Friends of Colombian Orphans was created in 2007 after Jane and John King adopted a Colombian teen from Bogota. During their extended stay in the city, they visited a number of orphanages and realized that the kids housed in institutions due to parental poverty, abuse or abandonment, have few options once they age out of their institutions. Transferred to half way houses at the age of 16, these kids struggle for success in one of the largest cities of the world. At first, the Kings concentrated on fundraising for physical repairs at orphanages: replacing windows, installing gutters, fixing playground equipment. Christmas 2007, Jane and John with UK friend Karen Brooks, gave the girls in one orphanage a Christmas party and distributed donated scarves, hats, toys and other gifts. That week together they decided to form a charity and Friends of Colombian Orphans was born.
Knitter/weaver and now board member Laritza Taft became aware of FOCO’s mission and contacted Jane. She suggested that, instead of soliciting donated knitted items for the kids, why not TEACH machine knitting and give them a skill that will serve them well in the world of clothing manufacturing and knitwear? Jane and Laritza spent a year talking about the logistics of developing a program in Bogota from far away in the USA.
Making it a Reality
Laritza had contacts in the sewing community and found machines at the Singer retail outlet in Bogota. Jane and John asked their friend Mario in Bogota for help with the development of a knitting program for kids in orphanages. Mario’s “other’job is helping adoptive parents through adoption process in Colombia so he knows the city and its institutions well. He found a knitting teacher and an institution that was willing to house our two machines and we were good to go! In August 2009, our first classes took place.
Growing the Dream
Every new program has some stumbles . During the course of the last eighteen months, we have seen some changes in the program, all positive. We are now in a long term care facility for men, women and children : Hogares Club Michin, Students are learning how to make baby clothing and sweaters for young children.
At Hogares Club Michin we have 5 machines, a group of young knitters, a dedicated teacher and in November 2010, our first contract for uniform sweaters for the kids housed at Club Michin!
Our goal is to work in cooperation with Hogares Club Michin long term in creating a cooperative for the vocational training programs. A cooperative model for these young entrepreneurs will ensure that everyone works together to achieve success. The knitters can sell in Colombia or abroad. FOCO will continue to provide mentorship, funding for knitting instruction, more machines and yarn. We are also currently tossing around the idea of individual sponsorships for program graduates to apprentice with Dora and eventually become instructors themselves, or learning machine maintenance which is another good income source.
As of September, 2012, Hogares Club Michin is the proud owner of a NEW, small house, future home of the woodworking, bakery and knitting programs! By October, the program should be moved into this LARGER, nicer space!
Some day, the knitters will be able to come to a safe, stimulating workplace at Hogares: they will be able to make a living knitting. We have big dreams. Please help us to make them a reality.