What is the Mirasol Project?
The Mirasol Project is a scheme to improve the future of disadvantaged children in Peru and was set up in 2006. It is named after a little girl called Mirasol who helps tend a herd of 3,000 alpaca at the Mallkini ranch high in the sierras of the Peruvian Andes. She is one of the Quechua-speaking people of the Andes who are particularly disadvantaged. Few of these people can read or write, their health is poor and there has been no escape from the relentless poverty they experience until now.
How did the Project come about?
The company, Michell and Co., which owns the Mallkini ranch have always had the interests of their employees at heart but wanted to go one step further in securing their future. The project aims to raise enough money from the sale of alpaca wool and cotton yarns to finance the building and day-to-day running of a boarding centre at the ranch to support the children of the alpaca shepherds in their educational studies. The boarding centre will focus on an integrated health and educational programme and provide a secure place for the children to develop their potential. It is also hoped that the Mallkini centre will serve as a model for the establishment of more centres along the sierras to reach even larger numbers of disadvantaged children.
What has been achieved so far?
So far everything has gone according to plan although there have been a few minor setbacks. The centre now houses 30 boarders, the children of the alpaca shepherds, who live in the centre during the week. It will also eventually accommodate another 100 pupils who will travel from the nearest village each day. Classrooms and dormitories for the boys and girls have been built as well as accommodation for the teaching staff and cook. Even warm fleece school uniforms and pyjamas have been provided. A clean water supply has been established, the kitchen equipped, linen for the beds purchased and exercise books and pencils chosen. Out in the courtyard the mosaic Mirasol logo, to remind everyone of how this all came about, is nearing completion. The official opening of the centre took place in March 2008 and was a very emotional event attended by 40 local dignitaries, parents, children and friends. The whole building was decorated with coloured balloons and the classrooms were festooned with banners and drawings made by the children.
As the activities at the Mirasol centre develop, it is important to continue to involve the children’s parents and to show that the local culture is valued. Recently at the school the children celebrated Mother’s Day with the help of multi-talented Bernardo, the cook. They prepared some songs which they learned to play on quenas, traditional Andean flutes.
The boarding centre has a dual focus on the children ’s health and education. What progress has been made in the last year?
The children’s health is of paramount importance. A child in poor health cannot take advantage of educational opportunities. Even simple things like care of the teeth have to be learned and many of the children have suffered from toothache. The local Quechua Benefit Programme now sends a dentist on a regular basis and, for the first time in their lives, each child has a toothbrush of which they are very proud. They even take their toothbrushes with them when they return home to their families at week-ends. With the help of a local doctor, a health record has been opened up for every child to make a note of growth, weight, vaccines and mental development. Personal hygiene is fun to the children because there is the novelty of having a shower that feels like warm rain.
At the moment the boarding centre works in a supportive educational role but it is clear that very much more needs to be done. The children are Indian and speak Quechua while the official language in Peru is Spanish. Most of the parents do not speak Spanish at all so the children meet an entirely foreign language when they first start in the state schools where all the teaching takes place in Spanish. The children, understanding nothing, are quickly relegated to the back of the class where they sit demotivated for hours on end and can leave school totally illiterate. At the Mirasol Boarding House teachers speak in both Quechua and Spanish so that the children are improving their skills in both languages. As a result the children have a new found confidence.
How can you see this new confidence in the children?
Last May, at the parade in Muñani, a local town, the children proudly marched in grey uniforms with the Mirasol logo embroidered on the pockets, carrying the Peruvian flag and a banner of the Mirasol Boarding House. They were awarded first place in the marching competition and won some educational toys including Lego. The children are also happy to entertain guests at the centre, many from overseas and they are eager to learn something of their cultures. Sometimes the guests come bearing gifts. Two visitors came from England, one brought educational materials and the other donated a gas refrigerator. Then some Italian friends visited and offered to buy 28 bicycles for the Mirasol House. Visitors return home with promises of yet more help. In December regular visitors, Kari and Per from Norway, arrived to meet a flock of excited children on their way home from school. Kari says, “I have to admit we cried with joy to see them like this. This was a big change from the timid children we said goodbye to a year ago.” They brought gifts of Panettone cake to be eaten with chocolate sauce for Christmas and also drawings of Norwegian scenes and poems drawn and written by their local schoolchildren. The older Mirasol children were fascinated by the similarities and differences between Peruvian and Norwegian life. They sang Norwegian Christmas carols and Peruvian songs and hugs were exchanged.
How do the children feel about their new life?
In the words of 14 year-old Wilian Chunga:
“I come from my house to the Mirasol Boarding House. I feel good here. I learn many things and study and do my homework. The teachers are very nice. I stay overnight at Mirasol. I eat food with vitamins and proteins in order to grow strong and healthy and be able to be the first. This is why I love Mirasol Boarding House. I never dreamed of living in a house that seems God’s house, because I learn many things I didn’t know before. This encourages me to go on with my studies. I appreciate this with all my heart. I also thank the persons who made this possible. I send them a big hug and wish them all happiness. Thank you!”
How can we support the Mirasol Project?
Once again Jane Ellison has created some enticing designs to encourage us to go out and buy Mirasol yarns and support such a worthy cause. A man’s sophisticated chevron tank top in Nuna cleverly uses slip stitch to achieve the look of Fairisle, keeping the garment simple to knit. Jane says, “It is important to me that knitters should find my patterns straightforward and enjoy their knitting.” A woman’s top is knitted in a simple lace design using Hap’i, a chunky slubbed cotton yarn, giving the garment a very fresh look. A little doll with a navy face and red hair has a colourful striped dress punctuated with slip stitch black and white to give a bubble effect: very new and very unique. It is a delight to knit with the high quality Mirasol yarns and make a beautiful garment but to do so knowing that the purchase of the yarn helps such a worthwhile cause makes it extra special. Jane says, “I feel that it is good that I, like many consumers, can make a difference.”