Knitting lives back together
Del Mar resident’s efforts help poor women of Peru
By Patty McCormac
DEL MAR — Martha Dudenhoeffer Kolodny had always encouraged her children to volunteer, but with her busy landscaping business, the Del Mar resident kept saying that “someday” she would join them. Then on Thanksgiving 2007, her children, Lauren and Carina, challenged her.
“They said: ‘Mom, you keep saying you will volunteer; when are you going to? We are doing an intervention,’ ” she said.
They made her call Cross Cultural Solutions, an organization that offers volunteering opportunities around the globe.
Since then, Kolodny, 56, has immersed herself in helping impoverished women in Ayacucho, Peru, as well as female prisoners, by founding Maki Inc., a cottage industry of sorts, for the women to knit and sell baby wear, handbags and scarves made from ultra-soft baby alpaca wool.
With the profits, the women help support their families and the prisoners their children, who can remain with them until they are 3. They can also send money to help support their families on the outside. Kolodny also uses some of the money to help pay for improvements at the prison, which raises the inmates’ standard of living.
She has arranged and paid for a shade tarp for an outside area of the prison. She is now working on getting two more bathrooms installed because there were only three for 170 women.
“They are not really bathrooms, just holes in the ground,” she said. The new bathrooms will “actually have something to sit on,” she said.
Kolodny, who speaks fluent Spanish, has visited the prison in Ayacucho, which is in the south-central sierra of the Andes at about 2,800 feet.
The prison holds 1,300 men and 170 women. Most of the women are serving time for drug trafficking.
She said they are asked by drug dealers to carry “packages,” for them. The women usually know what is inside, but do it anyway because they are so desperately poor. When they are caught, they are sentenced to between three and 15 years, Kolodny said.
The prison is overcrowded, yet the treatment of the prisoners is humane. “I’ve seen no evidence of abuse,” Kolodny said.
She provides the yarn, labels for the items, care instructions, bookkeeping and marketing the items.
“It’s been a learning process. Little by little, it has come together,” she said. “I just recently got a Web site.”
The site is makiinc.com. She has also sold the items at street fairs and at private parties.
Her daughter Carina, 21, a senior at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, said her mother has always been a great role model.
“It would have been so easy for her to have met these women, thought, ‘How horrible,’ and walked away, but clearly she couldn’t,” Carina said. “We always joke that going to Peru and starting Maki was her version of a midlife crisis. If only everybody’s midlife crisis could be so fruitful.”
Cross Cultural Solutions, which she describes as a “mini Peace Corps,” was founded in 1995. It operates in 12 countries, offering volunteering opportunities from one to 12 weeks. It is recognized by the United Nations and CARE. The programs are supported by donations and program fees by the volunteers starting at about $2,700, which are tax-deductible.
“You are so much appreciated,” Kolodny said of her work with the women. “You just feel so needed when everything you do has such an impact.”
Patty McCormac is a freelance writer from Oceanside.