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MINKHA is a truly sustainable development success story that was initiated by Save the Children Canada. Since its beginning in 1992, the women have established a viable cooperative that has afforded them a means of providing for their children and their extended families. We support them 100%! We are totally NON PROFIT, and all the income from our sales is returned to the knitters. You will not only love your sweater, you will help us to make a difference for some very special people in Bolivia!
Since the early 1990’s, a small group of Quechua and Aymara women were organized by Save the Children – Bolivia into a co-operative knitting group. These women hand knit beautiful alpaca sweaters that are sold in North America. All profits are returned to the Bolivian women throught the efforts of Canadian volunteers.
These women were desperate to earn a living to support and care for their extended families. It is customary to have an extended family that may include parents, grandparents and other relatives, as well as children. In many cases a woman is the sole income earner for her family.
In addition to the financial rewards of the program, the women also enjoy a very positive social experience. They thrive on the customer feedback they receive for the superior quality of their knitting. The quality of life for these women and their families has improved significantly because of MINKHA. The number of share-holding knitters has tripled: now Artesanias Minkha essentially sustains 45 families. In 2004, the Cochabamba Chamber of Commerce honoured Artesanias Minkha with a plaque celebrating 15 years of business success… this is surely a first for native women.
Here is a video found on YouTube showing a nice perspective of Cochabamba and its surrounding area:
To enhance the community of Bolivian knitters through sales organized volunteers in Canada.
Minkha Volunteers have a passion, a purpose larger than life, and one that goes beyond borders to help others succeed and grow within their own communities. Throughout the year, dedicated volunteers organize and help at not-for-profit sales, assisting customers and interested supporters. All profits of products are returned to the women knitters in Bolivia who use the money to support themselves, their communities and to continue on creating beautiful high quality hand knit products.
Bolivia: Geography and the People
Bolivia, officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is a landlocked country in central South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, and Chile and Peru to the west.
Prior to European colonization, the Andean region of Bolivia was a part of the Inca Empire – the largest state in Pre-Columbian America. The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. During most of the Spanish colonial period, this territory was called Upper Peru and was under the administration of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included most of Spain’s South American colonies. After declaring independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the Republic, named for Simón Bolívar, on 6 August 1825. Bolivia has struggled through periods of political instability, dictatorships and economic woes.
Bolivia is a Democratic Republic that is divided into nine departments. Its geography is varied from the peaks of the Andes in the West, to the Eastern Lowlands, situated within the Amazon Basin. It is a developing country, with a Medium Human Development Index score, and a poverty level around 60%. Its main economic activities include agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and manufacturing goods such as textiles, clothing, refined metals, and refined petroleum. Bolivia is very wealthy in minerals, especially tin.
The Bolivian population, estimated at 10 million, is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians and Africans. The main language spoken is Spanish, although the Aymara and Quechua languages are also common and all three, as well as 34 other indigenous languages, are official. The large number of different cultures within Bolivia has contributed greatly to a wide diversity in fields such as art, cuisine, literature, and music.
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Videos from our trips to Bolivia
As of May 2015, Minkha Sweaters has 33 active knitters living in and around Cochabamba, Bolivia. Below are some of their portraits.
Cristo Rey Community: 11 knitters
Tiquipaya Community: 6 knitters
Sebastian Payer Community: 4 knitters
Support Group: 12 knitters
The knitting groups are located in communities in and around Cochabamba and are able to send one representative to the office to pick up orders for their group. The support group might be training to be fully accredited knitters or do finishing touches. The word for knitter in Spanish is “tejedora” which also means weaver. These sweaters are knit in the knitters’ own homes where they still have the opportunity to fulfill their family responsibilities.
- Yola shows Kathleen the yarn room where all Minkha sweaters get their start.
- A Minkha knitter is never far from her knitting bag in all situations.
- Once knit, the sweater comes back to the “office” for the finishing touches.
- Gaylene tries on a tunic length jacket in Cochabamba.
- Brad moves the stock out of my house for its final trip to market.
- Minkha volunteers in Calgary mind the table at Woodcliff United’s early Christmas sale.
- Another happy Minkha Shopper wearing new design in navy pima cotton.
In 1992, Kathleen Gleeson and Michael and Doreen Kot travelled to Cochabamba, Bolivia and became aware of Amanecer, an organization set up to support children in need. While there, they recognized the incredible knitting talents of Quechua and Aymara women. Sweaters were brought to Calgary and sold at home sales.
Today, there are over 45 incredibly gifted knitters working hard to support themselves and their children. These women are proud of what they do and have committed their efforts to educating their children and grandchildren. The Bolivian women appreciate the positive efforts of Canadian volunteers. There are now fewer families in need.
Dedicated volunteers in Calgary, Edmonton and Cranbrook are committing hours to organize and manage fair trade sales. Through these efforts, all profits are returned to the knitters under the guidance of Save the Children Canada. For the volunteers this work is challenging and rewarding.
Knitting sweaters is the primary source of income for the knitters, however, they still require secondary jobs to sustain themselves. Future goals for Minkha include increasing the number of sweaters sold at each sale and expanding into new markets.
Minkha, means “women working together” and has a loyal following, but it is only with your help that we can get the word
“Shop with a social conscience! Minkha Sweaters, a non-profit volunteer organization, is proud to offer the opportunity to buy a contemporary hand knit designer quality alpaca or cotton sweater, while at the same time supporting an indigenous micro-industry. This knitting cooperative, under the guidance of Save the Children Canada, enables the Bolivian women of Cochabamba to become self-sufficient and to provide education and opportunity for their children.
Sweaters, coats, ponchos, hats and scarves will be available for direct sale. We take custom orders for men and women. Prices range from $20 for a hat to $300 for a coat.
In the early 1990’s, a group of Canadian volunteers began marketing the MINKHA sweaters. The Calgary volunteers co-ordinate sweater sales, compile and send the orders, keep accounts and transfer funds to MINKHA through Save the Children Canada. Volunteers distribute the sweaters to customers approximately three months later. The volunteers replace the traditional middleman between the producer and the buyer. They receive a double reward for their efforts; grateful Bolivian women and delighted North American customers.