Just in time for the launch of their new and improved Web site, our friends at Maki International have gotten a huge write-up in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine O!
Flip through the March edition and on page 40, in a full page spread, under the heading “Local Hero,” there’s Martha!
For those who have not read our Communities & Caring page, you might not be familiar with Maki. It was started two years ago by Martha and Marisol Chancos, a native of Ayacucho, who has dedicated herself for the last 16 years to aiding in the economic development and empowerment of women in her hometown.
Marisol had worked for various U.S. nonprofits for years and had extensive experience in developing and implementing programming and organizational structures. Marisol and Martha met when Martha traveled from her home in Del Mar, Calif., to volunteer in a program that Marisol directed.
Maki provides vocational training courses and counseling for abused women at an emergency center in Ayacucho, as well as supporting a local artisan cooperative, Hilos y Colores. But a cornerstone of the organization’s mission is to help the women — and their children — incarcerated in Ayacucho’s Yanamilla Penitentiary.
The facility holds about 1400 inmates, approximately 160 of whom are women sentenced or charged pending trial, in most cases for drug smuggling. Most of the women are from impoverished rural highland communities or the Amazon jungle and were sought out by drug cartels to transport semi refined cocaine paste.
The prison allows female inmates to keep their children with them until they reach the age of 3. But prison conditions are spartan, and the children lack proper nutrition, health care and adequate early childhood education.
Maki contracts directly with each woman and pays them individually, providing them with income and training to be prepared for when they go free, and works to provide facilities and education for the toddlers.
Marisol says the article in Oprah’s O Magazine has lifted spirits behind the barbed wire-topped walls of Yanamilla.
“I told them about it, and they were very happy and excited,” Marisol said. “Most of them don’t know about Oprah. You know, they’re from the countryside, but I explained to them who she is and that she has this very famous magazine, and they were happy. They were like, ‘Yaaay!'”
On another positive note, Marisol said penitentiary officials recently approved Maki’s longstanding request to run its workshops in a separate part of the prison, instead of having to work in the overcrowded prison yard.
Excerpts from Oprah O Magazine:
“MARTHA DUDENHOEFFER KOLODNY is sitting in a knitting circle in a sunbaked courtyard high in the Andes Mountains. The slender 58-year-old (known affectionately as Martita) is clearly one of the gang, immersed in the group’s stream of chatter and laughter. But a quick glance at the surroundings-the dirt-covered floor, metal bars, concrete walls rimmed with barbed wire-reveals this isn’t your average knitting circle. These women are inmates.”
“‘I don’t know how to knit or crochet, so for me, it was like magic to watch them.’ There was Carmen Diaz Pizarro, who could embroider the most intricate floral patterns. And Emma Cangana, who sewed stuffed toys for her children, living in a nearby orphanage. ‘I saw their creations and thought, Maybe we can do something with them.'”