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Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru

by Awamaki
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru
Senor Tomas sewing
Senor Tomas sewing

From the wool of Peruvian alpacas to the handbag over your shoulder, do you ever wonder how we go from traditional textiles to your favorite accessories? Exquisite weavings done by artisans like Gregoria don’t turn into our high quality finished products overnight. Insert Señor Tomás, a master-sewer with over 15 years of experience. “I learned how to sew when I was a little kid, working in an industrial factory,” he shared with us. About 27 years ago, Señor Tomás moved to Chinchero, Perú, where he encountered female artisans creating a myriad of beautiful textiles. Awed by the elegance of their work, he found his passions lay in the weaving tradition of the Andes. 

Señor Tomás started working with Awamaki two years ago, and he has established incredibly strong relationships with the women in our partner cooperatives ever since. He collaborates with them and teaches them how to elevate their work. Señor Tomas turns the  beautiful, traditional textiles that our partner artisans create into modern, useful pieces. He explained that, “for each bag, you need a distinct style.” These distinct styles allow for creative expression by the women artisans. To ensure standard dimensions, Señor Tomás notes “The women need to follow exact measurements to make sure our products are high quality.” He can often be found teaching them how to do just that and explaining why it is important.

Up until this July, Señor Tomás and our designers, working hard to create products that fully showcase the talents of our partner artisans, still struggled with an outdated leather machine. As Señor Tomás commented, “We have a lightweight machine [for our leather], but it doesn’t help us that much. Our leather machine is flat.” A more spherical machine would allow the bag to retain its shape while being stitched, better preserving our locally-sourced leather and allowing us to do the artisans’ textiles justice (and better fill our growing demand!). “If we had a better machine” he continued, “our products could be better quality, more durable, and more precise. We need this machine to make the best products possible.” 

On this past Bonus Day, July 18, with generous contributions from our GlobalGiving donors, we raised the $1500 necessary to buy a new leather machine for Señor Tomás and the women artisans. This means that he will no longer have to contend with a less effective leather machine, allowing Señor Tomás and our team to turn out products more efficiently and with more precision. This will increase our production capacity, which increases income opportunities for our partner artisans, and showcases their talents.

We want to express our deep gratitude to you for your continued support, belief and generosity. The new leather machine, like all your investments in our projects and in our artisan partners, enable over 200 women artisans to build thriving businesses, and earn a livelihood to support themselves and care for their families.

Senor Tomas cutting leather
Senor Tomas cutting leather
Our Inti Crossbody bag during production
Our Inti Crossbody bag during production
Sewing a strap
Sewing a strap
Tools and locally sourced leather
Tools and locally sourced leather
Inti textiles with artisan name of who made them
Inti textiles with artisan name of who made them

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Martha writes what the internet can be used for.
Martha writes what the internet can be used for.

For the past few months we’ve been working to develop a new series of workshops for our partner artisans focused on marketing and media ethics. Most of our partner artisans do not have access to the internet, and we’ve found they want to better understand it. They also wonder how images of themselves and their work are used in our marketing here at Awamaki. This is why we put together a series of media workshops for the artisans to better understand the internet and ultimately be able to manage their marketing themselves.

The workshops were prompted by a new media policy that Brianna, our Marketing and Communications Coordinator, has been working on. Brianna has an academic background in Photojournalism and she feels very passionate about the ethical use of photography within our organization. The new media policy will govern the work of our staff and volunteers, and we will also share it with tourism, students and artisan product clients who visit us, and ask them to abide by it.  

“There wasn’t anything built in to protect our partner artisans. [An ethical media policy] was definitely something to make more formal and official. I wanted it to stay with Awamaki. I think it’s a very important tool for nonprofits to have, especially when working with vulnerable and indigenous populations,” Brianna explained.

The main takeaway included in the media policy is the requirement for consent from the subject.  Awamaki wants to make sure that people always ask the women we work with before taking pictures or interviewing them. “From there, a lot of the breakdowns are very simple concepts, like treating subjects with dignity and respect, alongside representing them accurately, not stereotyping or over generalizing anyone,” Brianna explained.

