"You are a team – not individuals. As an association, you must work together to improve yourselves and your products.”
Giulia, head of our Monitoring and Evaluation department, opened the Quality Control Workshop with a strong push for teamwork. Women’s cooperative members from Huilloc, Puente Inca, and Rumira traveled down to our Ollantaytambo office in order to discuss ways to improve their hand-spun yarn and knitwear products. As part of the Awamaki Impact Model, we hold frequent capacitaciones with our artisans in order to help move their associations towards full independence.
The meeting first addressed the Huilloc cooperative, the group that will be spearheading our expanded handspun alpaca yarn line. Giulia explained the new standardized weights for the yarn, citing that in the past the yarn weights had been too thin or too thick.
Some women from Huilloc began asking questions in rapid Quechua, and Martha, head of our Knitting Cooperatives, stepped in to translate. The discussion quickly moved to problems with the cleanliness of the yarn, and the group was assured that in the near future there will be an alpaca fleece washing workshop in order to prepare the yarn for spinning. Members from the Huilloc cooperative have been exemplary in the teamwork required to expand the Awamaki yarn line, a process that begins with new alpaca shearing techniques up in the highlands of the communities and ends with beautiful and natural hand-spun yarn in the Awamaki store.
Knitting cooperatives Rumira and Puente Inca took the stage next as the discussion shifted to the quality of the completed knitwear. Rumira has been thriving in the Impact Model, working on graduating to organizational independence. They have had three repeat knitwear orders with a client outside of Awamaki!
Puente Inca, on the other hand, has been producing products with a lot of variance and inconsistency in quality. We brought both groups together so they could discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and brainstorm ways to improve.
In response to this problem, Knitwear Design volunteers Rosey and Emma created pattern packets with updated measurements for each product. With clear instructions and examples, the women should now have the resources they need to eliminate the variance in their products.
To improve the product quality further, each cooperative has elected a Quality Control Manager, a woman who is responsible for reviewing the group’s products before they are delivered to Martha at Awamaki. Martha emphasized the importance of planning ahead with deadlines to the quality control managers for Rumira and Puente Inca. In order for products to be delivered on time they will need to set a date within their cooperative that is a few days ahead of the Awamaki deadline. This will ensure that they have enough time to review their cooperative’s products. If there are any mistakes, the group can then work together as a team to resolve the problems before presenting the products to Awamaki for final review. Because the whole group is accountable for individual mistakes, the quality control managers play an important role in ensuring the group’s success.
Mercedes, the head of our Women’s Cooperative Program, ended the meeting with one of her usual inspirational talks.
“For five years I have been working hard at my job to become the best professional I can be. Every day I get better at my job. It is part of my conscience to improve my job, and it should be part of your conscience to improve your products.”
Equipped with clear expectations and improved guidelines, our hope is that the members of our knitting cooperatives have all the resources they need to make high-quality products. By working as a team, they can hold each other accountable for the success of the group. As the quality of their individual products improves, the collective skills of the group will grow, and they will be able to become a fully independent association. Your support allows us to continue our capacity building workshops and build the skills of our dedicated cooperative members.
For this month's progress report, volunteer Lisa Winthagen has written about her experience taking classes with her Spanish teacher. Read on for a great description of her experience!
It was a long journey from The Netherlands, it took nearly three days of flights and layovers but I finally arrive in Ollantaytambo. It was a long drive, but now I see why. The stunning scenery and the surrounding mountains are overwhelming. So are the people around me. Some are speaking Spanish, but what is that other language? I’ve never heard it before. I am consumed with a feeling to see, smell and taste all that Ollantaytambo has to offer. But how do I handle the language and cultural barrier?
This is a perfect example of a visitor’s first day in town, feeling overwhelmed and out of place is ever-present. I was no exception: a new Awamaki volunteer. This is the point where Awamaki’s teachers step in. The profesoras provide the tools to learn as much as possible about life in Ollantaytambo.
