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."
What do you get when you combine leftover alpaca fibers and soap?
Felted soap bars!
The women of the Huilloc spinning cooperative frequently have leftover alpaca fibers that are too short to spin. For several years, they made these fibers into felt for authentic felted soap.
But two years ago, our natural soap source dried up, and we haven't been able to find another. Until now!
The spinners of Huilloc saw a business opportunity through a partnership with Munay Tika, a company based in Cusco that produces natural and biodegradable hygiene products. Munay Tika emphasizes the importance of high quality and reliability in its products and looks for the same values in its partners, making an alliance with Awamaki a perfect fit.
Now, the Huilloc women have begun felting to Munay Tika’s bar soap. This layer of alpaca fleece, which is both functional and decorative, completely covers the bar and serves as an excellent exfoliant when the wet soap is rubbed on the skin. It’s not just for home, though—felted soap is ideal for travelers because the alpaca fur dries completely after use. This eliminates the need for a soap holder to avoid the residue that bar soap often leaves behind in your travel caddy. Extra bonus: a built-in loofah!
Awamaki's first soap product was a small hand soap felted with alpaca fibers in a blend of natural colors. The new bars are a larger, spa-sized bar, and the women have experimeted with decorating the soaps using the alpaca fibers.
The soap designs include flowers and mountains as well as the more traditional blend of different colored alpaca fiber. What inspired the designs, we asked?
"We just look around us," said Victoria, the president of the group.
Jenny, a native of Ollantaytambo, has been a Spanish teacher with Awamaki since 2010. Surprising to those who have witnessed her natural knack for teaching, Jenny’s background is neither in Spanish nor in education. In fact, she studied in a culinary institute for several years in Cusco and then worked as a chef in restaurants throughout Peru. Jenny expresses that her favorite part about being a chef was meeting people from all over the world, hearing their stories and forming connections.
This love for sharing in others’ experiences is what inspired Jenny to become a Spanish teacher with Awamaki.
"I thought this would be an interesting way to connect with tourists," Jenny explained, which was the part of her culinary career that she loved. On a more practical note, she states that the flexible hours guaranteed by being a Spanish teacher with Awamaki allow her to achieve a balance between work and family, something she highly values.
When asked what her favorite part about teaching Spanish is, Jenny pauses and smiles softly, thinking for a moment. Then, she beams and says, “I love the beginning of classes with a student, because it creates friendship. It makes it easier to get to know people.”
Recently, Awamaki chose Jenny for #WomenCrushWednesday, where Awamaki's amazing women get a spotlight each Wednesday. Former students on Facebook gushed about their teacher. Stacy Ridgley extolled, “Best Spanish teacher ever!”
“Jenny. Mas mejor maestra de espanol,” wrote Lourdes Malave, exemplifying her Spanish chops honed by her teacher. “Hola Como esta su hija? Besos y brasos por ti y su familia.”
Jenny has indubitably impacted the lives of many during her time as a Spanish teacher with Awamaki. We thank her for sharing her bright spirit with us and inspiring countless to study the Spanish language.