- By Natalia Perera
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
— Pablo Picasso
The Divine spark in me greets and bows to the Divine spark in you, dear Warrior. Let me begin by paying my respects. You have worked so hard, fought so long to be here now. You have awakened many dormant parts in you, discriminated between ‘fear’ and ‘love’, between ‘doing’ and ‘being’, between accepting your imprisonment and healing it.
You and I have often referred to the superhuman qualities of the great people who have walked this Earth before us, and whose presence by our side still inspires, guides, and celebrates each of our baby steps in making this world a more wholesome place. We have stressed the importance of honoring and preserving the wisdom of our indigenous cultures. And in so doing, generating the heart space and the humility to learn from the rich tapestry of their traditions, uniting the soul with the body. Today, in Peru, there are yet another two humble people who listened to their inspiration and followed their heart to create the Q’ewar Social Project: a living example of the spiritual meeting the material. This is the home of beautiful handcrafted dolls, doll clothing, and other traditional Peruvian artifacts.
Julio Herrera and Lucy Terrazas founded the project to give the local rural people an opportunity to use their artistic skills as a means of livelihood. For the women especially, in Andahuaylillas, a charming little town south of Cusco, economic and social support means they have more resources to face all that is often found in today’s peasant communities, such as poverty, domestic violence, poor education, depression, and alcoholism to name a few. This initiative is interesting for us Warriors of the Sacred, as is the personal journey that Julio and Lucy had to undertake to arrive at this place where their creativity and their work meet and impact the world in a humanitarian way.
As a youth growing up in Peru, Julio started his studies with political science but went on to fine arts and puppetry in Argentina and ended up in Anthroposophy, teaching Art in a Waldorf School in Lima. An odd combination, yes…but like many other Warriors, Julio followed an unconventional path, one that he had to carve personally. He initiated the social project in 2002 after he returned to Cusco from a trip to Berlin, where he had come across the Steiner dolls, made by hand ever so delicately to please young children’s senses. It was the culmination of his lifelong spiritual quest, Steiner’s philosophy and his chosen art forms, sculpture and painting.
When he met Lucy and shared his ideas, she initially thought, “[We] were a bit crazy to be working for the masses”, but she says, “I felt good and trusted his good intentions.” She had studied law as well as fine arts and had worked as a tourist guide, using her English and Quechua (the original language of the Andean locals) skills.
She recalls many instances when as a child, she was very sensitive to the dire circumstances of the villagers. Lucy’s father was a political authority in Cusco, and her parents and teachers did not like her relating too closely with and speaking the language of the locals. Behind her mother’s back, she would sneak out to sit with the women and share coca leaves, taking with her their daily needs such as sugar, salt, and pasta. They would call her “the little mother”. Her understanding of the Quechua people, their language and their culture, are now the foundation of the project, which started with three women and has grown to forty-eight over the last eleven years.
Julio and Lucy initially set up a small room in their house as a communal workshop. Their very first step was to buy 130 kilos of sheep’s wool and have that cleaned and washed. Then they purchased two small wooden foot-operated spinning wheels to produce fine alpaca threads which they use for the dolls’ hair and to knit all their clothing, including booties, sweaters, and hats. Still today, they honor and adopt the production techniques of the ancestors such as carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving, knitting, sewing, and embroidery, using whenever possible only the natural materials of their environment. Even the color dyeing of the wool is done using indigenous plants and insects. Each doll is a true work of art from start to finish over five days, adhering to strict quality control standards.
Today, there are five different workshops on the grounds, each focusing on the various processes for the production of the dolls: making the body parts, sewing undergarments, knitting clothing, hair, eyes, and mouths. On Saturdays, women come from far to clean the lambswool. There is also work for six men in the fields around the project, with construction of new buildings and maintaining the grounds and gardens.