During their first week, every Awamaki volunteer receives a crash course of cultural orientation, fully taught in Spanish. These are not your typical lessons. They never take place in a classroom. You learn about the Spanish language and the local culture by being immersed in it.
While walking around the town, I learned more and more about Ollantaytambo, through a trip to the market to taste different fruits and then a hike up the mountain to learn about the Incan history. When I turned around from the climb, I saw a stunning view over the whole town. And I finally felt like I was where I was supposed to be.
Whilst these lessons are very useful for the students, they also help the teachers. All those which Awamaki employ are very motivated to help their students but are also very eager to learn from them. Our cultural exchange happened so naturally and was extremely helpful for both teacher and student.
As soon as I started my cultural orientation, I felt a want to keep learning more of the language and immerse myself fully. The enthusiasm and liveliness of the teachers is contagious and fed my desire to learn. It keeps everybody progressing individually but also collaboratively.
Ultimately, the course shows a genuine introduction to the Ollantaytambo community. And the best part is, anyone can take it! Any visitor open to a fresh perspective can enroll in the cultural immersion. The energy of the profesoras comes from the pride they have in their town, and in the lessons they designed themselves. Your continuous support is what has enabled our teachers to create these lessons and shape my experiences. Thank you!
Lisa Winthagen, Awamaki Volunteer
Thank you Lisa for being part of our programs, and helping us thank our wonderful donors!
“We arrived at Patacancha early in the morning only to be greeted by beaming women and a pot of potatoes for breakfast. It was quite clear that our weavers had already been hard at work for many hours.”
Carys, an Awamaki Sustainable Tourism volunteer, was immediately impressed by the Songuillay cooperative members upon her arrival in Patacancha for the natural dyes workshop. Members of the cooperative got up bright and early to prep for a full day of natural dyeing for Awamaki’s 2016 wholesale line. The Songuillay women have been doing so well that they were able to pay for a natural dyes expert, Andres, to lead the workshop. Andres divided the women into five different groups and each group worked to develop the same pre-arranged colors. It was hard, but by the end of the day each group had an amazing color explosion hanging on the drying line.
The concentration of our weavers did not waver as Andres carefully conducted them through color pallet, ranging from the bright greens and yellows created by the ch’ilka plant to the fierce reds and purples created by the cochineal beetle.
Even through the women were under the instruction of Andres, their preparation was what made the day a success. At the previous dye workshop the year before, the women where not prepared at all when Awamaki arrived with the dyes expert. The woman did not know what to do, and we had to start everything from scratch, which took time. In contrast, when Awamaki arrived this year, the women were already split into groups and each had their own fires built under huge pots of boiling water. All the materials were laid out and ready to go. Jess, our Head Designer at Awamaki, described how wonderful it was that the women were so prepared.
“It was a moving day to see how organized our weavers were and how much initiative they took in preparing the yarns for dyeing. They were so interested in learning and their confidence increased throughout the day. They started asking my opinion or running over to other groups to ask them how they got their color a certain way.”
Some of the men from Patacancha were hanging around and would occasionally help out, but the women continued to run the show. Karina, a Women’s Cooperative Program volunteer, was amazed by the women’s dedication to both their work and their family.
“Groups of women were gathered around the pots of steaming, colorful dyes – spinning, mixing, dyeing, drying. What’s incredible is many also had a baby on their back or a toddler at their feet!”
Andres did a wonderful job directing the women throughout the day in the art of color creation. However, in the future we want to train a few women from each cooperative to become experts in the natural dyeing process so we no longer have to hire outside of the community. These women would be responsible for leading the dye workshops not only in Patacancha but also in Kelkanka. They would have to attend all of the dyeing workshops in order to learn the complicated process, such as how the dyes react together and how much fiber you can mix in with each batch of dye. It truly is a huge commitment to learn and take on, but we are sure that our cooperative members can rise to the challenge! Supporters like you enable our cooperative members to gain new skills in design, and in turn empower them to reach for the rainbow (of natural dyes!).