• James Armstrong

Community development in Peru supported by local volunteers


The details of upcoming community development projects in Pucallpa, Peru were up for discussion in Hudson’s Pure Art boutique with (left to right) Robert McKinnon, Father Roland Demers, and Brigitte McKinnon.

This year, for the first time, Father Roland Demers will be joining the annual trip of Pure Art Foundation volunteers to Pucallpa, Peru. “It’s not my first time going to Peru, but the first time with Pure Art,” said Demers, the well-known priest of Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Hudson. Demers is participating as a facilitator in developing a long-term plan for the Pure Art Foundation’s properties and holdings in Peru.

“We are incredibly happy that he is coming with us this year,” said Robert McKinnon who initiated the Foundation in 2005 with his wife Brigitte McKinnon. “If it hadn’t been for Fr. Demers, we might never have done this,” he added.

Robert explained the current ownership situation through a Peruvian human rights organization might not last forever. “We are exploring the possibility of a relationship with a congregation of missionary sisters in Lima,” he said, “and Father Demers is our introduction to that group.”

It was Demers who encouraged the McKinnon family to visit two young girls they had financially supported to attend school in Pucallpa during the early part of the decade. “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘This trip will change your life,’ and it did,” said Robert. What the family discovered was an ever-expanding slum filled with people with no hope. “These are people forgotten by the world and they have absolutely nothing,” he said.

Sustainable development

With the help of 65 volunteers from communities across the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region, the McKinnons are focused on initiating three projects for 2018 in the slums of Pucallpa: building a daycare centre in memory of their youngest son Ben McKinnon, constructing Hudson House #7, and organizing a sewing workshop with a fashion designer from Lima, Peru. It’s not a first-time trip for many of the volunteers. “It’s a community of proven volunteers,” said Robert adding the experienced volunteers provide invaluable information to those making the trip for the first time.

Daycare for children

“We will construct the foundations for the daycare on this trip,” said Brigitte, adding that building the rest will continue after the volunteers leave. She said the daycare has an essential role to play in supporting the sewing initiative that currently exists in the Hub of Hope where many of the families live.

“Many of the women learning to sew are mothers with young children,” said Brigitte. “Some of them are pregnant and they need a daycare for their children.”

The sewing initiative will provide a more structured learning environment for the children while their parents are learning a marketable skill. For the McKinnon family and friends, it is a way of creating a lasting tribute to Ben, who passed away in 2016 and who was deeply involved in the development of the Hub of Hope community.

Empowering women

“We have 40 women enrolled in the sewing program, every day, five days a week,” said Brigitte. The Sewing Initiative is a skill development and entrepreneurship program intended to empower women to become economically self-sufficient. With the assistance of fashion designer Annaïss Yucra Mancilla from Lima, Peru, the women will participate in a three-day workshop focusing on the development of two products they will produce for the Fair Trade market in Canada.

Building homes

Since 2005, the Foundation has built 28 homes in the Pucallpa slums that house as many families. This year will see the construction of Hudson House #7. “Our local community makes this happen,” said Robert. He described the uphill battle faced by the slum inhabitants. The landowners make a deal with the families squatting on the property. “They find work in the lumber industry or as car drivers and eventually raise enough money to buy the land,” he said. However, building a home is usually beyond their financial means and that is where the Foundation is able to help.

Fair Trade future

“It seems like a drop in the bucket, but that’s the whole point,” Robert noted. He and his family hope that Pure Art Foundation, and the Pure Art Boutique that supports the Foundation through the sale of Fair Trade products is a model that others will be able to reproduce for themselves.