“I have a friend who knows somebody who went to Peru last summer”. Who hasn’t heard this kind of story. But when they continue with ” She knows a lot of people, including some teens who are just itching to do something useful in the world” you know that you are at the beginning of an extraordinary tale of solidarity and education.
A colleague met a group of students shortly after hearing from two sources about the wonderful work done in Pacifico de Villa by Solidarity in Action. They were looking for a way to make a difference in the world and were hoping to model it on a local altruistic group which was volunteer organized and focussed on the wishes and needs of a community in Haiti.
Not wishing to compete with the Haitian group, they set up their own mandate: firstly to help people at home; secondly to help abroad. After conversation, this is what they did. First they talked to their parents about Solidarity in Action, explaining how it was working in a shantytown around Lima to improve the lives of families. Secondly, they invited their families to learn more about this project and other activities of SIA on line and through a face-to-face meeting. Next they thought about the need for fundraising for them to contribute to a project in Peru. They did not forget Haiti either: In about 6 weeks, they sewed 20 quilts to send to Haitian families living under tarps and in tents to provide comfort to children there.
What else did they decide to do? They found ways to give to Peruvian and local women because they knew that increasing the financial independence of women always helps children and families . Through a local employment initiative they found an ecologically sound product, cloth bags for fruits and vegetables bought at the store or farm gate, which they could sell to earn funds toward Peru. Good, they thought, the “act locally” portion of their mission was taken care of because all of the goods they were selling supported a retraining program for women who had been out of the workforce for a significant period of time and who needed retraining and resume building. Then they found a friendly and responsive local coffee roaster who on hearing that they wanted to work with people in Peru said that they had Peruvian coffee from a women’s cooperative. Everything they sold would thus support women’s initiatives here and abroad.
They needed a place to sell their coffee and their vegetable bags. What better place than the Farmers’ Market where they could show people how the cloth mesh bags were a way to avoid throwing away plastic weekly as they shopped for locally grown crops! And given that the market is a place where people come not just for food but to talk, and feed the soul with friendship, what better place to meet people and tell them about the courage and determination of Peruvian women! The local market manager was thrilled to have a project like this that complemented the regular vendors, offering a strategically placed table at a key point near an entrance and where people walked between the market stalls. How generous. So early, three Saturday mornings, the intrepid teens talked to passers-by who were thrilled with the project, curious about Solidarity in Action, familiar with developing world issues and wanted to share thoughts, and in many cases, willing to try the sniff test, where a nose near the aromatic freshly roasted coffee convinced them of the merits of supporting women in Peru as well as teens in Canada who want to help them.
Just as the idea of doing a trip to Peru was a by-product of other conversations, several conversations at the market resulted in people wanting to know about SIA’s trips and programs. And, we hope, as friends drop by to visit any of those who bought the fair trade, organic Peruvian coffee and are offered a cup, they will learn about the benefits of Solidarity in Action.