Yapa: A Way of Being

Handmade by the women in Peru.

Handmade by the women in Peru.


Handmade Gifts from SERRV

Handmade Gifts from SERRV



According to Cultural Survival . Org, “Quechua has been spoken in Peru since it became the unifying language of the Inca Empire 600 years ago.”  Yapa is so much more than a Quechuan word. Yapa is a spirit embraced by so many of the Peruvian people I met.  The meaning is simple but has such amazing rippling effects…it is the Quechua equivalent of “pay it back”.  When I was in the markets throughout Peru, it was a very common occurrence to get back to where I was staying and find something extra had been put in the bag… a ring, a charm…something that conveyed such a spirit of generosity and care.  “Have something extra for the road!” As the recipient of this kindness, I then wanted to do more and give more.  It was contagious.

Loving to shop and see artisans from around the world, I just attended a fair trade gift and craft festival sponsored by SERRV whose mantra is, “To enrich and inspire.”  Their mission is to eradicate poverty by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide.  This organization provides grants to expand resources, supports equal rights for women and collaborates to build sustainable markets. As I love the back story of photographs, I also so enjoy hearing the back story of the piece, the artisan. Every piece for sale has a specific story behind it explaining the craft and the life of its creator.  I was taken with many of the items and purchased a pair of silver earrings made by a Chilean artisan.  As soon as I went to pay for the item, Bethany, (thank you so much!) went right over to get me a beautiful hand painted dish which she said I needed to go with the earrings…no charge, nothing asked for in return,  just that something extra… Yapa! It all came back to me and hopefully, this time I won’t forget how important it is to give a bit more because I have been so fortunate to receive a bit more!


PS…If you have some gifts to buy, the SERRV site has wonderful suggestions that will make your Black Friday such an enjoyable day, exploring the world and not fighting crowds!

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!

Arpillera, the art of remembrance and empowerment

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!

Beautiful Faces of Wisdom

Faces tell a story. Each unique. Each so expressive with the etchings of life’s journey. I am so drawn to engage with the people and then be able to photograph with little distance between us. I was in the back seat of our “classic” red volkswagen when I saw this wonderful woman walking down the street with her colorful bag slung over her humped shoulders. My friends are absolutely wonderful and used to my asking to stop the car in an instant so all 6ft. of me jumped out of the back of the car (not an easy task) and went up to this woman. What was translated to her was that I thought she was beautiful and would like to photograph her. She was so kind and we shared smiles in that moment of time.

The following Sunday, I was driving to photograph a town Mass. I saw this woman out of the corner of my eye walking with her cane all by herself but this time we were late and could not stop. Any one who loves to photograph knows exactly that feeling of missing THE moment and missing THE picture. It hurts! As luck would have it, I was in the church setting up and saw this woman coming up to the front row in the church. She had walked almost a mile to get there! I saw determination, dignity and a quiet but powerful presence in this woman. This time I didn’t miss the opportunity to photograph her and bring a bit of her back home with me.

Peru is but a wonderful memory now.

My laptop has very little memory left. 5,000 images of Peru and 9 hours of video are running through it. My heart is in the same state, filled to capacity with memories of people who are no longer strangers, sounds with such exuberance and inflections, new foods and new places explored. A far off land that now feels so very close.

There was one statement and one question which seemed to be on everyone’s mind when they met me. The question was, “Have you seen Machu Picchu yet?” I’ver heard it is awe inspiring and mystical. A true wonder of the world. A site not to be missed but I have to say, I did miss it and it was planned that way! Machu Picchu is for another time. This trip was about being with amazing and gifted people.

Roxana and Jose, a young couple who are just starting out with the hopes and dreams of fullness and a promising future. I loved photographing their looks, the moments they reached out to touch each other in both gentleness and laughter.

Hermenegildo and Irma, a couple, who renewed their vows after 50 years of marriage. They were truly celebrating this fullness which flows from the day in and day out little things. On the morning of the celebration, I walked through the gate to find Hermenegildo cutting the flowers he had grown and then arranging them into the bouquet Irma would hold throughout the day… he was so tender and so in the moment – I was totally taken by this man and his wife! The entire family also know how to throw a great party!

The statement repeated to me was, “You better put your camera away and not keep it out.” At first I was thrown into fear thinking that Peru must be far worse with a high rate of robbery than many other countries I walked through comfortably with my camera. That perception quickly changed and I came to realize that the Peruvian people were just very diligent in taking care of me and ensuring that my stay would be both happy and healthy. They were constantly looking out for me and enfolding me. “La Familia” has now become “Mi Familia” and I am so very grateful! The people are the true wonders of the world! Si! Si! Si!