After years of planning and working, the Puente Inca knitting cooperative has broken ground on its new knitting center!
In 2010, the community of Puente Inca suffered devastating floods that destroyed most houses. The cooperative was formed in the wake of these floods, to help the women earn income and get back on their feet.
In 2011, the knitters decided they wanted to build a knitting center, and Awamaki secured a grant and a school service group to help build the center. But because of unclear land usage regulations related to the flooding and the Incan ruins in the area, they were unable to secure land and the center was never built. (The grant money was diverted to cover other costs with the permission of the funder.)
Fast forward to last year, when Awamaki's other knitting cooperative, just down the road in Rumira, acquired land and broke ground on their new knitting center with the help of grants, donations (like yours!) and service groups. Within months, the Puente Inca knitters had also purchased land and were ready to build!
The women not only raised and contributed enough money to buy the land for a community knitting center. They also secured donated skilled labor and committed to hosting the service groups that would help with construction and its funding.
Ground was first broken in April, but the intensity of construction has picked up with more group visits this month.
The most service group arrived in Puente Inca with twenty-four volunteers from the US and nearly as many curious, stray dogs in tow. The kids looked around for the knitting center they would be working on and realized that it was in front of them - an empty plot of land with a hole in each corner.
The local construction supervisor split them into three groups—one to cut rebar, one to bend the rebar into half a million identical rectangles, and one to dig holes for the columns. The two rebar groups were building poles for columns that would be cemented into the holes being dug. The group also passed rocks and took plenty of water breaks. By the time they left, the rebar for the cement columns was in place--and a whole lot of rocks had been moved to where they needed to go!
The knitting center, so long in the making, is finally rising. Maritza, the cooperative's treasurer, told us how much the center meant to her.
"This has been our dream," she said. "Now we will have a place to keep our materials. We can buy equipment too, because we have a place to keep it now."
The women's husbands and sons who worked on the center were also enthusiastic. "This is a good project," said the husband of one of the knitters as he headed back to his house to pick up some more tools for the worksite. "They can earn money, and help themselves and each other."
"Queremos trabajar libres" (We want to work free)
– Felicitas Rios Cjuro, explaining why the weaving group wants to build a new weaving center, free from the pressures of local men who own the land on which they worked in the past.
Happy GlobalGiving Bonus Day! Today we have special update for you.
You might remember from our #FailForward project report that one of our weaving groups was having issues with the local man who, years ago, donated the land where they built their weaving center. In our last update, we told you that the group had decided to leave the center we had built with them. They were using a local community center to meet and host tourists.
Now, we have some exciting news. The weavers, inspired by the crafts centers of other Awamaki cooperatives, and emboldened by the leadership and business trainings that you fund, decided to buy their own land to build a center they can call their own.
The weavers found land and a willing seller, and put together a payment plan. Each of the 40 women will pay $5 per month for two years to pay off the land.
This is a strong statement to a powerful community leader and to other men in the community that the women will own and manage their own business. The women need a space where they can work, share their art, run their business and express their opinions free from outside pressure. They will call this space their own. They will, in their words, “work free.”
They have already gotten started building their own center. Last month, working with visiting high school interns, they broke ground. They cleared land, stripped logs and prepared thatch that they gathered. The women also led their very first weaving lessons at the new site.
But they have a ways to go. Thatch is free to gather, and the women and their husbands are doing all the construction work they can. But buying materials to build a bathroom and small indoor shelter, transporting materials up to the site, and hiring a skilled construction supervisor will be costly.
That is why we need your help. This bonus day, we are trying to raise $500 to help the women build. This $500 will go towards a proper bathroom for the center. It will have a modern flushing toilet and—wait for it—even a sink for handwashing! This is by far the most expensive part of the construction, and we hope that you will help us make it happen. The bathroom will allow the women to host tourists and other visitors in comfort.
*Definitely no hot water though. Let’s not get carried away.
Today, we want to introduce you to one of the faces of Awamaki's artisan cooperatives. If you're moved by Jesusa's story, we hope you will renew your support to Awamaki today. Help us create more opportunities for more women in Peru donating now. Your support energizes us and transforms women's lives - just ask Jesusa.
Jesusa Machaca has been working with Awamaki since she was a teenager. You can see in the attached photos that she is learning to dye with natural dyes. Now, 23 years old, she has three small children. Before working with Awamaki she wove textiles only to produce clothes for her family. She is now weaving full time for Awamaki in her home community of Patacancha and saving her income for her children’s education.
Jesusa knows the importance of education. She studied through ninth grade, which makes her one of the most highly educated women in the community. Though young, she is a leader in her cooperative. She served as their first treasurer, and trained the new treasurer when her term ended. As treasurer, she helped the group begin to keep track of their funds so they could begin to work as an independent business.
Now, she is focusing on weaving and on her growing family. Her oldest daughter, Lourdes, pictured with her mom above, just started school this year. Jesusa has already taught Lourdes how to spin yarn with the pushka (the Andean drop spingle), and will pass the art of weaving down to her in a few years time. For Jesusa, it's important to teach Lourdes to weave because through weaving, “we pass down the traditions and stories of our ancestors.” But she also wants Lourdes to finish school so that she can have more economic opportunities than her mom.
Jesusa explains that the women enjoy working together in a cooperative because of the Quechua value of ayni, an Andean ideal of reciprocity. The women feel that it is important to use the money they earn not only to help their own families, but also to improve conditions in the community as a whole. “Before only our husbands could earn incomes, but since working with Awamaki we are providing for our families as well. Now we are equal,” she told us.
With leaders like Jesusa, our cooperatives operate more and more independently every year, developing sustainable businesses that will allow the women to earn dependable incomes for years to come. Your donations support training programs that empower women like Jesusa to lead their cooperatives and their communities out of poverty.
Please consider making a donation today - for Jesusa and the 150 other Awamaki artisans who are working to transform their lives.
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!
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.
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