My journey through suffering led me to understand that there is life beyond pain, and that was possible, through the creation of art and design with the inmates of a prison in the city of Huaraz, Peru.
My work began with a phone call from the religious Mercedarian Missionary, Gloria Medina, a religion teacher from my childhood, asking me for help for the inmates of that prison.One November 11, I traveled from Lima to the city of Huaraz, where I managed to enter a prison for the first time, meet with the director of the prison, and begin my work the following day.
Accompanied by the religious Gloria, and after passing all the security protocols, we began to walk through those cold and gloomy corridors. The security guard who was escorting us mentioned that there was a prison population of 1,255 inmates, men and women, and there were 7 workshops. These workshops were of clothing, carpentry, ceramics, leather, crafts, tapestries and a bull horn workshop.
Suddenly, a cell was opened in which there were more than 80 inmates, the number of inmates per workshop, surrounding us. There was a deathly silence. And then the cell was closed. I greeted them and asked them to please pray a moment to give thanks to God, the giver of life. Unexpectedly, many energetic voices were heard praying, at that moment my tears began to roll down my cheeks.
So, I told them:
“Brothers, the God that you prayed today is the God who brought me here through pain. I understand that you suffer inside here, but I suffer outside of this place. However, I have understood that when I see your pain and the need that you have to learn in the workshops, your pain takes priority and mine fades”.
I started by explaining to them that Christmas was coming and we would create utility products that could be sold in December, but one of the inmates told me that they had no materials to do the jobs and they required money to do them. I told them not to worry because we would work with recycled materials
So, when I left the prison after visiting the workshops, I asked Sister Gloria that the first place to visit would be the school where I had studied to ask if it was possible to collect in one day, all the stationery and cardboard that they discarded. The same day at night, I had an interview on television where I made a call to clean offices and schools, and all disposable materials that were not used, were taken to the prison.
Divine miracle! Two days later the carts with recyclable materials began to arrive at the prison, the police smiled, there was joy in the environment..
My work with the interns began. Several days passed and these became weeks. My idea was to clean the schools and offices of disposable products and give work to the inmates of the prison.
I asked a prison security policeman what they did with the waste generated by the inmates so he told me that everything was thrown away and that the Peruvian state spent money on it, so I thought that the accumulation of garbage was a problem to be solved.
I talked to the inmates and asked them to select the fruit peels, tubers, sawdust, wood, residues in general to be able to produce products.
I thought: “I will create a garden for the inmates to grow their own medicinal plants.” “We will make compost from the shells of vegetables, fruits and eggshells.” “From the sawdust, we will make biodegradable flower pots to sell, we will make pillows for the inmates with the scraps left over from the sewing workshops. We will also begin to ask companies for help to donate disused clothing, fabrics and recycled materials, so the inmates will be able to make their own mattresses.” This would generate more work, a better quality of life inside the prison and less money from the Peruvian government.
There is no greater satisfaction than helping, giving is better than receiving.
When we suffer, the soul is full of pain and a lot of love. We have so much love inside us. So, If we look outside where to position it, we begin by making a masterpiece directed by the hands of the Eternal God towards the least favored.
We began by making cardboard Christmas cards, paper Christmas decorations, pillows with fabric waste, jewelry made of bull horn, chicken bones, and cow bones. Christmas dolls with recycled yarns, sawdust picture frames (waste from the sawing process). Skirts with recycled yarns and fabrics, utilitarian objects with plastic bottles, weave of rugs and rugs with scraps of fabrics, jewelry, necklaces, earrings with recycled wool, sculptures with wood residues.
Some fabrics for making skirts were painted with the shells and pieces of beet taken from the kitchen waste. The fabric was embroidered by hand and the required designs, by machine. The glue was made from a natural product from leftover wheat flour.
There was peace in my heart, watching many hands work, faces looking up at the sky, mixed emotions and many dreams. The days went by and close to Christmas the first project that I named “a light of hope” was completed.
I had an interview on television to promote the designs that were created in the prison.
The next day, Sister Gloria and I organized a small fair to help sell the handmade products. With great excitement, all the products were sold and the money acquired reached the inmates to help their families and children.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus paralyzed the following projects, but I understand that it will not be forever. I see the faces of the inmates go through my thoughts and I repeat to myself: I will return and I will be there to finish their dreams.
With two days left before Christmas, carols were heard, the rain began to fall and the cold became more intense; So, I thought, suffering makes us wiser. I took the bus that would take me back home, a long journey of 7 hours.
The heart was beginning to heal.
Sophia Calvo. Peru.
Thank you very much dear Sofia for sharing your story with us.