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On Saturday I had a morning jewelry making class with the Club de Chicas and, because they didn’t have school obligations, we had 5 in the class, with 3 chicas who weren’t in the Thursday class. Two of the new students I knew from previous years, and one of the new students, Veronica, was the youngest in the class at 12. Although young, she picked up the techniques smoothly and quickly. 

Reina with her pliers

The oldest in the class, Reina, was a previous student of mine who is a lovely, motivated young woman. She is now 18 and graduating from high school this year. Her older sister just completed a nursing program through an institute that is geared towards helping young women from the countryside (el campo) work in professional careers, and Reina hopes to go into medicine like her sister. She works two jobs, at a clothing store in town, and for PAZA, teaching the chicas knitting and crocheting. I’ve always enjoyed working with her because she is engaged, makes beautiful jewelry, and has a pleasant demeanor. 

So many giggles while they worked

My favorite part of the class on Saturday were all the giggles. While they made their pieces, the chicas talked and giggled and sang along to the radio. It was wonderful to see them being girls and acting their age. So often here young girls are given responsibilities beyond their maturity level and the fun part of youth is lost to all the things they must tend to. Yet in the class the girls are given the space to just be, which in itself is a success. 

Mary picks up her beads

Throughout the class the chicas were full of questions for me, mostly about my country, my tattoos, and my ears (which are stretched). At one point they worked up the courage to ask me to take my earrings out and poked and prodded the holes in my ears. Afterwards they took great interest in my tattoos and their meaning. When we got to the Ayacuchan embroidery motif on my arm, I decided it was easier just to show them embroidered bags. I fetched them from my room and explained to the girls how the bags are made by incarcerated women. The girls were very interested in the story of the women and took turns trying on the bags and modeling them.  

Jhessica models her earrings

All of the girls completed their earrings and I was proud of them for finishing on their own because the earrings have a complicated jump ring part. The older girls helped the younger, slower girls finish and everyone was quite taken with the earrings. I think we have a few fashionistas in this group!     


We are still raising money for our Plier Fundraiser! As of today, we have raised enough for 16 sets of pliers. Our goal is 25 and we are only 9 sets short! $15 buys one high quality set of 4 pliers, which will greatly enable the women to create sales-quality jewelry pieces. Currently, 80% of our plier sets in Peru and Bolivia are broken or dysfunctional. Support our fundraiser by donating online!



Yesterday, in the afternoon, the women from the Club de Artesanas returned to complete their projects and I started another class with the Club de Chicas. Like the Club de Artesanas, the Club de Chicas meets twice a week and provides skills training workshops and a workshop space for various activities. The Club de Chicas is open to pre-teen and teenage girls in Independencia. 

In the past years, I’ve worked with the same group of teenage girls. Apparently, these girls are all grown up! Since they are nearly graduated high school, they no longer are participating in the Club de Chicas and instead, I was introduced to a new Club. The new girls are absolutely adorable and a bit younger than the others, ranging from 10-15.

Concentrating on the loop

 We started the class with the same project as the women. Since I didn’t know the Club had changed until I got here, I was worried that the project was too advanced for them. However, in my absence, PAZA hired one of the original Chicas (and my old student) to teach jewelry making classes to the new Chicas. Because of this, the new Chicas were perfectly adept at using the pliers and creating loops. It was so wonderful to see how the skills I taught years ago have been passed on to new students. 

Wrapping the wire

The new Chicas were very engaged in the project and loved the design. One of them immediately put a completed earring in and kept it on for the remainder of the class. Another didn’t have her ears pierced and expressed her disappointment at not being able to wear the earrings. 

Concentrating hard

Dorinda told me that recently the Chicas held an ear piercing day in the workshop room. They used needles and thread to pierce each other’s ears and it took them 2 hours to pierce three ears! One of the Chicas asked for cinnamon to help “calm her anxiety”- it does sound like a nerve racking affair. 

Despite never taking class with me before, the Chicas did a wonderful job with the earrings and are hungry for more projects. It will be fun to get to know these young ones and see how the class evolves with a whole new set of students!

 ————————————————————————————————————————————————–We are still raising money for our Plier Fundraiser! As of today, we have raised enough for 16 sets of pliers. Our goal is 25 and we are only 9 sets short! $15 buys one high quality set of 4 pliers, which will greatly enable the women to create sales-quality jewelry pieces. Currently, 80% of our plier sets in Peru and Bolivia are broken or dysfunctional. Support our fundraiser by donating online!  


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Today we started our jewelry making series with our Manos Independencia program. This program serves rural weavers in Independencia, a small, isolated village in Bolivia. Today’s class was with the Club de Artesanas, a group of 6-8 women, who vary in age from 20 – 45. The women in the Club are mothers (and grandmothers!) and many of them have farms that they tend to in nearby communities, meaning their days are filled with caring for their household, caring for their land, and caring for their children. 

The Club, which was founded by PAZA and is open 2 days a week, provides skills workshops for the women as well as a place to work on various projects. For example, the women in the Club can use PAZA’s work room for sewing projects (including the use of the industrial sewing machine Ruraq Maki donated!), jewelry making, weaving, and other special projects. PAZA employs one local woman, Dona Maxima, to serve as the Club’s trainer and she leads jewelry making classes, assists the women in warping their looms, and helps with sewing projects. She also assists in the free dye days PAZA provides to help the women dye their yarn with local plants. 

