Maki International
Notebook from Peru

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 02 2018 15:51:36

Holiday Prep
Posted: Tue, Nov 29 2011 13:22:00 GMT -08:00

Jessica has been hard at work teaching the women of the prison how to do ‘manualidades’ or hand-crafts, in preparation for the holiday season. The main focus is on christmas cards with small strips of paper wound up and glued to the cards to make these fantastic designs:

As the end of the school year is coming up here in Ayacucho, they have also been decorating frames to hold students’ graduation pictures. Apparently this is a common practice here, and they have high hopes for orders from the local schools – so we are working on collecting orders from the community now. 

I will be leaving Ayacucho today, so alas I will not be updating the blog anymore. It has been a fun experience sharing the ups and downs of our lives down here. I will miss the prison, the groups, and most of all the staff, my family here. I will be keeping up with Maki and I hope in the future I have a chance to return.

Thank you for reading and supporting us!

Jamie Schau

Prison Skits
Posted: Sat, Nov 26 2011 21:07:00 GMT -08:00

One of our UDAFF psychologists, Lin, came to the prison recently to speak to the women about self-esteem (we realize this is a recurring theme, but it’s a recurring problem as well). She separated the women into four groups and had them compete singing songs, modeling, miming, you name it. One of the groups decided that their miming skit to represent self-esteem would involve a mother (who had her actual baby in a “manta” on her back) whose hair was messed up and was supposed to represent ugliness, who was left by her man (a woman with a drawn-on mustache and baseball cap) for another, more beautiful woman. Once the man left her, he and his new hot girlfriend made silent fun of the “ugly” woman whom he had left, signaling with their hands that her hair was a mess and her body or clothes were unacceptable. As all of us looked on, the “ugly” woman’s actual daughter, a three-year-old girl, came running up, clawing at her mom and furiously crying. We were horrified. This little girl had witnessed what she thought was a real situation where her mother was shunned and shamed by a man and a woman. 

Now, as awful as this was for this little girl, at the very least it wasn’t real and her mom could explain that to her afterward. What really hit home for myself – and I truly hope for the rest of the women – was how this toddler understood everything that was happening. It’s a testament to how much kids see that we take for granted, and how profoundly they are affected by the events of their parents lives. It was a lesson to all the mothers in the prison, albeit inadvertently. I hope that they took it to heart, that they don’t allow themselves to fall victim to that kind of situation, out of respect for their children. All in all, I think the skit had success, though in a surprising and unintended way. 

Until next time,

Jamie (la sorprendida)

Power in numbers
Posted: Wed, Nov 23 2011 19:24:00 GMT -08:00

One of our women’s groups, in Carmen Alto, has been readily participating in our workshops and discussions. Our psychologist from UDAFF and her two students came recently and performed a talk about mutual appreciation and teamwork. At first the three of them were overwhelmed with the size of the group and the women’s reluctance to participate (nerves are always a problem beginning these meetings), and because the slide show they had brought didn’t have a background to be used on. Luckily, they were adaptable and, with much effort, garnered a lot of participation from the crowd. We teamed up and were first tasked with having one representative from the group pick up an egg with only a piece of yarn, we were to powwow and decide how she would do it. The first team didn’t meet success within its 40 second time limit, but the second and third did. The crowd rejoiced.

There were several people from the community whose presence I found both surprising and inspiring. There were teenage girls (a tough crowd in any culture), women who spoke only Quechua, and even women that appeared to be in their 80’s! 

In the end, the positive message was received and the women learned how to rely on each other, work together, compliment each other, and through all this gain self-confidence and a better sense of community. Thanks again to the awesome psychology team from UDAFF! Their visits mean the world to these women, and we’re so proud to have helped provide them as a resource.

Jamie (la orgullosa)

Another bio
Posted: Wed, Nov 23 2011 18:53:00 GMT -08:00

Our second featured MAKI woman is Rayda, a familiar face in the prison, always willing to lend a hand and work hard. She is in for embezzlement and doesn’t know how long she’ll be there, but she has a great attitude about it. Our recent workshops with the local psychology students would have flown much more poorly without her help and bold participation, often first to volunteer and willing to make herself vulnerable by telling personal anecdotes. She calls me “James”, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that’s a male’s name – I’ve found that pronouncing “Jamie” is really a challenge in Spanish. In any case, it just adds to her character. Rayda always has a smile on her face, does rapid and beautiful knitting, and always seeks more work from us – which, of course, we provide when it’s available. 

Bios continued
Posted: Mon, Nov 14 2011 20:12:00 GMT -08:00

After many months and without further ado, I bring you the next MAKI women bio series. We begin with Gladys, a mother who is in the prison for fraud. Her little girl is very sweet, looks quite a bit like her, and lives in the prison. The first time I met Gladys her daughter had an illness (a cold or flu), and she was extremely worried as there are few options for healthcare in the prison – a shortcoming she has expressed concern about time and time again. I’m happy to say that the little girl recovered and Gladys only has a few short months left in prison. She is only 22 years old, and she is sharp – she’s always the first one on board to learn a new craft or start a project. She has been a frequent participant in the “manualidades” or “hand crafts” that Jessica has been teaching, and we hope that her talents as well as the skills she has learned from us will help her maintain an income for herself and her daughter outside the prison.
(To clarify: The kid whose hand she's holding isn't hers)

Getting in the groove
Posted: Tue, Oct 25 2011 15:11:00 GMT -08:00

Buenos dias, Makistas!

Since I last wrote, we've been trying to get back into the groove of things in the prison and with our women's groups. The university students and professors are now attending each of these locations on the regular, and Martha got to see them in action on her visit. We are very proud of this program, the university liaisons are extremely professional and impressive, and we think we've seized quite an opportunity recruiting them.

