Lake Country woman is changing lives 10,000 km away

So far nearly $600,000 has gone to help lift 45 Bolivian families out of poverty due to their knitting skills.

Yola hems together knitted squares.

Yola hems together knitted squares.

In 2002 Beverly Edwards-Sawatzky saw some sweaters that had been knitted by impoverished women in the city of Cochabamba, in Bolivia, the poorest nation in South America. The sweaters had been brought to Canada by volunteers working for Save the Children.

Edwards-Sawatzky decided she had to help too.

First she flew to Bolivia, to make sure that the money from the sale of sweaters really was going to the knitters, not to invisible marketing agencies. Also, if she was going to represent these women, she wanted to know them personally.

Then she started organizing sweater sales with volunteers in Edmonton and now in Lake Country, here in the Okanagan.

So far, through her efforts, nearly $600,000 has gone to help lift 45 families out of poverty.

Twenty-five years ago, Save the Children Canada brought together a group of displaced women—mostly single mothers—helped them to organize themselves into a knitting cooperative called Minkha, which means “women working together” in the Quechua language.

All through the Andes, women knit soft alpaca wool into traditional patterns. Women knit while bringing produce to market, while herding livestock, while tending children.

But the Minkha garments are exceptional and different. Renowned clothing designer Kaffe Fassett was so impressed by the quality of Minkha work that he personally donated some patterns to the women.

“Their skill is amazing,” says Edwards-Sawatzky. “I’ve sent them photographs of sweater designs, I’ve taken them through markets, and I’ve asked, ‘Could you knit that?’ They study it for a few minutes, and then they can do it!”

In Canada, the sweaters—also vests, shawls, ponchos, and scarves, for men and children as well as women—typically sell for $35 to $250 each. “It sounds expensive,” admits Edwards-Sawatzky,  “but in Canada it would cost that much just to buy the alpaca wool unknit.”

In addition to alpaca, the Minkha women also knit the garments using Peruvian pima cotton, which Edwards-Sawatzky calls “the Cadillac of cottons.”

Minkha knitted garments will be available April 26, at Winfield United Church in Lake Country, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many sweaters, vests and wraps will be available for immediate sale. Others can be ordered. It takes about three months for a custom order to be delivered.

The profits go directly to the women in Bolivia. All Canadian services are donated.

The sales organized by Edwards-Sawatzky and her team of volunteers have changed the women’s lives.

“When I used to knit for the Bolivian people,” recalls Alcida Callejas Quevedo, “I could use my payment to buy two pounds of sugar. With the payment from Canada, I could buy 104 pounds of sugar!”

Another woman, Yola Nina Leon, was pregnant with her first daughter when she began knitting with the Minkha Cooperative 18 years ago. That first daughter is now training as a nurse. Another daughter plans to become a human rights lawyer.

Another knitter’s son recently graduated as a doctor, and has come back to serve the people of Cochabamba.

Bev Edwards-Sawatzky is currently in Bolivia, catching up and working with her friends. She will return in April, with many stories and sweaters, for the sale at Winfield United Church, April 26.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vernon Public Art Gallery's new Regional Reach program which sends supplies and lessons to classes, has been a hit in the North Okanagan classrooms. (VPAG photo)
Travelling art kit a hit in North Okanagan schools

Art Gallery’s new Regional Reach program delivers art education to the classrooms

A kaleidescope of colours was captured over Lake Country Sunday, Feb. 28. (Wendey Innes-Shaw photo)
Colourful close to month with North Okanagan sunset

From all angles: Vernon and Lake Country photographers capture sunset Feb. 28

The Okanagan Screen Arts Society is set to take over Vernon’s historic Towne Cinema on 30th Avenue June 1 as fundraising for building upgrades is a third of the way to its goal. (Photo contributed)
Historic Vernon cinema rolling into society’s hands

Okanagan Screen Arts Society will take over and run with volunteers the Towne Cinema starting June 1

(File photo)
UBCO introduces another reading break in November

The break only affects the Okanagan campus

A student from Dawson Creek is the winner of Tolko’s Orange Shirt Day design contest for 2021. (Tolko photo)
Vernon-based Tolko contest features northern winner

Student from Dawson Creek beats out entries Canadawide for Orange Shirt Day design contest win

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Pastafarian Gary Smith, pictured here dressed as a pirate, wanted to wear his tricorn (also pictured here) in his driver’s licence photo, arguing that the display was a religious observance. Photo: Facebook
B.C. Pastafarian loses Supreme Court fight to wear pirate hat in driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith of Grand Forks, put his case to the Supreme Court in Rossland in early February

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

City council passed resolution in support of an expansion of the licence area at Salmon Arm’s Marionette Winery for the inclusion of a lounge area. (Marionette Winery/Facebook)
Salmon Arm council supports lounge addition at Shuswap winery

Marionette Winery expanding licence area to host small gatherings

An injured skier was helivaced from Apex Mountain Resort to Kelowna General Hospital Monday, March, 2021. (Linda Geggie / Facebook)
Injured skier helivaced from Apex Mountain Resort

The skier was taken to Kelowna General Hospital

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Most Read