The Women of Villa El Salvador and Ways For Us All To Touch

There are some things that we just instinctively know. For instance, I know that I will NEVER drive a car through the streets of Lima. Four lane highways, people moving from the far right to the far left, often never attempting to let anyone else know their intentions. It makes New York driving seem like a day at the beach! So, I took in the sights from the back seat of a stick shift, missing one windshield wiper “classic” red volkswagen while the woman who was driving was one of the most amazing people I have ever met…Claire Dawson! A women who not only meets everything head on but she does it with unbounded energy and incredible Irish joy ( with a few good” oh feck it” s along the way!) People just gravitated to her…I know I did hoping something would rub off! Claire is a member of the Passionist Sisters and has been working in Villa for over 10 years. She is one of the dynamic and dedicated women working to bring about positive changes for the families. One of the visits Claire and I made was to Maxi’s home. She generously offers a spot for the women to gather and work on their beautiful art. Here, the walls were brown. The light harsh and the few chairs were made of plastic but laid out across the table were cards, stockings, tapestries, Christmas trees etc. All hand done with such care. Each woman working throughout the week and then coming together to share in their collective vision. All contributing to the community rather than their own individual gains. The vibrant colors energized us all. There in that room, each piece held the hope of medical facilities, (they are so in need of the equipment for ultra sounds and mamagrams), educational programs capable of being competitive with larger cities, nutritional programs so that the children will have a place to go and receive a hot meal each day. Irma, Julia, Lali, Luz, Maxi and Amelia formed “Llamkag Warmi” (Women Who Work). Claire then took me to meet Aurora, a small woman who has such an enthusiastic presence. As soon as we got out of the car, she was there to greet us. In ancient times, “Aurora” was the Roman goddess of dawn and here, centuries later, is her namesake certainly bringing new light and new life into the town. She is one member of “Mujeres por la Vida Digna (Woman for a Dignified Life). She, along with Juana, Terodocio, Maria and Alberta, besides working in the day care program, create beautiful traditional Peruvian dolls, again with all the proceeds going to support their program.

Here is my vision and my hope…that together, we can be a supportive presence for these dedicated women… that even though an ocean separates us, we can all hang a hand made, colorful tapestry in our homes reminding us of how beautiful life can be and how connected we all are. The women sell the following:

Arpilleras (tapestries) – $20.00
Bookmarks – $2.00
Peruvian Doll – $10.00
Christmas cards with Nativity scenes hand stitched – $2.00
Christmas Stockings/ trees for $12.00

If you would like to purchase any of these items in order to support these women, please e-mail me at:
I would also ask that if you know of anyone who may be interested in joining with us and purchasing items, please pass along this blog posting. MUCHAS GRACIAS!

Villa El Salvador, Peru

Villa El Salvador, Peru from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

Villa El Salvador is a twenty minute drive outside of Lima. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and yet most of the homes have no access to running water and thus, there is no sewage system. This area began as an “invasion”…during the night, hundreds of people move into an area and set up homes made of straw in order to claim the land. Once the settlement becomes more stable, wood is then used for the housing later followed by tin, bricks and concrete for more permanence. I was fortunate enough to photograph the grass root efforts and leadership of those trying to establish a medical center and provide nutritional/educational programs for the people. Community and stability are surely being birthed into existence through the commitment of very dedicated people.

The following is an interview with Father Simon, a priest with the Missionary Society of St. James, headquartered in Boston. Simon’s sincerity, kindness and attention to welcoming another was so evident from our first meeting. Before I can show the creative work of the people, it is important to gain an awareness and a sense of place.