The physical education sessions are the most fun for us. We get to partake in the exercise and entertaining/involving the children, listen to boisterous music and make utter fools of ourselves dancing around at a foot taller than the rest of the women (okay, maybe that's just me). The enthusiasm of the women is contagious, too. Aerobics morphs into dancing and laughing and when it's over, none of them can wait for next week. Here are some pictures, check it out:

As you can see, Martha got right in there to participate - the kids weren't quite on board yet though, either because they didn't understand or didn't care or wanted to be out there with the grown-ups. Eventually, though, they got it together:

It was great to see Martha interacting with them on her visit. Before she left, in our closing discussions, we talked about the progress that has been made here in the last several months. In terms of administration, we have become much more organized. The recruitment of the students and professors has been a major milestone for Maki, and we hope it will help Maki's model reach sustainability. The literacy program has been a success, and it has helped Jessica get to know several of the women in the prison - especially the more timid ones. The surveys were tedious but they have provided us excellent information, and they will allow us to evaluate our program and the effects it has had. We're mostly finished with the survey interviews, so now it comes down to data crunching. That should provide us with a wealth information in the coming weeks, which we will compile and share with you. I will begin posting more women's bios as soon as I get a hold of some pictures! Plenty of stories to tell!

Also, if you are in San Diego in mid-November, be sure to check out Maki's outreach event. The date is still pending (our original date overlaps with a Charger's game), but I'll let you know when we know.

Que les vaya bien!

Jamie (la entusiasmada)

Busy bees at MAKI
Posted: Wed, Oct 05 2011 01:40:00 GMT -08:00

Hey there MAKI followers! I'm happy to report that we've been keeping quite busy down here, never a dull moment! Here's a quick synopsis of the last several days: surveys, presentations, students volunteering at the prison, surveys, meetings, and surveys.

Of course, much of that work was editing/translating/re-writing and printing surveys, not all just implementation. We hit a couple of logistical snags, realizing that we would need different surveys for - say - the women in the countryside who speak Quechua, than those that we would be giving to the groups that meet in Ayacucho. We also realized we would need a relatively different survey for the women in the prison than we need for those in the womens' groups. It got a little hectic, but I think we should get through the week successful and unscathed.

What we did find today - while Marisol, Jessica and I roamed the prison cells for survey respondents, is that we are going to need about triple the amount of time we had originally allotted for this, the reason being that the women did not want to fill the surveys out with our guidance - but rather to have us read and explain each question to them, writing the answers on their behalf. While this does make the surveys more legible and most likely more accurate, it is extremely time-consuming at about 20 minutes per survey. We left a few at the prison in hopes that some ambitious women would fill them out.

Anyway, it's an exercise in jaw strength ("blah, blah, blah") and patience, but it's fun, in a way, to survey the women. It allows us to get to know them better, and shows a bit of their vulnerable sides. It's a good reminder for why we're here - each of the three of us had women cry to us, merely for being asked questions about their families and their day-to-day lives - which confirms that these women do have emotional and psychological barriers that are both very serious and affecting the way that they live. Our presence and assistance to them is one of the only connections they have to moral or financial support and unfortunately, in many cases, compassion. This is why it is so important to really push the universities' involvement, so that in our absence, or even with our presence, the women have wider and sustained support over time. It is clear they need these people - professionals - to talk to them, to relate to them, and to commiserate with them, if they are ever going to be truly rehabilitated.

On that note, we had our first university student visit on Monday! We have a couple of kinks to iron out in the near future (projecting slide-shows in BRIGHT sunlight, non-functioning speakers), but other than technical difficulties I thought it went really well. They were from UDAFF Psychology Department, a professor and three students. They looked quite nervous entering the prison (admittedly, it looks pretty daunting from outside with its great cement walls and barbed wire), but once we got to the womens' area it seemed like they felt a lot more comfortable. Inside the patio, it is hard to be intimidated, it's sort of like a bustling market, the area is quite small and - well ... you leave the whistling men behind. Once they got started, they were in their element - they had to improvise a bit without being able to rely on their slide-show, but they did get the women to participate, and even to hug each other. It sounds cheesy, but it's amazing how seldom they receive that sort of positive attention, particularly from each other. I thought it was heartwarming.

That's all for now - particularly because the length of this post is getting out of hand.

Thanks for following!

Jamie (otra vez, la encuestadora)

Evaluating MAKI
Posted: Thu, Sep 29 2011 02:42:00 GMT -08:00

Sorry for the delay in updating, I’ve been out sick for a few days and couldn’t find the motivation to write. But now I’m feeling better after loads of chicken noodle soup, medicine, tea, and help from Marisol.

For a period of time I’ve been fashioning a survey to be implemented with the women in the prison and the local centers. When we survey each person, we’ll also get a picture of her. This should provide us some background information on the women, as well as a log of those we serve. It will also allow us to determine how they have been impacted thus far by our programs and what they would like our help with in the future.

Additionally, we have advised the local universities and prison that we would be providing an evaluation of the performance of the university students in the prison and womens’ groups contexts as reflected in their effects on the women. We will gather baseline information very soon, then in six months we will gather follow-up information in order to determine how the womens’ attitudes, psychological health, and literacy levels have changed. We will also ask questions regarding the prison's children to determine if, in the opinion of their mothers, their behavior changes over that period. This survey will allow MAKI to report back to the universities and prison how the new programs have impacted the women and children, and get a better feel for the new programs’ success rates.

We look forward to a long month of surveys, which should be accompanied by some new bios and pictures of the women for the blog! Until my next post, wish us luck on our response rates.


Jamie (la encuestadora)

Untapped potential
Posted: Tue, Sep 20 2011 14:42:00 GMT -08:00

I'm afraid I don't have any terribly new news in terms of the prison, mostly we've been continuing the university recruitment process. And what a process it is! We are now going back and forth between the prison, the university, and powwowing with Martha quite frequently. Ultimately, though, we've been very successful. Who knew how great the response would be?? The untapped potential of these universities (students, professors and facilities) is enormous. The first student volunteers should begin trickling into the prison in October.

