At the age of sixteen Juliana found herself in Cochabamba’s San Sebastian prison despite never having committed a crime. Then one day a visitor arrived and her life was changed. Juliana now helps run Manos con Libertad (Freehands) which exports products worldwide. With demand and sales increasing, the prospect of more lives being changed improves every year, and having experienced prison life first hand Juliana is not short on motivation.
In Bolivia it is common for the children of convicted women to accompany their mothers to prison and this was the case with Juliana as her mother was sentenced to three years for carrying drugs. To exist within the prison the women have to provide their own food, drink and clothing and so their children often run errands to earn money. Juliana was doing just this when Suzanne Windsor, a member of Latin Link, arrived to visit the prisoners.
Noticing the sewing and painting skills among the women Suzanne saw the potential for an income generation project and for Juliana to play a lead part in that work. Seven years later Freehands has its own workshop, shop and website and produces everything from kitchenware and bags to greetings cards and home furnishings.
Through the project women and their families now receive an income with every individual being paid a fair wage for each item produced dependent on meeting quality standards. Their input into the design and production process is encouraged and has led to a widening of the product range. Help is also offered to the women and their families through providing access to childcare, medical treatment and legal advice as well as food in emergency situations. A system of child sponsorship provides additional funding.
It is not just practical help that is provided, the women also receive spiritual input and counselling with regular Bible studies and prayers being held in the workshop.
As administrator and secretary Juliana deputises for Suzanne in her absence and is hoping to take over the business when she has finished her Business Administration degree.
This is part of Suzanne’s stated aim, to train, develop and eventually hand over the business to the women themselves. Her dream is to make herself unemployed and see the women continue to develop the business and employ more women from the prison, providing hope for them and their children.
Written by Adam Pope, Latin Link