Beverly Edwards-Sawatzky

Beverly Edwards-Sawatzky

Knitting two countries together

Bolivian sweaters, vests, and wraps will be for sale at Winfield United Church, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Special to The Morning Star

An Oyama woman is changing lives 10,000 kilometres away.

In 2002, Beverly Edwards-Sawatzky saw some sweaters that had been knitted by impoverished women in the city of Cochabamba, 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.

She has recently returned from her fourth visit to Bolivia, where she spent three weeks in daily contact with her knitters.  She believes in maintaining personal contact with the women who do the knitting.

After her first visit, she organized sales in Edmonton, then in Calgary, and now in Lake Country. The sweaters, vests, and wraps she brought back after this trip will be for sale at Winfield United Church, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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

“Their skill is amazing,” said 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, but in Canada, it would cost that much just to buy the alpaca wool un-knit,” said Edwards-Sawatzky.

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

It started 25 years ago, when Save the Children Canada  brought together a group of displaced women – mostly single mothers – and helped them to organize themselves into a knitting co-operative 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.

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, I could use my payment to buy two pounds of sugar. With the payment from Canada, I could buy 104 pounds of sugar,” said Alcida Callejas Quevedo.

Another woman, Yola Nina Leon, was pregnant with her first daughter when she began knitting with the Minkha Co-operative 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.

Minkha knitted garments will be available Saturday at Winfield United Church as will many sweaters, vests and wraps. 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.