In January of 2012, there will be a 'romper room' available to the children in the mornings (as of now it's only available in the afternoons, which would be too difficult with hungry and exhausted toddlers). When that times comes, we intend to gather chaperones for the kids at a 1-to-1 ratio so that we can get them out of the prison once or twice a week and they can get some fun exercise in a new environment. The play room looks fantastic, I might have to jump in there with them - it's full of exercise mats and large cushiony toys! Kind of like this, but less elaborate:

(Credit to Emily Williams, Photo of: American Kids Gymnastics, Bakersfield CA)

The professors of the National University of San Cristobal de Huamanga (UNSCH) educational sciences department are willing to assist the prison's staff with 'charlas' (chats/presentations) and 'talleres' (workshops), and soon we will arrange for the professors along with the students to hold their own charlas and talleres. We are in the last throes of arranging the visits of the psychology students of the University of Ayacucho Federico Froebel (UDAFF), needing only to coordinate the schedules of the university and the prison.

In other news: Every Wednesday when families visit the prisoners, we go instead to Hilos y Colores - an Ayacuchan company that creates beautiful knit and embroidered items, mostly created by women from the local countryside. Though they produce thousands of ornate products on a monthly basis, they are quite disorganized in their administrative affairs, and we are helping them get their accounting and record-keeping in order so that they will be able to sell more effectively and efficiently. The two owners, Meche and Faustino, are very sweet, very driven, and are trying both to manage and produce (draw, sew, embroider, ship), which is probably why they are falling behind. I hope to be able to report to you in the coming several weeks that things have turned around and we have gotten them on their feet, at least in terms of organization (since they certainly have no trouble garnering new orders).

In the meantime, we have continued to work with the other womens' groups. For instance, in Carmen Alto last week, I gave a presentation to the women about the development and sustaining of micro-enterprises. The skills they learn and develop from these types of workshops should help foster smart business skills (including appropriate pricing, marketing, customer service, etc.), which will be a great selling tool for their sewing products.

That's all for now. Will update soon, and Martha will be here in a couple weeks so I expect you'll be hearing from her as well.


Jamie (la empresaria)

Posted: Sat, Sep 10 2011 02:52:00 GMT -08:00

Happy Friday Everyone! I hope you've all enjoyed the last couple of bizarre weeks: Hurricanes (E. Coast U.S.), blackouts (W. Coast U.S.), and random extreme fluctuations from blazing hot to pouring rain (Ayacucho, Peru) seem to have been the themes.

But in spite of these weird cosmic happenings, things are moving right along down here. We've continued in our pursuit of university student volunteers for the prison. We began originally by looking for Psychology and Education Students - and we've gotten an enthusiastic response from them as well as an adjoining Physical Education department (an excellent addition as the women frequently complain about their lack of the space or motivation to get any exercise, so we can use student/professor expertise to really utilize the space available).

The prison has asked us to pursue students of Law as well, as they may be able to help the women to advocate for themselves, though they won't be representing them of course. At some point we also intend to involve Social Work students. We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community - which is inspiring.

I'm sure I speak for all of us at MAKI when I say that our hope is to make this an expanded, sustainable local program, and this is a great step in the right direction. We are meeting with the prison administrators on Monday to determine the calendar for the upcoming months, and alot time for each of the student groups. I look forward to letting you know how it goes!



Rush week in Ayacucho
Posted: Wed, Aug 31 2011 20:07:00 GMT -08:00

Hi everyone! It's been a while since I've blogged, so I thought I'd update on recent happenings down here. For about the last week or so, Marisol and I have been petitioning the local universities to help us bring students voluntarily to the prison and to the womens' groups to help out.

We started out with the psychology departments, so that we might have the students (chaperoned and guided by professors, of course) speak to the to groups of the women about various topics - some of which might be violence, childcare, optimism and self-confidence. Right now, the prison has almost 2,000 inmates and only two psychologists, which gives each inmate extremely limited - and no doubt low-quality and rushed - time to receive professional help.

However, several of the inmates, particularly the women, are in great need of counseling and support. These couple hundred women have all endured trying situations to arrive at the prison, including emotional and/or physical domestic violence, past or present drug addiction, gang involvement, and separation from their children. In my [completely unlicensed and unqualified] opinion, many of them are depressed or traumatized, and could truly use some motivation and assistance from capable and interested locals. These students can provide important help to the women, in terms of numbers of people, time allotted and mental health knowledge, that we simply cannot. Thus their assistance would be a tremendous step forward for MAKI's goal to help the women of Ayacucho.

The paperwork is now in process for the psychology department of a local university, and next we hope to enlist some childhood education and/or social work student volunteers to address other needs in the prison. Our aim is to be able to provide both the kids and the women local, sustainable support and to foster strong and positive relationships in the community. That will be our project over the coming weeks. Wish us luck!

Thanks for all your support,

Jamie, The Volunteer (Recruiter)

Games Tournament - not sure who had more fun, us or the inmates
Posted: Tue, Aug 23 2011 20:05:00 GMT -08:00

Today was quite the interesting and entertaining day in the prison. Great news: the guards (with much, much reluctance) allowed us in with a camera. We had a "Torneo de Juegos" or Games Tournament, to lift the womens' spirits and enthusiasm for teamwork inside the prison. We showed up with three colors of yarn: green, purple and pink, and divided the women into teams based on their cell blocks, giving them yarn necklaces. First, I was assigned to balloon duty, and if you ask the children, that was a great success. And very few poppings.

Then Jessica and Marisol traded off MC duties, while I ran around trying to be a referee and help demonstrate how to play the games. First the women raced a distance with spoons in their mouths carrying small limes (hard to decipher from the picture, sorry).

