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!
Hello dear supporters! We have some exciting news to share, and just in time for Bonus Day today! Our new collection for 2015 includes leather features to complement the handwoven textiles in our bags and totes. Our seamstresses are learning new skills and making higher value items that can fetch higher prices.
But there is one little detail. The machines that you all so generously helped us purchase a few years ago just aren't equipped to sew leather. The material is hard on the machines, and the seamstresses struggle to create strong, straight seams that look professional. As Justa explains,
"The leather is thick and makes the needle jump. Sometimes, we have to force it through, and it does damage on the underside of the faric. That is why our work isn't as pretty when we are sewing leather on the machine."
With our current machines, our leather goods still look a little homemade. While that is of course very charming, it limits the clients for the bags to smaller stores and individual purchases. We think our artisans' bags are so beautiful that they belong in bigger stores all over the U.S., but we can't get there without a leather sewing machine.
Today, we are trying to raise $1500 for a leather machine, and we would love your help! Please donate so that we can purchase this essential equipment for the seamstresses. Expanding our collection to leather will allow them to learn new skills while supporting more weavers and generating increased income for these artisan women so that they can lead their communities out of poverty.