While, I have the Dutch to thank for the tradition of hanging stockings over the fireplace at Christmas, I have the women of Peru to thank for these stockings. Each one was created by hand by “The “Women of Dignity”. These women live in hope each day…hoping that the proceeds from the sale of these stockings, trees and tapestries will help support their after school program as well as a nutritional program for their children. Each woman sharing in this collective vision, piece by piece. These stockings truly carry that spirit we all want to fill our homes this season – hope, love and making a positive difference for others.
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.
A WIN WIN FOR US ALL!
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!
In 1973, General Pinochet led a coup against the democratically elected Marxist government in Chile. His army went after tens of thousands of people believed to be subversive and a threat to his policies. These mothers, fathers, sons and daughters were publicly executed in the national football stadium while others were imprisoned, tortured or simply disappeared. Families were torn apart and basic survival became so very difficult. The majority of women had husbands who had disappeared or were murdered and for the most part, were viewed as passive and unimportant by the government… but they were anything but! In 1975, Arpillera (pronounced as ar-pee-air-ah) workshops were started by the Vicariate of Solidarity which operated under the protection of the Catholic Church and were basically left alone by the Pinochet government. Women just doing women’s work! Arpilleras are hand sewn and embroidered 3 dimensional tapestries. They became as Anna Burroughs called them, “Threads of Resistance, hand-stitched works of hope and protest.” She went on to state, “The arpilleras were often made from clothing of the disappeared and the names of missing loved ones can be found on some pieces. Other sewn words and expressions were simple protests: Dόnde estás? Where are
you? The censorship that characterized Chile under Pinochet’s dictatorship defeated written words that opposed his regime. The handwork of the arpilleristas testified for the oppressed and detailed the struggle for truth and justice despite the suppression of the military government.
Bold lines and colors relayed powerful messages depicted in folk-like scenes. An arpillera of a woman dancing signifies how women now performed the national dance La Cueca alone with the fate of their husbands unknown. Other images depict military violence, bloodshed and armed figures.
The arpilleras were made during clandestine meetings in dark basements or churches. The sewn testimonials of suffering were sold by the women so that their messages were released into the world and so they could feed their families.”
Later, the arpilleras began to depict the women’s dreams for peace and happiness. What began as a way to honor and remember loved ones now served as a catalyst to empower women socially, politically and economically. Workshops continue today throughout Chile and Peru. In Villa El Salvador, I experienced and was humbled by the love and dedication of women who are determined to provide a better life for their children through the sale of their exquisite arpilleras. In the book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn state that “Masculinity expresses the idea that there are things worth dying for while femininity expresses the idea that there are things worth living for.” These women are dedicating their lives to things worth living for – health care, nutrition and education for their families.
In the next blog, I will make the introductions!