Then one team member sat in the plastic chair while the other ran over with a balloon, sat on their lap with it under them in order to pop it, and once it popped, the standing woman sat while the seated woman returned and the process began again with the next woman in line until all the balloons were popped. This was probably the funniest game, though none of the teams did it quite right. It was surprisingly confusing with all the women, balloons and hysteria. We called it a three-way tie. Here's me showing them how to do it by sitting on Marisol's lap. Sorry if I popped you along with the balloon, Marisol!

The games continued with a mummy dressing contest (tough call to decide the winner, no?)...

...a blindfolded race to put clothing on...

(I vote this 'best pic of the day')

...a potato bag race...

...a game of "Simon dice" - which is not quite the same as "Simon says." Basically, Marisol said that Simon wanted something (for instance, a pair of yellow underwear) and the first one to bring it to her won. These women are fierce! I couldn't believe how quickly they procured these items (even if they did steal them off the clotheslines).

...and our tournament ended with a friendly competition of musical chairs.

Everyone was smiling and enjoying themselves, including Marisol, Jessi and I. Even the women who sat out the games watched and laughed and clapped along. The kids, though they seemed a bit confused by all the commotion, had a good time as well. Since balloons seemed as foreign to these kids as this tall American does, I demonstrated the effects that rubbing them on one's head will have (static!) and we played catch and explored the great depths of balloon fun possibilities.

The tournament was fantastic, not only in providing the women with the opportunity to work together as a team - something seldom demanded in prison but with great potential to be an advantage to them - but also providing them and the toddlers a day of respite and light-heartedness, transporting their minds from the prison, if only for a few hours. Today, I saw smiles on some of the women who I have never seen smile before.

So don't forget, Readers, to take the time to enjoy yourself once in a while. If these women can do it inside 30 foot cement walls topped with barbed wire, so can you!

Until next time, cuidense!

Jamie (la árbitra)

Adventures in painting, and other stories...
Posted: Sat, Aug 13 2011 21:26:00 GMT -08:00

Buenas Tardes,

In an effort to help you guys feel like you're here with us and up-to-date on the happenings in Ayacucho, I have included some pictures this week.

The rooster is a new design the ladies are making, I thought it was really cute! The woman who made it said it took her about two days of work to create it.

She had brought this rooster doll to a meeting we held to talk to some of Ayacucho's Carmen Alto women about "Self-Esteem". Her husband and one other brave male soul joined the group of 9-10 women to converse about the concept and practice of having self-esteem.

Jessica began by using the example of a S./20 bill (equivalent of $6), which she first asked the group to describe the value of. Of course they all replied "20 soles". Then, to their dismay, she wrinkled it up. After straightening it back out, she asked the women what its value was. Again, they replied: 20 soles. Finally, she crumpled it up and threw it on the floor, stomping on it. After straightening it up again, she asked the women the value of the bill. "20 soles," they replied, looking somewhat horrified.

Jessica went on to explain that the bill was a metaphor, it represented them as individuals: whatever trials and tribulations they had experienced, whatever mistakes they had committed, they still had the same value as human beings. This sparked quite a lively conversation, and I began to snap photos as the women (and men) learned and interacted. It was a great discussion, and it seemed like they came away from it having recognized a thing or two that they could do to boost their self-esteem. Here they are in action:

Although I have no photos to prove it, we've also begun painting in the prison this week. Previous to our arrival, the ladies decided that they would like to paint their entire cell block bright pink, while the other side is purple. It looks like a Barbie Mansion in there now ... except with metal bars. The women were absolutely hilarious during the painting process, covered head-to-toe in paint drops and making a show of it. The walls look a little loud, but at least they had fun painting them!

Marisol and I, for our part, began by numbering the tops of the cell entryways, and have since moved on to painting our inspirational/motivational messages and accompanying illustrations on the walls between the cells. Although my height (6'1") has been a tremendous advantage in the painting process, I was out Thursday and Friday with a cold so we didn't advance as much as we wanted to this week. As soon as I'm able to get a camera in there, I promise to take pictures!

For now, I'm off to continue day 3 of trying to scrub this paint off my hands.

Nos vemos,

Jamie la pintada

Updates from your friendly neighborhood volunteer
Posted: Sat, Aug 06 2011 00:00:00 GMT -08:00

Buenas noches

My name is Jamie Schau, I am a new volunteer with Maki on the ground here in Ayacucho. I have only been here since late July, so I am still learning the ropes, but I would like to share my experience so far. I have been to the prison several times, meeting many of the women, watching the literacy project unfold, and hearing various stories, both sad and inspiring.

This week we have been reading to the women who wish to participate, and prompting them to read to the group on their own. They vary greatly in their interest and confidence with reading to a group, some practically tearing the books out of my hands, and some having to be heavily persuaded to participate. Surely it is daunting to read in front of your peers when you are still learning. I certainly admire them for making the effort and overcoming their fears.

We read a chapter or a section, and then we discuss the morals, values or lessons that can be taken from it. This week we've been reading 'La Vaca' or 'The Cow' which encourages people not to make excuses, not to let mediocrity and conformity hold them back, and not to be afraid of failure. The cow is a metaphor for that which is limiting someone. Reading and discussion elicit interesting stories, though some deny having any 'vacas' at first, eventually we discover that everyone has some - and I'm no exception!

In other news, the plan for next week is to paint the walls immediately outside the prison cells. And instead of painting one color, we will use the walls as our canvasses, painting phrases with pictures that relay positive messages to the women as they have requested. Messages of optimism, kindness, cleanliness and honesty - along with related pictures for those who cannot read or who speak Quechua - will be there permanently. Let's hope we pull this off without any major painting faux pas!

Off for now, but I will be updating periodically. Hasta luego Makistas!

