by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 7 July 2015
On Sundays, Fremont has been gifted, for nearly 25 years, with the legendary, and always surprising, Fremont Sunday Market. This weekly shopping sensation provides an extraordinary mix of vendors selling all sorts of new products, collectible items, vintage & hand-made furniture, food, fresh flowers, and handicrafts. Look deeper inside this variety and find one booth even more surprising. The booth for Manos Unidas Peru and gives its visitors an opportunity to shop, but also to do philanthropy, gain an education and learn about a foreign culture.
Meet Manos Unidas, And Marion
The Manos Unidas (“United Hands”) booth at the Market only appears for a few months each year – when Celeste Marion and Calin return to Seattle for what has become an annual visit.
Marion co-founded Manos Unidas, the first, and only, private special education school in Cusco, Peru. “There are kids all over the world that need our support,” Marion recently explained, “There is really no difference between the kids here and the kids in Peru, except resources.”
A Seattle native, Marion earned a degree in Psychology & Child Development from the University of Washington, then she set off to explore the world. For her first adventure, Marion took a two-month post with an NGO in Urubamba, Peru teaching teachers how to teach children with Autism.
The work she did troubled Marion deeply. “The extreme conditions I would find the children in,” she explained, made it hard to do her job – and hard to leave it. Developing nations like Peru can’t do as much for its citizens with cognitive difficulties – like Autism – and the people are marginalized and ostracized by the community, and even their own families, out of fear and a scarcity of the basics of food, shelter and clothing for everyone – much less providing for special needs.
Even as difficult as it was, Marion stayed two years. Yet, in 2007, sick of Peru and sick of traveling, she booked herself a return to Seattle, and graduate school. Before she could board her plane, Rosa ‘Mercedes’ Delgado-Chavez, a Peruvian teacher and a leader in the education field, asked Marion what it would take to provide an education, and a self-directed future, for children with autism, and other cognitive difficulties (including Cerebral Palsy and Downs Syndrome.)
Marion talked to Delgado-Chavez about a school for these children, and then she returned to Seattle, saw her friends and family, and deferred graduate school. Three months later she returned to Cusco where the two women launched an after school program providing one-on-one quality education. “No one wanted them in school,” Marion said of the students they worked with, “we taught that they could be taught.”
They began with two autistic children, then three, four, and five, giving them an education, and dignity, with no funding source and no capital. Two years later, they had 27 kids, and a school, thanks entirely to family, friends, and generous donors back in the U.S.
Manos Unidas does charge for its now all-day education, but on a sliding scale so no eligible student need be turned away. Yet, the ‘tuition’ covers barely half of the costs of the school. With help, Manos Unidas has been able to expand into two school buildings, to provide a regular education for children ages 3 – 12, and job training for teens and young adults with special needs, under a new initiative called ‘Phawarispa’ (a word in the Peruvian indigenous language of Qechuya that means, ‘we run together’.)
In Cusco, Marion explained, “90% of the jobs are in tourism,” and while businesses can earn tax credits for employing disabled workers, few get hired even in the housekeeping and restaurant fields. “There is so much fear, so much stigma,” against the disabled, Marion reported, “There are no positive examples in the community,” yet.
Manos Unidas has begun training employers and neighbors, educating the community about the abilities of the children it serves, and the opportunities available to those who open their hearts, and their businesses, to those with cognitive difficulties. “There is a lot of empowerment to be done,” Marion acknowledged.
Meet Calin, And Peruvian Culture
Calin aids Marion in promoting Manos Unidas, by staffing the booth with her at the Fremont Sunday Market and selling his gorgeous silver jewelry among the other handicrafts they bring from his country. He also helps by caring for the couple’s daughter while Marion attends meetings, speaks at churches and Rotary Clubs and organizes fundraisers for the school.
The two met years ago when Marion first started soliciting artisans around Cusco for handicrafts she could purchase and sell in the U.S. Originally from Lima, the capital and major metropolis of Peru, Calin went to university, and studied computer engineering. While there, he also learned to silversmith and found his talent for making jewelry, “but in my family, when you start something you must finish.” He got his degree, and then fulfilled his long held dream to travel, exploring South America, Central America, New Zealand, Thailand, and India and funding it by selling the jewelry he made. “While studying, I started the crafts,” he explained, “but the degree was important to my parents.”
When he chose to settle down somewhere, Calin couldn’t go back to the massive and urban Lima (population roughly 8.5 million.) He’d visited Cusco to learn more about his culture, and discovered the small artisanal town of Pisac, and added himself to the population of roughly 10,000 residents. From Pisac, Calin could travel to Cusco to sell jewelry, and there he met Marion.
Five years later, the couple share a love of travel, including the trips to the U.S., and Fremont, to promote Manos Unidas. Calin helps Marion while they are here, spreading word of the school to people who want to help give an education – and the potential of a functional life – to children who might otherwise be passed over.
To Support ‘Manos Unidas’
Peru experiences the seasons at reverse times from ours – it’s our summer, and their winter. Marion and Calin usually visit Seattle during the school’s summer break, but a wedding brought them to the States now, so they decided to make the most of the time they have here now.
“I have met so many people through the Sunday Market that have helped,” Marion explained. While the booth at the Market offers “more education,” than commerce, she acknowledged, they do offer Peruvian artisanal items there.
However, “the Fremont Market is just one small part,” of Marion’s fundraising and awareness efforts, she explained. On October 1st, at Delille Cellars in Woodinville, Manos Unidas Peru will hold its annual fundraising gala, an evening of food and entertainment. Marion is also considering smaller events, including one or two in Fremont, to allow supporters they’ve met at the Market to share the spirit of Manos Unidas with others.
“If they want to know more about Peru,” invited Calin, “come see my stuff.” He and Marion like to talk about their country, its people and the school. Maybe you can help… and you will know when you visit the booth at the Fremont Sunday Market, or check out the Manos Unidas website, and find out more!
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©2015 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.