Rurapuk means “people who help each other” in Quechua, the language of the ancient Incas. The Rurapuk Project is run by AMURTEL in Lima, Peru. It is located in an area of Lima called Paraiso Alto, which is in a zone of extreme poverty. In Paraiso Alto there is no running water or sewerage system and most of the people live in one-room shacks with dirt floors. The center of the Rurapuk Project houses the Rurapuk Hot Lunch Program which serves a free hot lunch to 30 children and 2 elderly ladies five days a week. It is also the meeting place for Rurapuk Mothers, a women’s handicrafts collective. The local community learn reflexology and face-painting brightens up the day.
The newest program of the Rurapuk Center is the formation of a group of therapists who will treat and cure the local people of common conditions such as colds, digestive disorders, joint pain, and stress related issues. The primary form of treatment will be reflexology, accompanied by treatment with local medicinal plants, and diet therapy.
Doctor Mirtha Acosta, Peru’s best reflexologist, and Doctor Martin Corbacho, a local homeopathic physician, have just finished teaching the first series of classes. Eight participants have finished the series. In the last class, Doctor Mirtha asked the students if they had been practicing, and what results they had seen. Señora Julia described how she had cured her son’s cold. The youngest participant, 12 year old Karla, explained how she had cured her mother’s headaches.
Alicia Semanario, project participant, summed up the project: “We chose reflexology because it is low cost, low tech, and cures. We want to use medicinal plants because Peru has an abundance of them and they are accepted as part of our culture and history. Good healthy food is important for everyone. What you eat is what you become. Our purpose is to make a team of therapists who can cure simple fevers and pains because the people in Paraiso don’t have money to buy medicine or see a doctor.”
Today, Rurapuk Stars employs six hearing-disabled women and one non-disabled woman who is our designer and the creator of the first dolls. These women are working full-time at a fair wage to make hand-made ethnic Peruvian dolls. The hearing-disabled women are talented, sincere, hard-working, and have a refined sense of art and aesthetics. It has been our experience that, with patience and proper guidance, they do higher quality work than non-disabled people.
The Machu Picchu Stars doll-making project began in the year 2000 with the idea of generating work for the poorest of the poor in Lima. We started with very little: about US$6, two borrowed sewing machines, and volunteer help. Our first commercial products were Peruvian ethnic dolls. We worked very hard designing, producing, and marketing them and by 2003 the project had grown enough that we were able to incorporate a working team of five hearing-disabled women. We named the project Machu Picchu Stars.
Since that time, we created a company called “Machu Picchu Stars Peru” which sells and markets the dolls and other products. To date we have sold more than 10,000 dolls. Our biggest client is a gift store in the Lima airport, and we have also exported dolls to Sweden, Italy, England, Germany, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Taiwan, Japan and the United States. We now have a trained workforce of ten deaf women who earn a fair wage. Since 2006 we have also produced children’s clothes, including recently for the American company Flit and Flitter, and have built up a capital of industrial sewing machines, materials, and finished dolls.
In Peru, when a person becomes deaf it usually terminates their chances for an education and to have a job. Because of the lack of special education in, most adult deaf people have not learned to speak, to read and write, or to use sign language fluently. So the challenge of the deaf is to communicate and most employers will not make the time nor have the patience to do this. These communication challenges make the deaf person almost unemployable. S/he often becomes depressed, loses self-confidence, and feels that s/he is a burden to the family. The mission of Machu Picchu Stars is to remove the barriers that Peruvian society has put in the way of deaf people and to give them the opportunity to work with dignity. It has been my greatest joy to see how the deaf members of our team have grown in self-confidence and self-esteem when given these opportunities. I have also seen again and again that our deaf women work harder and better than so-called “normal” people. They are able to share and work as a team in a way that puts hearing people to shame.
Didi Ananda Muktivrata