Jamie (la nueva)

Zenobia Mieses
Posted: Wed, Jul 20 2011 20:08:00 GMT -08:00

Her name might be Zenobia but we all know her best as "Mama Zena," the warm and loving mother hen that watches out for all our Maki Women. She runs her own small store within the prison and uses her earnings to send money to her four children in order to pay for their food and education. She is always busy with something: whether knitting or reading, she keeps herself occupied and loves making new MAKI creations. With 5 years left in prison, Mama Zena looks forward to being reunited with her kids and opening a small store in her hometown. She says she is grateful to everybody who buy her products as they help her to write a brighter future for herself and the children she loves so dearly.

Maria Paulo
Posted: Tue, Jul 05 2011 22:53:00 GMT -08:00

At it's core, MAKI is an organization that seeks to change the lives of women on a very personal level. We cannot help every Peruvian woman affected by the drug cartels, nor can we change the legislation that locks these women up for 10+ years at a time. However, we can do our part to change individual lives. As a member of the MAKI family, we think it's important and wonderful for you to see the hand you're reaching out to. So we are going to begin a series of blogs profiling the women of MAKI. Their stories are sad and harsh but always hopeful. We think they deserve the dignity of being seen as the wonderful individuals they are. So, without further ado, meet Maria Paulo:

Maria Paulo is a warm, talented, mother of six who is known for her persistence and hard work. Maria works hard to learn all of Maki's complicated designs and plans on continuing to knit when she leaves the prison. She uses every dollar she earns to support her family and is so excited to reunite with them once her four and a half year sentence comes to an end. Unlike some of the women, who would prefer to hide the fact that they were ever in prison, Maria plans on being a vocal advocate for the women of Peru. She wants to share her story to prevent others from falling victim to the fast money offered by the drug cartels. Maria's specialty is baby blankets and as a proud mama, she works tirelessly to make sure every stitch is done with love for the lucky little one who will soon be wrapped in her beautiful creation.

Photos from the Prison - Mother's Day
Posted: Tue, Jul 05 2011 22:41:00 GMT -08:00

Happy Mother's Day to all!
I'm back in Peru in the prison for a couple of weeks and we had a Mother's Day celebration. Quite bittersweet for the ladies...we were trying to make it fun but everyone was struggling with their feelings. Lots of tears. We gave out presents, phone cards so the women could call home, and raffled prizes. I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother's Day on Sunday!! I'm sorry that some of the descriptions are depressing, but I was so moved by these mothers, I have to include them. If nothing else, hopefully it will remind us how fortunate we are.
much love,

Another new inmate. Her child is with her family. She is in for murder. She was being raped by a stranger who broke into her house and she stabbed her assailant.

Unfortunately, she was too afraid to go to the police and she was arrested. She has no family nearby and she has no idea of how the legal system works. Marisol is trying to help her because as she explained, if she doesn’t advocate for herself, she will be lost in the system. She is very shy, but we are having Carmen (our best embroiderer in the prison who is studying to be an attorney) help her.

This woman is one of three that recently came to the prison. She lived in the Amazon with the guerilla terrorists and when the military helicopters landed, she was caught with her two year old son. Her five year old son was carrying the baby and they escaped. She has no idea what happened to them. If she is released in the future, she can’t go back home because she will be killed. She is the only one of the three women that knows some spanish. She has no idea of her age, her last name or who her parents were.

There is talk in the prison that they will be sent to Lima because that is where terrorists are incarcerated. We certainly hope not. The inmates here have reached out to these three ladies and are helping them in whatever way they can. When I first arrived, everyone was telling me about them and asking for my help.

Notice her shirt? She has no belongings. My thanks to Skyline Elementary School in Solana Beach for their donations of clothes!!

Phone cards for the women. Many thanks to all of you on Facebook who gave donations!!

She’s (sorry, I forget her name) one of our best knitters. And yes, she always looks like she’s about to cry and rarely smiles, but as with most of these women, it’s all about the teeth. They just are too embarrassed about them to grin.

Our Peruvian Photo Shoot
Posted: Tue, Jul 05 2011 22:31:00 GMT -08:00

Oct. 31, 2010

Well, we are 1/3 done with the project in the kids area of the prison. We are slowly making the necessary improvements for the state to send a 'teacher' there in the mornings. I think the time away from their moms each day would be great for the kids and the mothers. We finished building the fencing required to keep the children from falling off the raised play areas; the painting and the floor repair are still to be done.

But, we have a new volunteer! And she'll be in Ayacucho for three months! Shyama was here with Cross Cultural Solutions when I was working at the prison last spring. She's from London and works in the medical field, but her passion is art. She'll be heading up the remaining improvements. She has done some sketches for a mural on the wall of the children's play area which she will paint and enlist the help of the women. I'm hoping we get approval for the women to participate. It would be an escape from their daily activities of sitting in the patio embroidering or knitting.

I'm currently reading the book, 'Even Silence has an End' by Ingrid Betancourt. She is the Columbian politician who was kidnapped and held for 6 years by guerrillas. She describes in detail the relationships betweeen her and other prisoners. And although her conditions were more extreme than those of the women in the prison, I imagine there are similarities in terms of lack of privacy and the pressure to have basic needs met, resulting in selfishness, anger, misunderstandings, pettiness, jealousy and more varieties of hostile and aberrant behavior. I just can't imagine being locked up in a cell built for four with ten other women and a couple of children every night. I mean, the most obvious difficulty would be sleeping, but that would be just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, to end on a more happy note - I've included pictures from our Peruvian scarf 'photo shoot'. As if we don't draw enough attention around Ayacucho, we decided to make spectacles of ourselves. :)

Fiesta at the Prison or ‘Things Go Better with Coke!’
Posted: Tue, Jul 05 2011 22:28:00 GMT -08:00

Oct. 23, 2010

Wouldn't it be great if all you had to do to throw a party was open a bottle of coca cola? Well yesterday at the prison that was all it took. We came in the morning with breads and coca cola. We knew that coke wasn't allowed in the prison (who knows why- something like those rumors that circulated when you were a kid and they said all you had to do was drop two aspirin in a bottle and you could get drunk?) but some of the women requested it. So we took a chance and talked to the director when we arrived with 20 large bottles and he approved it along with a camera and a video.

