Poverty and vulnerability stifle the women of Krochet Kids International. They live in an impoverished district on the outskirts of Lima, a city in the developing country of Peru. Socially constructed and strictly enforced gender roles suppress many of these women from reaching their full potential. Furthermore, a single woman in her twenties is rare when motherhood is expected by age eighteen.
The mental and emotional impacts of poverty leave most women in similar situations disillusioned. Their physical needs are demanding, but their emotional stability is in even greater danger. The overwhelming need for change is paralyzing.
Krochet Kids International, an organization dedicated to empowering women, gives those in Northern Uganda and Peru the opportunity for change. The organization offers education, mentorship, and jobs to women willing to accept honesty from the counselors and long hours sewing in a regulated work environment. Each beneficiary works as an independent contractor, paid per product that she creates. Additionally, Krochet Kids offers affordable childcare, which allows the women less restriction on the hours they can work.
Krochet Kids products include hats, scarves, bags, and other apparel. These high-quality items are sold online and shipped around the world. The profit made from these sales feeds into funding the programs in Peru and Uganda.
The programs range from three to five years, depending on the participants’ rate of growth and baseline health levels. Krochet Kids mentors, local specialists, monitor and evaluate the participants’ psychological, emotional, and physical health week-by-week. This quantitative process ensures holistic growth for each participant, which varies widely per individual. It also promotes sustainable change that the women can implement into their lives post-graduation.
This community of women rising above poverty exhibits a collective spirit of courage. Maintaining the status quo may be an easier alternative for the participants, but they take risks for the betterment of their futures and their families. Their testimonies of change are not without struggle and pain. The end result, however, is impactful.
The Women of Lima
It is 4:30 A.M., and the ladies of Krochet Kids Peru are already preparing lunch. Having cooked lomo saltado on the sizzling stovetop, they awaken their children in the dark for a long day ahead.
The sun rises behind thick, gray clouds as young mothers send their children off to school. Shortly after, they file into their workspaces. They each exchange a quick “buenos dias” over the collective noises of their knitting machines, which create the sound of loud washboards across the seven buildings of their worksite.
As the day wears on, the knitting room grows hotter. Creating hats, bags, and clothing items is tedious and frustrating at times. The women knit quickly, but they produce perfection.
The financial stability of a job is only one factor in overall mental wellness and empowerment. Helping women realize their potential is the first hurdle that the women overcome. Convincing vulnerable women to join the program and face that hurdle presents an initial struggle.
The ladies must accept a mentality of hard work. The mentors consider earning money and respect more valuable for the beneficiaries than the finances that they acquire.
“Sometimes women think they’re coming in for a handout, but they get responsibility instead,” Jordan Zigler, 25-year-old Krochet Kids Peru Quality Control Manager of Knoxville, Tennessee, said. “Lima’s poverty has become generational and cyclical. We have to teach patience so that the ladies push past the learning curve of the job.”
Additionally, many Peruvians believe that women should stay home and leave work to their husbands. This mindset perpetuates a cycle of unhealthy relationships for some, and leads many to fear that they will be unable to provide for their children.
“Some have gone from working in the fields at their parents’ house straight to living with a man,” said Patricia Namanny, 30-year old Krochet Kids Country Director of Lima, Peru. “No one has told them that they can make it on their own.”
The ladies remain trapped by their own insecurities. It is part of Krochet Kids’ mission to correct these thought patterns.
“There’s a thin line between respect for your husband and fear of him,” Namanny said.
When a woman rejects a job with Krochet Kids, Namanny offers to speak with the husband.
“A lot of times they will say, ‘I don’t need to work. He gives me everything I need,’” said Namanny. “But this is not all they can get. They live on a mountain with no running water. We want everyone to know that they deserve a hot shower, and we want to show them how they can get it.”
District of Chorillos
Ask any taxi driver in Lima to take you to Villa Nicolasa, the neighborhood where Krochet Kids and many of its beneficiaries reside, and you will likely receive a perplexed look from the driver and nothing more than that. Most locals in Lima avoid the area entirely; they have been taught to fear it.
A map will prove no more useful, because the unnamed streets have no addresses. All roads leading to Krochet Kids are dirt. Just within the city limits, the district is simultaneously urban, yet remote.
Walking to work means dodging piles of trash and feces with each step. With the exception of the neighborhood’s panaderia, the smell of the air air is consistent with those articles on the ground. Colorful buildings stand out vibrantly amidst the desert land.
Family-owned restaurants, parks, and street-side food vendors add charm to the area. A bodega on every corner stocks Coca-Cola and chickens plucked featherless. Rosa, owner of the shop nearest Krochet Kids, cackles with a laugh that reaches throughout the villa. Her sunny disposition contrasts the gray and dismal skies that cover Lima on any given winter day.
