I was intrigued by a talk (at the South America Explorers Club in Cuzco, Peru) given by Carmen Weick about her work at the Q’ewar Social Project, and so I organized a visit to the project in Andahuaylillas. It is a small town about an hour outside of Cusco, famous for its Church nicknamed the Sistine Chapel of the Americas. Despite this however it is also extremely poor, with all of its associated problems. The Q’ewar Project was born in early 2001, set up by Julio Herrera, a sculptor, and Lucy Terrazas.
They were moved to help the many abandoned wives and single mothers they encountered in the community. They have taught them how to sew and knit Waldorf style dolls from hand-dyed natural fabrics and materials, in a comfortable environment.
They endeavoured to provide the ladies with skills as well as improve their self-esteem and were soon inundated with women wanting to join the project. Eventually, thanks to foreign visitors they found buyers for the dolls and were able to move to a new, custom built site just above the town. It is a large site, nestled on the edge of a beautiful valley. The views are incredible and give the house a tranquil feel. The site is divided into the house where Lucy and Julio live, with rooms for volunteers, three workshops, a nursery for the ladies who have children too young to attend school, a bathroom block for the ladies and a miniature version for the children, and a large “chakra” or vegetable patch. This is cultivated by Florencio, a former alcoholic who also reconstructed several terraces, some dating back to before the Incas. All of the vegetables grown are given free to the ladies and their families.
I was greeted by Julio who showed me around and introduced me to the ladies. All are so warm and friendly. I spoke to them about Q’ewar and they all told me of how they feel part of a big family, they are all friends and they like having a set wage and somewhere safe and nearby to leave their babies. Prior to Q’ewar, most of them worked in the fields, did domestic work for other families or sold things on the street, often from a very young age. The project also helps the women become literate, and encourages them to talk about their projects. Flower essence therapy has helped many of the ladies to overcome problems they have had, and has given them more confidence. They feel they work harder because they are not pressured to do so, and unlike their previous jobs, they are given breaks in the morning and afternoon, and time off for lunch.
They are always thinking about the future and are in the process of building a painting studio and a ceramics and woodwork studio where they hope to help more men with alcohol addiction.
It is an incredibly worthwhile project and the efforts of Julio and Lucy are starting to bear fruit.