All 180 women were so shocked and excited when we started pouring the soda. It should have been a Coca Cola commercial. One woman said, 'I've been in prison for five years and this is the first time I've had this since I've been here!' The women kept coming back for more until every last drop was gone. It was crazy. Some even showed up with small empty bottles to give some to their husbands in the prison. We had more than enough, thankfully, or we might have started a riot. (yes, I can just see the headlines: 'American Women Start Riot in Peruvian Prison' and the article: 'Yesterday, two women from the United States instigated a riot in the women's prison in Ayacucho, Peru. They are now incarcerated with their cohorts and awaiting sentencing...'.)

At the end of the morning, we handed out children's clothing to the women and that was a big hit as well. Before we left on our trip, Skyline Elementary in Solana Beach collected a ton of used clothing from their students which we brought with us in four huge duffle bags. Almost all the women have children - either inside or outside of the prison, so it was well appreciated. We still have more clothes which will go to the children in the countryside whose moms' work with Meche and Faustino. Many of them have nothing. We've saved most of the jackets for them because it's colder up there and on my last trip when I visited, the little kids had on about 3 layers of cotton clothing to keep warm.

After we left the prison yesterday, we went out to lunch and both Carina and Marisol ordered Cokes. They both had a craving for it. Funny how we take those little things for granted.

Raining in the Andes - Oct. 20, 2010
Posted: Tue, Jul 05 2011 22:13:00 GMT -08:00

Hola Amigos!

I'm back in Ayacucho and it's pouring. Thunder and lightning too. It's wonderful. Especially because it's nighttime and I'm not leaving Marisol's house. I probably wouldn't leave even if I had plans. They have been tearing up all the roads repairing the drainage system (two years ago there was a bad mudslide which killed four people) in preparation for the rainy season. Guess they are running late. But I can't imagine what the roads are like out there with all the piles of dirt everywhere.

Carina and I got here on Sunday. It's great having her here with me! The women at the prison love her and the children are warming up although they were a little skiddish at first with her blond hair and white skin. She's helping with the kids in the prison while we are here.

Unfortunately, Cross Cultural Solutions closed its location in Ayacucho two months ago, so there are no longer volunteers in the prison or all of the other locations where Marisol sent help. It's really sad - the old folks home, the orphanage, the clinics and the childcare facilities are all hurting without the volunteers. Not to mention the many businesses that depended upon the CCS people for purchases, etc. The prison has been especially affected as there were almost always one or more volunteers to play with the children in the morning and to work on projects with the women. And volunteers were always a good source of work for the women as many of them ordered knitted items. Now that's all gone.

So naturally, the women were extremely happy to see us. They need the work and the activities more than ever. It feels a bit...okay...'quite' overwhelming.

Marisol has divided the women who are knitting for Maki up into groups of six or seven with at least one expert in each. It's been working out really well. We have 13 groups right now- so that's about 80 women working in the prison alone. (Yes, I know that's a lot. please don't remind me.) Each group has chosen a name~ I love it ~ we have 'The Stars', 'The Girls of Five,' 'The Tigers', The 'Knitters', 'Miranda,' 'The New Girls', 'The Workers' 'The Lonely Girls', 'The Little Bees', 'The Maidens', 'The Little Flowers', 'Fantasy' and 'The Wonder Women.' Each group has a leader who is responsible for the yarn and the orders. It helps streamline the exchange of money and yarn and completed work. And it's incredible how the groups are working together. Everyone is so much more responsible -they divide up the yarn among themselves, help each other with new designs, finish the scarves on time and return leftover yarn. It's amazing how a bit of structure and support can change the environment and the attitude in the prison.

Somehow, though, yesterday with my arrival, all 'structure' flew out the window and it was a madhouse of women hugging me and asking for more yarn. I ordered some yarn when I was in Lima and luckily it arrived on the bus today, so I'm placing more scarf orders as we speak. And I'm bringing home 4 duffle bags full. So, once again, my dear friends, who have already helped out so much: think winter, think holiday presents, think handmade, baby alpaca scarves. I will add more photos to my website ( with all the designs if you want to place orders!!

Well, it's morning now and it's still pouring out there. Cats and dogs. Looks like I'm gonna get wet after all. :(

love to all,

Marta Juana mojada

un otro dia en lima 4/24/10
Posted: Thu, Apr 29 2010 23:48:00 GMT -08:00

hola, hola!

I'm back in the Lima airport. No, I'm not at Starbucks, Annie; I am eating really good chocolate chip ice cream at the restaurant across from it and mooching off of Starbuck's wireless service. And I didn't buy any of their coffee. I have the password memorized from my multiple visits. I figure they more than owe me that.

I spent today walking around Lima. I arranged to meet Enma in a park this afternoon. Enma was in prison for three years and just got out two months ago. She was one of the best knitters there and I was sort of bummed when she got out. I know...that's wrong...I mean I was really happy but I was a little bummed too. She lives in Lima now and I got her phone number from one of her friends in the prison so I called and asked her if she could meet me for lunch. She came with her three little girls and we all had a fun time in the park, at the bookstore and at the restaurant eating french fries, sandwiches and fruit drinks. The girls had to squeeze every condiment available on to their plates. And each ordered a different fruit drink - pineapple, mango and strawberry. We had the most colorful and lively table in the place.

