This summer, two Awamaki staff represented over 100 female artisans on the west coast of the United States for two gift shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco. These shows allowed Awamaki to increase our artisans’ market access to west coast markets. During these shows, our staff managed to create over 15 new relationships with west coast retailers who will begin carrying our products this autumn.
The most popular items at the shows were baby accessories, our lace scarf, and a new hand woven scarf, all designed by our volunteers and in-house designers in collaboration with the artisans. Trade shows are also a learning opportunity for us as we work to enter international markets. At these shows, the new iPad case we brought didn't do as well as we hoped, so our lead designer is working with the seamstresses to re-envision it, perhaps as a clutch. Feedback like this from customers, as well as the relationships we can build with stores that care about fair trade and ethical sourcing, make trade shows like this invaluable to us as we connect more women artisans to global markets.
Sales Manager Callie was one of the staff members representing Awamaki artisans at the shows. "We have been working hard to build our wholesale partnerships. When our current retailers and new clients see our booth, they get to meet a sales manager who works with the women on a daily basis; this is so rare at trade shows," she said. "Most times, they have been in frequent contact with me and are excited to see a friendly face. This improves our visibility, builds trust in our quality, and most importantly, increases the orders that our cooperatives rely on.”
Seamstresses Justa and Estella weighed in on how the quality of Awamaki products has improved since we have started going to trade shows. “The drawings and colors are clear and of a higher quality,” Estella said. Justa added “The quality of the work has improved, especially with the new designs.”
Your continuing generosity will allow us to further gain entry into new markets and thus help the amazing women in our cooperatives. We are very enthusiastic about the progress of this project and are excited to see how our women and Lab evolve!
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.
If you picture our Spanish teachers in a classroom teaching grammar, you’d be dead wrong these days. As part of recent workshops with local teacher Chrissie Ellison, our teachers are out and about learning new and different ways to keep students engaged.
Students were giving us feedback that classes weren’t applicable to their daily needs in Peru. When you need to ask for a glass of water or say you will be late for dinner, because you are living in a homestay with a family with whom you share no language, memorizing the alphabet or six verb tenses isn’t immediately helpful, they told us.
With Chrissie, the teachers have developed a new lesson for new volunteers and tourists, based on a walking tour of our historic Inca town. Teacher and student visit the market, nearby ruins, a 12-angled Incan stone, the artisan market and other landmarks. Their local knowledge allows them to teach the students new things about the town--like demonstrating the Incan stone that appears to "bleed" when scratched with a rock! Recently, they took volunteers from our partner organizations to test out their new lesson plan, and students loved it so much that several signed up for classes right there! “This is the best class I have ever had,” said one “guinea pig” student, an older volunteer with basic level Spanish. “I have never taken a class where I didn’t feel rushed or nervous, but this class made me relaxed and happy!”
In another lesson plan they have developed, teachers bring in different local fruits and other foods for the student to taste and discuss. Whatever the student’s level, he or she can have challenging conversation practice with the teacher. They discuss the name and geographic origin of the fruit, and its uses and seasons. “This was quite possibly the noisiest session we’ve done!” Chrissie reported, “Participation was enthusiastic, motivated and fun. It brought out the confidence in knowing that they (the Spanish teachers) were planning a lesson using vocabulary that they inherently know.”
We also have gotten feedback from basic-level students that the teachers, none of whom speak any English, struggle to explain concepts in ways the students understand, without using Spanish to do so. To teach the teachers how to explain concepts to basic students, Chrissie taught an entire class in English! Using a ball and a box, she taught them prepositions in English without using any Spanish to explain. By the end of the class, not only did the teachers better understand how to use gestures and very basic words to teach concepts—they also are very good at prepositions in English!