The women often chat while they work


The Club is a wonderful place for the women to come to take time for their self, learn new skills, and enjoy each other’s company. Additionally, the skills workshops help to create economic opportunities for the women. Ruraq Maki has been holding annual jewelry making workshops at the club for 4 years. 

Dona Bea with her pliers neatly in a row


Today’s project was part review and part new concepts to prepare the women for the more difficult projects ahead. We had 5 in the class with one new woman. Since my visit last year, Dona Maxima has been teaching and facilitating jewelry making classes and the women’s skills have vastly improved. I noticed that they were more proficient with the pliers and worked faster than ever before! One woman, Dona Bea, who I’ve worked with in the past, has made leaps and bounds since last year. She was the first to finish her project today and her work was impeccable. 

Dona Adviana works with baby in her lap

I’m so thrilled that the women have improved their skills since my last visit! Even so, today’s class was no cake walk (even though PAZA founder, Dorinda, did make us cake) and the women struggled with the new project. This year’s session focuses on construction, and how various elements needs to come together to create a strong, well designed piece. I see this as the next step to the classes, as it lays the groundwork for design. 

Dona Antonia examines her completed earring

Although we had struggles, each woman made it out of the class with a pair of earrings and a better understanding of how the pieces fit together. I don’t expect them to understand these ideas completely the first day, and today was a perfect starting off point for more to come in the following weeks.   


 We are still raising money for our Plier Fundraiser! As of today, we have raised enough for 16 sets of pliers. Our goal is 25 and we are only 9 sets short! $15 buys one high quality set of 4 pliers, which will greatly enable the women to create sales-quality jewelry pieces. Currently, 80% of our plier sets in Peru and Bolivia are broken or dysfunctional. Support our fundraiser by donating online!  

Last day in the prison

Yesterday was more officially my last day in the prison, since the women prepared a special send off treat for me: chicarron (fried pork), steamed potatoes, and qapchi, a delicious creamy sauce made from milk, cheese and peanuts. I’m already a big fan of chicarron but the way the women made it, coasted in garlic and salt, then perfectly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, was spectacular.   

While we ate (and I sucked ever bone dry, prompting the women to give me their bones) the women explained some of the nuances of the benefits type of sentence. I hadn’t realized that when someone is sentenced with benefits, they are also required to pay a fine. One of the women, who hopes to be out by November, must pay 4,000 soles ($1,250) before she can be released. When I asked where this money was coming from, she said hopefully her dad can give her a loan. They explained, if you can’t pay, you aren’t released, meaning that the poorest women have to serve their entire sentence, even if they have benefits. 

The other aspect of benefits I didn’t know about is that when these women are released they are required to have a job and a place to live lined up. Housing isn’t too difficult, as most women have families who they can stay with, however, having a job ready when they are released is a huge obstacle. Not only is it difficult to line up work while incarcerated, many people don’t want to hire the women because they have a criminal record. When I asked if the state helped them find work, or if they met with a social worker before leaving, they all looked at me blankly. Clearly not. 

What I find most infuriating about this system is that it requires the women to have the two things that prompted them to become involved in illegal activity in the first place: money and work. Yet the government does nothing to help them with these requirements, nor does it help them once they are released. They are simply released, expected to do better this time around. 

Moving on to happier discussions- yesterday I also talked to the women about what they want to learn in 2016. Leather and silkscreening were at the top of the list for hands on workshops. For more talk based workshops they said they want to learn about how to choose and reach the right market for their products (that specific- I know!) and how to talk to their teenage daughters about safe sex. They are also interested in learning about natural medicine and how to have healthier diets. And jewelry, of course, there are always more earring designs to learn! (No, really, that’s what they told me). 

The best part of that talk was finally the women are telling me what they want, rather than me trying to figure it out through pointed questions. In fact, it got a little hectic with all of them talking at once and me frantically scribbling down their ideas and suggestions. I don’t mind it one bit, though, because it means that the women trust us enough to hear their desires and try to make it happen. 

At the end of the day there were hugs and goodbyes, even though I dropped in briefly today to collect the remainder of my order. No one was too teary eyed, though, we all know in 6 months they will be frying me up some pork again.

One final thing! Today we are launching a fundraising campaign to help purchase high quality pliers for our jewelry classes in Peru & Bolivia. Currently, only 20% of our classroom pliers work properly and these pliers mark and distort the wire. As more women consider turning jewelry making into a business, we believe it is time to get them the necessary tools to do so. 

How you can help? Each plier set (which includes 4 high quality, ergonomic pliers) costs $15 each. Donate $15 and you sponsor one woman in our jewelry making class! Our goal is purchase 25 plier sets to be used in both Peru & Bolivia. 

Donate online or via check to: 41 Leese Street #2, San Francisco, CA 94110!

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Drawing out designs for the stencil

Cutting out the stencil

Watching Ana demonstrate the techniques

Ana helping a student get the right pressure

Applying the ink

Ana demonstrates the drying process as the guard looks on

Used screen

The first look at her very first print

Showing off her first completed print

Class photo!