I knew her youngest daughter from the prison. she was there with her mom until she turned four and had to go to the orphanage. The other two were older and had spent all of the three years in the orphanage while Enma and her husband were interned. Enma seems to be doing really well and already adjusted to being on the outside. And as far as I can tell, she doesn't appear overwhelmed by resentful about what happened to them. I'm not sure what the charges were, but after THREE years in prison awaiting a hearing, they were found innocent and released.

She and her husband have a small shipping business where they send food products to Ayacucho, and she said they are starting over from scratch. Their business obviously fell apart when they were arrested and after three years there was nothing left. She is still looking for decent housing; currently, the five of them are renting a small room outside of town.

I am continuously amazed at how well some people adjust to the hand they are dealt. Enma is still so sweet and kind. It was a gift to watch her interact with her three girls today.

On my way home. marta

pictures from the prison 4/22/10
Posted: Thu, Apr 29 2010 23:43:00 GMT -08:00

I try to write my emails when I'm in a upbeat mood, when I can find the humor in life, but I haven't been there the last couple of days. Maybe I'm feeling sad because I'm leaving on Saturday, or maybe I'm just overwhelmed by all the poverty and need here. Usually I can shake it off, look beyond the physical needs and, as annie wrote to me, experience the human spirit of survival and inner happiness. But I'm just not feeling it right now.

Once again, my hopes for a vegetable garden in the prison is being put on the back burner. We're improving the kids' area instead. I spoke with the director and the head social worker and they explained to me that if they make the improvements to the 'cuna' required by the department of education, a teacher will be sent there in the mornings to be with the kids. right now, it's a haphazard system - sometimes the kids go to the cuna with CCS volunteers or a mom or two and sometimes they don't. There's no consistency or routine. And now that there are almost 20 kids in the prison, there's a real need for this.
Anyway, the social worker and the director have asked me to supply the materials for the improvements and they will supply the labor. Now that's humorous. Oh, thanks a lot! and where's the labor coming from?? Okay, that's a whole other issue, but I told them I would do what I could. I was actually wondering when the prison officials would finally realize that I was making improvements in the prison. I've been doing this for two years under the radar. I'm not quite sure if its good or bad that they are aware of my activities. The good news is the director told me I could take pictures all over the prison... And the social worker who walks around with a sour face all day now smiles at me. she is not quite as scary to me as before. So we went to the cuna and reviewed the list from the department of education, and we need fencing (there's a 30 inch drop off from the play area to concrete below), new paint and a new tile floor. I'm going to the 'hardware' store with Marisol today to see what this is going to cost.

We had a 'Maki' meeting at the prison this morning for all the knitters. One of the women, whom I didn't recognize, thanked me for the work. She said with the money she can buy cleaning supplies and make telephone calls home. She said she has no visitors. She was just so sad. So after the meeting, she was sitting by herself knitting and I sat with her and asked her questions. she said she had been in the prison for 16 months and has a 25 year sentence. she was in for drug trafficking like most of them. I was surprised when she told me she was offered $2000 for the job. She said it wasn't worth it. It's ruined her family and her life. I just patted her hand. I didn't know what to say.

love to all - la interna guera

P.S. to end on a happy note - I'm starting to think of the female guard who frisks me everyday as an intimate friend. Is that an issue?

Adventures Off-Roading in the Andes 4/17/10
Posted: Thu, Apr 29 2010 23:37:00 GMT -08:00

As a landscaper, I have never been a fan of asphalt. It's ugly, hard, and promotes drainage problems. Well, I now have a new found appreciation for it. I've been 'off-roading' in so-called 'taxis' for the last two days and I'm sick of dust, dirt and rocks. Meche and Faustino wanted to take me to several villages in the mountains - we went to their home town and to villages where they have cooperatives of women who embroider pillows and wall hangings. Most of these places were along rivers at the bottom of steep canyons or worse, on the opposite side. Thank goodness I don't get carsick. Lauren, you would have been miserable, throwing up all day long.

We went on two outings - yesterday and today, and both of them where only suppose to be for a few hours. Yesterday, we were gone for eight hours. I should have know it was going to be a long adventure. We went to the Friday outdoor market in Vinchos, the place where both Meche and Faustino were born. There were at least 1500 people there and about half of them were Meche's or Faustino's relatives or best friends. Oh, and the taxi driver was Faustino's brother, so he had his own group of friends as well. We stopped the car every few minutes to kiss friends and cousins, tracked down aunts and uncles, and I ate prickly pear everywhere we went so I wouldn't offend anyone by not eating their food. (I figured that would be the safest item to consume.) We picked corn and dug up potatoes, visited the abandoned adobe house where Meche lived as a little girl, gave rides to friends who crammed in our car to homes out in the middle of nowhere. I now understand the expression 'from hill to vale'. Actually, I'm not sure that's right. but you get the idea.

The village itself was a sea of charcoal colored felt hats. And I was the only, absolutely the only, foreigner. Faustino told me, 'Martita, everyone is looking at you, wondering 'what is this gringuita doing here?' Not that I stood out or anything. For the first time in my life, I was taller than everyone else. that part I liked ~ I could see in a crowd for a change.