The situation, however, worsens. Just half a mile from the Krochet Kids headquarters begins Pacifico, a more impoverished neighborhood. Homes here are not bought but acquired. Squatters take up residence, unconcerned with the safety or security of the structures. For residents of Pacifico, anything available is better than nothing.
Running water and electricity do not reach to the heights of this steep hill--neither does public transportation or governmental support. The path up and down makes no exception for anyone; even pregnant women must make the daily trek to the market or work.
The thin walls of these houses provide little protection from the elements. Mold regularly grows inside, which makes young children sick. Some even die from the long-term exposure.
Villa Nicolasa sits on the edge of the larger district of Chorrillos, which suffers from a bruised and war-torn history. Built as a beach resort and recreation center for wealthy European immigrants, Chilean invaders burned houses and plundered the residences in 1860. Only decades later, heavy fighting in the Pacific War destroyed much of its remaining infrastructure. Most recently, the district has seen irreversible damage after a devastating earthquake in 1940. The city has never fully recovered from the sequence of these tragic events. Families living there now are still victims of these consequences.
“Whenever there’s land available, ladies would skip work because they’re camping out to get it,” Zigler said. “If they stay there long enough, it becomes theirs.”
Once an individual claims the land, he or she will use it to build a home or sell it to someone else for profit. Both actions are illegal, yet extremely common. The Peruvian government does not recognize the land or the people living there.
“There are women in our program that have enough savings to move out of Pacifico, but they’re afraid of change.” Namanny said. “This type of life is all they know.”
Mentors at Krochet Kids seek to answer this question about the women early in their program experience. Setting goals, large or small, establish the foundation for progress in the women’s lives.
“They don’t always reach for the things that they want,” Namanny said. “Some of them say that they don’t need running water, but they always want something. It depends on what they find truly valuable.”
Measures of Empowerment
One woman sought to provide her family with a classic Christmas experience: presents, a nice dinner, and decorations. Namanny broke down that woman’s goals into manageable, strategic pieces. The woman ultimately accomplished her dream and gained confidence in the process.
“She did it, and by proving to herself that she could do that, she could make other things happen,” Namanny said.
It requires time and growth for the ladies to understand which goals are most beneficial to strive. Mentors prompt the women with questions, forcing them to come up with conclusions for themselves. Often these discussions require reasoning on the mentors’ part.
“My idea of happiness is different than yours,” Namanny said. “You might not agree with someone’s dream, but you have to step into it.”
One woman spent over one month’s salary on a birthday party for her son. While she viewed this as a worthwhile expense, it still came with consequence.
“We have women in the program that own a flat screen T.V. when they can’t even afford to put food on the table,” Patricia Namanny, Krochet Kids Peru Country Director, said. “It’s the impoverished mindset. Their priorities are skewed after what they’ve experienced.”
Zigler believes it is necessary in understanding empathy to recognize the connections humans experience across cultural and socio-economic boundaries.
“If we say these ladies are ‘emotionally impoverished,’ what does that mean?,” Zigler said. “We all know what it means to be happy, sad, and angry. We relate regardless of upbringing, background, and skin color.”
Realigning priorities, building self-esteem, and achieving goals are just a small portion of the work that mentors tackle with the beneficiaries. Krochet Kids focuses on 45 different indicators of growth. In weekly or bi-weekly meetings, mentors quantify and track the women’s progress over time. By comparing the beneficiaries’ current situations with those from when they first joined the program, mentors log tangible improvements in the quality of their lives.
Krochet Kids’ statistics point to drastic change in the lives of both Ugandan and Peruvian women. Factoring these quantitative measures together makes discerning the changes per location more difficult. While Peruvian residents face generational poverty, the poverty in Gulu, Uganda is more often a consequence of war. These factors not only impact the needs of the community but also the attitudes of potential participants. The war-torn community in Uganda generally demonstrates a greater willingness to work towards empowerment. Peruvians trapped in generational or cyclical poverty require motivating with reminders that their situations can change. Some women in Peru do not initially understand the value of hard work, because they feel trapped in the cycle of poverty. Their mindset demonstrates the necessity for emotional and mental stability as well as financial.
Krochet Kids divides growth into five categories: financial, physical, social, psychological, and intellectual. This wide range of topics seeks to reach every space of the women’s lives to provide for holistic change. Research and statistics demonstrate that this approach to empowerment is effective. Improvements in social and psychological health inspire financial stability and physical wellness as well.
Progress in these areas not only creates concrete transformation in the women’s lives, but it also sparks generational change. These women are leaving a legacy that will empower their children and grandchildren for future generations.