What's changing in Patacancha? What is the impact you see? How is life different in the households where the women you work with live?
Just the other day, a former volunteer who is now a college senior doing a thesis asked me these questions. We get asked this a lot, and sometimes we have to tell the awkward truth: We don't always know. We aren't in the households. Indigenous communities aren't very open to outsiders, and we don't always see what goes on behind the scenes. We are really busy running an ambitous project on a shoestring budget. We don't always take the time necessary to find out the answers. It's not pretty, but it's true.
Except sometimes, we get some wonderful volunteers to come and help us out! This past week, our volunteers Merel and Jessa ran a three-hour workshop in the community of Huilloc that they spent weeks preparing. This is their account. Spoiler alert: It's fabulous.
Because we wanted this presentation to be a fun and interactive activity, we designed exercises in which the women had to draw, arrange pictures, or discuss a number of questions amongst themselves in small groups. During the discussions and exercises they told us that since their involvement with Awamaki, gender roles have been changing in their households. Men, for example, help them with the spinning of wool, and they take care of the children and cook for the family when the women are busy working. When asked if they liked this change, the women started laughing shyly and then all said: yes! Before, women used to help their husbands on the land and were the sole caretakers of their children and responsible for all domestic chores. They explained that because of their own work, and their own income, they are less dependent on their husbands. They also said they liked contributing to their household expenses, and nearly all of them named their children's education as their most important expense for their new income.The women also said that before working with Awamaki, they did not use natural dyes, only synthetic yarn. They also said that they have learned to make different types of clothing and accessories. Before, their skills were limited to making ponchos and shawls, traditional wear just for themselves. They said that now, they have better and more varied food, more clothes and the ability to build better houses. When we talked about the future, the women said they want to grow as leaders. "I want to learn to speak in public with confidence," one woman said. Several women explained that they are afraid to express themselves because sometimes in their community, men laughed at women when they said something in public because they stumbled on their words.Your donations have made these changes possible. Workshops like the one that Merel and Jessa ran--with all the supplies, transportation, snacks and staff help--are entirely funded by your contributions. We couldn't do this without you.
We wish we could invite you for a cup of coca tea and a visit to the communities, but we know that most of you live very far away. So we made a short video to bring you on a virtual visit. We hope it inspires you to come for a real visit in the new year!
For this project report, we want to do something a little different. We want you to meet Martha, our newest staff member.
We met Martha when we started working with our second knitting group, the Rumira group. Martha was a great knitter and the treasurer of the group. She was really impressive: responsible, smart, and a great knitter.
So we offered her a job! This year, we added our seventh artisan group, and our production coordinator needed help. We brought Martha on board in May to help create products and manage the groups.
Martha is our first local in-house designer. As a skilled knitter, she creates new products, adjusts patterns, and spends lots and lots of time teaching the knitters how to make beautiful knitwear. She is the final word on quality control, and our business relies on her precise and consistent eye. She works with our international staff to understand trends, marketability and quality standards in the U.S.
Martha is a great knitter, but hadn't had much experience using a computer before--something we do a lot of at the office! After three months of training, though, she was picking it up fast. She now uses excel, word and email regularly. She is also proving herself a natural leader. She manages both of our knitting cooperatives and the spinners, and she is guiding them through our empowerment and business management trainings.
When we asked Martha what empowerment means to her, she answered that for her, this means the ability to make your own decisions in lfe, instead of being dominated by your husband, and to have a feeling of control over your own life. She says,
"When I first started earning money with Awamaki, I was able to make more decisions about how we spend money in my house. Now, working for Awamaki, I feel more secure, and I can express my ideas and make decisions based on my own feelings...When I look at my fellow knitters from Rumira, I see these changes in their homes also."
Martha says that in Rumira, the women don't talk a lot about these issues. But as a leader and an Awamaki coordinator, she wants to change that. She doesn't feel like she has enough experience yet to give these trainings, but she is excited to be learning alongside other Awamaki staff.
She got a chance to practice the other day at our first "Fair Trade and Empowerment Workshop." Martha went along to observe, but of course ended up translating, clarifying, and helping where she could. We are so lucky to have Martha as part of our team and a great example to rural women in the Sacred Valley!
P.S. We are so grateful to you, our supporters, for helping us offer economic opportunities to rural women like Marta and her knitting neighbors. We wish we could invite you for a cup of coca tea and host you for a visit, but we know that many of you live very far away. So, we made a video to invite you for a virtual visit and tell you how grateful we are for your support!
Awamaki's Spanish teachers' cooperative is on its way to becoming an independent business.
After all the capacity-building and teacher training that all of you have funded over the past year, the women are better teachers than ever. Business is growing: collectively, they have taught over 1400 hours so far this year--an increase of 30% over last year! They are earning money to take care of their families and save for their kids' education.
Our goal, with the Spanish teachers' cooperative and all of the women with whom we partner, is not just to help women make a living. While that is an important goal, and transformative for them and their communities, our bigger vision is to use our program like an incubator to help the women's associations with whom we partner learn to run their own business. We see a future in which they have clients that aren't us, and aren't dependent on Awamaki--or any one entity--for their business success.
After introducing this idea to our artisan cooperatives over the course of the past year, we have just in the past few months broached this idea with our Spanish teachers cooperative. As one of our most ambitious and well-organized groups, they have been enthusiastic about learning to manage the Spanish school.
But what does this mean? Well first, it meant registering their group in the Public Registry in Peru. They each gave a portion of their earnings for the registration fee (of which Awamaki, with your funds, paid half). They created bylaws and formalized their membership.
They have started compiling a shared library of resources. They asked Awamaki for storage space and a storage cabinet, and one of the teachers keeps the inventory of their teaching resources and student supplies. Whereas Awamaki staff used to hand out workbooks to new students, now the teachers manage the inventory of the workbooks. A few months ago, they even considered moving the cooperative out of our office and into their homes. They decided not to just yet, because they thought that their children would be a distraction if they were teaching from home. But we are really excited about their level of enthusiasm about learning to run the cooperative as their own business!
There's lots of work left to do in the New Year, of course! The women have elected leadership, including a president, secretary and treasurer. The new president, Aby, is shown in the above picture. This next year, the new leaders will be working with Awamaki staff to learn the ins and outs of scheduling classes, creating invoices, managing payments, and ensuring quality standards. We have a ways to go, but we know that with your support, next year the cooperative will be able to take on more leadership and more responsibilities--thus ensuring a sustainable future for them and for their communities. Thank you for all your support making this happen!
P.S.--We would love for you to be able to come and visit us, but we know that many of you live very far from Peru! Last month we invited our donors on a virtual visit to one of the more remote communities where we work. Check it out and get inspired to come and visit in the new year!