened, their numbers exploded.

The comedor model of social organization found in Peru is a unique one. It started with grassroots action, driven primarily by women in the poorest communities. The introduction of the Vaso de Leche government assistance program in the 1990s, which guaranteed a glass of milk for children and pregnant women every day, was made possible by using the existing networks of comedors. The women leaders in the program gained organizational skills and experience that empowered them to fight for a more active voice in public life. Sadly, they also became targets of political violence by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group in the 90s.

Today, thousands of comedores populares are still active and vital to the growing populations in pueblos jovenes. Many are subsidized by the Peruvian government, which provides some raw ingredients in bulk, with some also receiving donations from church groups and NGOs. They are staffed in shifts by local volunteers, who receive food for their families in exchange for the hard work of preparing meals for large numbers of people. The network of women and men who run the comedors are important allies for MEDLIFE in the battle against malnutrition and other health problems, spreading the word about programs and resources to the entire community. They’re often where we hold our preventative health workshops and public forums throughout the year, and sometimes even double as improvised doctors’ offices at our Mobile Clinics.


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.