The project has been built on the integration of spiritual principles common to both the esoteric Christian or Anthroposophic (quite different to the Peruvian Catholic Church) and Andean traditions, honoring Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Intitayta or Padre Sol (Father Sun). Seeking to bring the two approaches harmoniously together, Julio and Lucy have developed an incredibly humane and respectful working environment that complements the women’s commitment to their family and community. Paid maternity leave and four weeks of holiday leave is unheard of in this part of the world, but at Q’ewar, even these are surpassed.
There are opportunities for some women for paid work in their own houses with certain tasks, such as knitting the doll clothing. Then there are young mothers who bring their babies up to one year of age with them to the project. They carry them on their backs as they work or put them to rest in cots next to other babies. From three years of age, their children can attend the Waldorf Kindergarten that is built on site with natural materials, fully equipped with wooden toys, playground, vegetable garden, and even a professional kitchen so the children eat a hearty warm meal at lunch.
Waldorf education is included in the job benefits for the poorest children of the women (now around twenty-four children). Wawa Munakuy (meaning “giving love to the children” in Quechua), the project´s kindergarten and afterschool care centre, began seven years ago. In the morning, two kindergarten classes run, with twelve children in each group. Some children belong to the women of the project, and others are local village children. They are provided with a fruit salad for morning tea and a nutritious lunch. They take part in regular activities of a Waldorf kindergarten; watercolor painting, working in the garden, modeling with beeswax, making bread, drawing, and lots of time for free creative play. Two times a week they have a music class with a professional musician who helps them with singing and learning various Andean instruments. They also experience simple daily tasks such as sharing a meal around a table, warm showers, and teeth cleaning, which they would not otherwise in their home life. In the afternoon, the children of the women come after school and receive help with homework and music lessons, they play together and are often taken on excursions by visiting volunteers.
All people involved in the project choose their own working hours, which they keep a record of and remain accountable to. There is, in fact, a big emphasis on individual responsibility and individuality, and it is quite apparent that the main objective at Q’ewar is not material production nor monetary compensation, but rather that the ritual of work is a pretext for forming a community that supports the inner journey of each person and encourages them to live soulfully.
All the ingredients for a personal evolution can be found in this community: People have to feel physically safe from pain, violence, and hunger, feel financially secure, and be given an opportunity away from their cultural and family’s conditionings to find their “Self”, their own voice. At Q’ewar, women are treated with Bach Flower Essences and homeopathy to help them overcome and heal their mental and emotional pain, at the same time, raising their vibration. They are continuously trained in new technical skills as well as various health practices such as Qigong when expert international volunteers visit the project. In many ways, they are encouraged to unite with each other and support one another through difficulties—selfless service. They have pooled together funds that can be used for personal loans, which is paid back gradually. That way, there is always a continuous and readily available flow of support and money to help them meet their life’s challenges.
There is the story of Nelly Flores who developed a blood clot in the brain and had to be hospitalized urgently. The whole local community, as well as two German volunteers who were visiting at the time, got involved in fundraising—selling trout on the road—to help cover her medical bills and look after her children. Sadly, she died in hospital. But the ongoing cost of her children’s care and education continued to be maintained by the women, in conjunction with her husband.
This is only one of many such tales at Q’ewar that testify to the spirit of this project and all that it embodies: healing, growth, resilience, courage, transformation, creativity, beauty…and love, love in action in the world. Q’ewar continues to face its challenges. Currently, they are building a Waldorf primary school to complement their kindergarten, so the children can continue their educational journey. They are growing rapidly with the help of money raised from the sales of their dolls around the world and from generous donations and interest-free loans. They are, however, still small enough to benefit directly from financial support, or from visits by volunteers who would like to donate their time and share any skills either in the school, or in the production workshops or in the shop, communicating with passing tourists. More importantly, this project is still small enough to have much heart, transparency, and integrity.
So coming back to you and me, dear Warrior…It is my wish that Julio and Lucy can inspire us to take that first step in our own community. Or to reach out and support another’s initiative like the Q’ewar that touches our heart. And in doing so, remembering to use our intention, imagination, inner guidance, outward connection to all of life.-..all with peace, grace, and joy.