Really, it was just an incredible experience. And what Meche and Faustino are doing is amazing. They are getting women together to work for them - out in the country where there are no jobs, just subsistence at best. We spent this afternoon with one of these groups and Meche and Faustino brought lunch for all of them - chicken, potatoes and corn. (which by the way was already cooked and in big pots in the back of the small car that they tried to pick us up in -with 8 people already sardined in. We took one look at this smoking, dented, paint -chipped vehicle from the '70s, took two passengers with us and called a taxi.)
But I watched Meche and Faustino with the women over the last two days and they continue to inspire me with their love and patience. Meche is teaching them a new kind of work and it's difficult and time consuming, but she is determined to help the women from her valley.
Anyway, when we finally hit the pavement late this afternoon, I exhaled and loosened my shoulders and really enjoyed the rest of the ride home.
Below are some photos from the last two days. I'll put more photos on facebook if you're interested.
love, the gringuita

Peru otra vez! 4/9/10
Posted: Thu, Apr 29 2010 23:36:00 GMT -08:00

Hey all~

I'm in a fairly funky hotel room in Lima. I flew from LAX yesterday and arrived at the hotel about 2 am and as soon as I walked in the room, I had a flashback to a hotel that I stayed at in La Paz, Mexico when I was 19 years old. It was my first trip 'abroad' and on my own. (remember that trip, Janny?) I immediately checked the sheets and they were clean...unlike the sheets on my first adventure. I'm not sure what triggered that memory. I'm thinking it must have been an odor. At best, maybe some kind of cleaning solution, at worst, well, let's not go there. Okay - I don't mean to be grossing you out... I am perfectly comfortable and I'm sitting in the room as I write it can't be that bad.
The bad part was my fellow guests next door arrived even later than I did...and just as I was going to sleep they started having sex. And they were loud. So I had to listen to that. The funny thing was someone else must have been bothered by it because after about 5 minutes, someone banged on their door. I was just cracking up which of course awakened me even more. They stopped and the man answered the door but I couldn't hear what they was saying. Then he shut the door and a few minutes later the couple was back at it. Just as loud as before. Finally they either settled down or my ambien kicked in. Thank goodness for drugs.
I spent today cruising Lima. I went to my alpaca supplier and looked at yarns and then I asked where I could find knitting needles, cotton and some other things that the women needed. My driver, a sweet, older man named Carlos, called his wife and next thing I knew we were driving to his house where he locked his BMW up behind a gate and 'lost' his tie and we flagged down a old, beat-up taxi. We went to a crazy part of Lima...a much poorer area where a lot of the work force must live- the 20 million that you hear about. He told me to stay next to him and to hang onto my purse. There was more trash than I've ever seen in my life, I almost stepped on a squished, dead rat, and as I looked up a guy had his back to us and was peeing in the road. Yes, we did find everything I needed, and the prices were excellent, but next time I think I'll just use the internet.

I'm back in Ayacucho! It's starting to feel like a second home. I'm staying at Marisol's house. It's really cute. Only problem is that the doorways are low and I keep bumping my head. Yesterday we had a bbq with her whole family - her mom and dad and her 6 siblings, in-laws, etc. Her dad lives in Lima now so they don't get the chance to be all together very often. They begged their dad to play the violin like he used to and her brother got out his guitar and joined him. I sat and watched them all interact - they were laughing and joking and so loving with one another. It's amazing how well they survived the guerilla/military war of the Shining Path. It was a horrible era in Ayacucho's history filled with killings and other atrocities. Marisol and her family lived through it all.

I went to the prison today and the women were so happy to see me. I've been there so many times now, I figure one of these visits they are going to look up and say 'oh, Marta's back,' and go on with their work.
There were a lot of new, young faces and a lot of babies. :( I went upstairs with Marleni to her cell to look at the new sweaters they had made. There are at least 6 ladies sharing her cell, and it was packed from floor to celling with personal items with little spaces carved out for sleeping. I was talking and laughing and all of a sudden and bundle hanging next to my head started crying. there was a tiny baby in there! I felt so badly that I had awakened her, but I had no idea she was hidden in this tiny hammock. Space is a valuable commodity, I guess.
So tomorrow we are going to review new possible projects in the prison. I suggested a better storage system, but that might not be possible. Looks like we might be doing my vegetable garden after all. I think we'll start with composting! these ladies must think I'm a nut. Hey, as long as they are laughing, it's okay.

Buenos noches. marta jardinera

Lice, anyone? 10/15
Posted: Sat, Nov 28 2009 20:15:00 GMT -08:00

Hola, mis amigos -

my spanish is getting better! :) There are a few volunteers here that don't speak much spanish and today at the prison I caught myself trying to translate spanish by speaking spanish. Elizabeth was looking at me like I was crazy. I was a whole two sentences into it until I realized what I was doing. Now that's what I call true immersion!!

Our solar experiments are going well. There were only a few women who were afraid to try the chicken because they couldn't buy into the solar concept, but everyone else loved it. It took about an hour longer to cook than we anticipated, but no one got sick!! We tried baking today, (see pictures below) and the apple dish was almost done when we were leaving, but the cookie/bread thing that we tried had only risen a bit. It has chocolate chips in it, so I'm confident it will be consumed regardless of its condition.

I visited my artist friends, Meche and Faustino, and there are pictures included of them and their group of mujeres that work with them. I took a few volunteers with me, and we went to the 'mother's club'. they meet every week and the women work together on various projects. Faustino asked each women to get up and say a few words about themselves so we could get to know them. Many of them are single moms trying to make a living for their children and are from the mountains but now living in Ayacucho. Most of the women were embarrassed and some of them were so much so that they couldn't speak, so I knelt in front of them and put my hand on their knee and asked them questions. And even that seemed painful for them. Then it was our turn to speak about ourselves and I told them it was one of the volunteers 25th birthday, and all the women sang happy birthday in quechua to her. It was so incredibly beautiful. And then each came up one by one to kiss her.

I took the middle photo yesterday. We went out to the countryside -about an hour drive - to visit a couple of schools and a clinic. It's absolutely unbelievable how much they do with so little. I couldn't resist snapping a shot of these two little boys in their school uniforms.

well, I'm off to my first attempt as a salon assistant. One of the volunteers, Elizabeth, is a hairdresser at home and she and I are going to the orphanage to cut hair...actually, she'll cut, i'll wash. Seems that all that the nuns know how to do is 'chop' and these little girls need some help. I also get to look for lice. Yes, I'm wearing my hair up.

love, marta de la salon