Throughout the bustling city of Laz Paz, Bolivia, a cluster of jails are tucked behind cement walls that resemble little impoverished and overcrowded neighborhoods. Inspired to help the women behind bars, Sonia Gallardo founded Knitting Peace, a social enterprise that employs incarcerated women to produce her collection of hand-knit alpaca accessories.
She began this venture after a visit to a Bolivian jail where she learned that all inmates must work in order to support themselves and their children. She discovered knitting to be an opportunity that helps empower those who are imprisoned, by having the capability to financially support themselves and their children, but also engage in an activity that calms their busy minds. Knitting Peace currently employs 15 full- time artisans who craft Sonia’s designs, including hand-knit sweaters, shawls and blankets.
Sonia Gallardo, a Bolivian native and long time Los Angeles resident, founded Knitting Peace when she realized these women held a love for knitting, but it was also to help the almost 70 children who at the time were living in the jails with their mothers. “They simply had nowhere else to go. Knitting Peace allows them the opportunity to engage in work that they are proud of, while continuing to put food on the table for both themselves and their children. Knitting Peace works with one of the many female jails located throughout La Paz, which houses approximately 300 women and 100 children. The children really make a difference in the way the jail is run. Of course, it’s not the healthiest environment for a child, however, given the circumstances in Bolivia, I believe they are better off inside a secured facility with their mothers, rather than living outside with little guardianship,”Sonia said.
Because of the work requirement, Knitting Peace has been able to create a valuable opportunity. Sonia adds, “These women have very little access to a means of income and simply need work. The jail provides two meals a day and a place to sleep. Children under the age of six who live there receive the same. However, many have older children who are not incarcerated, who need a roof over their head, electricity, water, school supplies, food, clothing, shoes, etc. Another big expense for the prisoners are legal fees. Although they are entitled to free legal representation, they must pay for all the direct costs associated with their defense, which adds up quickly.”
The reason why these women are in jail is a touchy subject. Most are incarcerated for drug trafficking. “The laws are very strict in Bolivia and if anyone is caught with more than a determined amount of drugs in their possession, then they are automatically guilty. The majority are extremely poor and cannot afford a decent lawyer, therefore they find themselves in jail for years without a settlement date.”
Sonia mentioned that most of the ladies already know how to knit, but Knitting Peace provides additional technical training. “I encourage my girls to help each other and work as a team in order to keep all of our items in the same quality range. I believe teamwork is empowering and gives space for better communication, support and encouragement. They desperately need this experience as they must learn how to live in harmony with each other — especially given the lack of privacy they encounter everyday.”
For more information, please visit: http://knittingpeace.com/