This month, GlobalGiving has invited us to submit #FailForward stories. Since we have enough failure stories to easily fill 12 project reports per year, we thought we’d take the opportunity to share one with you! Here is our major #FailForward from the past year.
Rewind to nearly six years ago. Awamaki was brand new. We were a couple of committed volunteers and ten weavers with the idea to sell weavings in our tourist town so the women could earn an income. We didn’t have much money, but we spent every sol we had to build a weaving center with the women, who called their group the Songuillay cooperative. The center would be a place to hold trainings and meetings, and importantly, it also served as picturesque destination for tourists who paid us a (whopping!) $10/head to take them up to visit the women and learn about weaving. Over the years, Awamaki brought on 90 more artisans in four other communities, but the center remained the face of Awamaki, a retreat-like setting filled with traditionally-dressed artisans, crawling babies, and colorful weavings.
Earlier this year, the husband of one of our artisans came into our office and introduced himself as the president of the Songuillay cooperative. It is an understatement to say this came as a shock. Women’s leadership and economic empowerment are the principles behind every program we run and every decision we make. Thanks to a U.S. State Department grant, we had been running intensive capacity-building in women’s leadership with this cooperative for eight months. How had they elected a man president of the women’s cooperative? Had they just been tuning us out for five years? It was one of those not-so-fun moments that makes you question the point of your existence.
What we learned was worrisome. When we built the center, the husband of one of the weavers donated the land for its construction. We learned that over the years, as the cooperative became more financially successful, he had increasingly attempted to influence the cooperative so that his family members benefitted more than others. He told the women that he was the legal president of the group, and that Awamaki had built the center on his land and thus worked through him. He influenced who received weaving orders and who attended tourists’ visits. The women artisans are mostly illiterate and few have been to school. They don’t know their legal rights and couldn’t read their association's bylaws. In Peru, it is common for institutions to say one thing and do another. They feared that while Awamaki paid lip service to women’s empowerment, we knew and approved of the situation and this husband's control.
While we talked about women’s leadership, the women were being intimidated by a man we had inadvertently empowered. As a rule, we try to stay out of community politics as much as possible. However, this situation threatened the women’s progress and the popular tourism program, right in the middle of high season during which thousands of visitors come to the Sacred Valley. We had dozens of tours scheduled, a center in contention, and the cooperative dividing into factions.
Through lots of hard work, the situation has improved. We phased out the center, and the women have found a new space. We will be able to bring much of our furniture and equipment with us, so our investment in the old center isn’t lost. We brought a Quechua-speaking lawyer to meet with them and explain their options. It turned out they hadn’t tuned out the skills-building; in fact, the women have been much more assertive in using those skills since we helped them restructure their leadership and made our values clear.
This was a learning moment for us at Awamaki. When we started working with Songuillay, we didn’t realize how important it was that the women fully understand their constitution and bylaws. We also didn’t require that the women take strong leadership in their cooperative business. In fact, it was our new emphasis on these principles with Songuillay that resulted in the airing of some of these issues. We already require more active leadership and responsibility from all our cooperatives. When our knitters approached us about building a center last year, we required that they obtain the land in the legal name of their association. They organized fundraisers, took out a bank loan, and bought a small plot of land to build their center. We are sure that no one will ever convince them it isn’t theirs.
If you picture our Spanish teachers in a classroom teaching grammar, you’d be dead wrong these days. As part of recent workshops with local teacher Chrissie Ellison, our teachers are out and about learning new and different ways to keep students engaged.
Students were giving us feedback that classes weren’t applicable to their daily needs in Peru. When you need to ask for a glass of water or say you will be late for dinner, because you are living in a homestay with a family with whom you share no language, memorizing the alphabet or six verb tenses isn’t immediately helpful, they told us.
With Chrissie, the teachers have developed a new lesson for new volunteers and tourists, based on a walking tour of our historic Inca town. Teacher and student visit the market, nearby ruins, a 12-angled Incan stone, the artisan market and other landmarks. Their local knowledge allows them to teach the students new things about the town--like demonstrating the Incan stone that appears to "bleed" when scratched with a rock! Recently, they took volunteers from our partner organizations to test out their new lesson plan, and students loved it so much that several signed up for classes right there! “This is the best class I have ever had,” said one “guinea pig” student, an older volunteer with basic level Spanish. “I have never taken a class where I didn’t feel rushed or nervous, but this class made me relaxed and happy!”
In another lesson plan they have developed, teachers bring in different local fruits and other foods for the student to taste and discuss. Whatever the student’s level, he or she can have challenging conversation practice with the teacher. They discuss the name and geographic origin of the fruit, and its uses and seasons. “This was quite possibly the noisiest session we’ve done!” Chrissie reported, “Participation was enthusiastic, motivated and fun. It brought out the confidence in knowing that they (the Spanish teachers) were planning a lesson using vocabulary that they inherently know.”
We also have gotten feedback from basic-level students that the teachers, none of whom speak any English, struggle to explain concepts in ways the students understand, without using Spanish to do so. To teach the teachers how to explain concepts to basic students, Chrissie taught an entire class in English! Using a ball and a box, she taught them prepositions in English without using any Spanish to explain. By the end of the class, not only did the teachers better understand how to use gestures and very basic words to teach concepts—they also are very good at prepositions in English!
Dear GlobalGiving donors,
I am writing to thank you for your generous donations to our “Capacity-Building for Rural Women Artisans in Peru” project and to share with you the progress we are making towards empowering rural women artisans to lead successful, independent cooperative businesses that will allow them to earn a sustainable, long-term income.
A year ago, we started working with an especially motivated group of knitters from a community called Rumira. This month, we broke ground on a crafts center for them!
Rumira is one of our most motivated and advanced cooperatives. Our goal is to provide them with market access while teaching them to run their own business. The women need a center so they have a place to run their business. Currently, they store equipment and materials divided up in peoples’ homes, where it is hard to keep track of and at risk of damage from the children, animals, cookfires and other moving parts of an Andean home!
At the center, the women will be able to store equipment and materials like floor looms, sewing machines and knitting needles. They will have a place to keep materials so they can buy yarn collectively in bulk, saving them money and ensuring they don’t run out of yarn in the middle of an order. The center will also have a kids’ play area stocked with books and toys to keep the little ones busy so their moms can work, and a storefront so the women can sell directly to tourists. As Estela and Justa, two knitters, say, “The center will be great to sew, weave, have meetings, and is close to home. We are very excited to be able to work there and sell our products from there too.”
Stay tuned! GlobalGiving has a Match Day coming up on July 16, and as a Superstar Partner, we will get a 50% match for any donations received that day! We will be raising money for the center. We only need $2000 to finish the first phase of the center and ensure that the women have a space they can use while we build the rest.
Like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Awamaki) for updates about the center and a reminder about Match Day!
Again, we thank you for your support and donations and we look forward to expanding upon our progresswith the “Capacity-Building for Rural Women Artisans in Peru” project and sharing oursuccesses with you!