“Since we’re writing a policy that has to do with [the artisans] then they should understand what the policy means. We saw it as an opportunity to educate them on the policy as well as fill the gap on education of online platforms,” explains Mollie, our International Partnerships Manager who was worked closely on developing these workshops. We know training them in the concepts of marketing is an important next step for their growth and development as independent cooperatives.

Along with Mollie, Shara, one of our Monitoring and Evaluations volunteers, has also spent a lot of time developing the project. She has created powerpoints and activities to accompany the topics covered by the workshops. In all, we have crafted a four part series to empower women to be active participants in the global market and economy. The first part is about the general idea of the internet and social media, while the second revolves around marketing more specifically. The last two parts are focused on the policy Brianna created, to ensure that the artisans understand it and know what to expect from photographers who visit them.

“A lot of these communities have only recently gotten internet access and because it’s such an important part of having a business nowadays, I think it’s necessary that they learn the different parts. Ideally they will also eventually use it to further their business opportunities,” Shara commented.

These workshops are led by our Head of Women’s Artisans Cooperatives, Mercedes, both in Quechua and Spanish, to ensure active participation from all of the artisans in the cooperative. So far, we have been able to give our first part workshops with the communities of Rumira, Puente Inca, Patacancha and Huilloc.

“I think it’s important for the women to be informed. They’re not necessarily going to use the internet right away, we’re not aiming for that in the practical sense. Rather, we want to inform them so they know what the internet is,” Mercedes explained. These workshops rely heavily on the interaction and participation within the artisans. We think that the best way to teach about this, is for the women to collaboratively join in activities and learn as if “networking”.

In a simulation of how social media works, the artisans had to assign “likes” (paper hearts)  to photos of themselves and their fellow artisans. To demonstrate the idea of emailing, the artisans flew paper airplanes across the room. Laughter filled the room as we showed the artisans how each internet activity worked.

We are excited to be implementing these workshops and getting feedback on what we’re doing from the artisans themselves. Ultimately, we strive for the artisans we work with “to know that they can be advocates for themselves, to know that they have the right to say no,” Brianna concluded.

 

The women of Huilloc attend a media workshop.
The women of Huilloc attend a media workshop.
Simeona, Gregoria and Dionicia choose pictures.
Simeona, Gregoria and Dionicia choose pictures.
Juliana assigns "likes" to photos.
Juliana assigns "likes" to photos.
Gregoria and Hilda write an "email."
Gregoria and Hilda write an "email."

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Pabel explains an exercise to the artisans
Pabel explains an exercise to the artisans

Awamaki’s mission is to provide sustainable economic independence to indigenous women through trainings and connecting them to the global markets. One of the ways we do this is by organizing and planning workshops for our partner cooperatives in their home communities. Recently we’ve received feedback from a few of the cooperatives regarding their interest in more workshops. In response, we developed a partnership with Pabel Aimituma, an economist from Cusco, to lead a series of five workshops varying in subject matter, such as self-esteem and business skills.

Pabel began working for an NGO and quickly realized that vulnerable groups, in this case indigenous women, were not getting the attention or accommodation necessary to achieve their goals or experience success in various professional settings. He decided to curate workshops that focused on skills that the women cared about learning, and ones that would actually benefit them in the long run. He began to design workshops he believed would make an impact by communicating with the women and asking them about their desires and their business needs.

When building the workshops, Pabel strived to incorporate games and group activities instead of lectures. He explained that he prefers being a facilitator to his workshops and encouraging the women to figure things out on their own rather than just telling them what to believe and how to think. He wanted to create a space in which the women could have fun and connect, while also learn valuable lessons about themselves and their communities. Before facilitating the workshops, he researched extensively about the women in their specific environments, allowing him to customize each workshop to fit a certain community’s structure, and makes sure the language he uses is clear, direct, and resonant.

Because he works in a social field, he is exposed to various displays of vulnerability and poverty. He explained that indigenous women are especially susceptible because of their limited access to sustainable economies. When I asked him about his main objective in creating the workshops, he replied, “to contribute to improving the quality of life of rural families through the reaffirmation of cultural identity and providing information to make better decisions.”

Pabel’s workshops aim to convey that success, freedom, and personal happiness knows no age, color, sex, religion, education level, or socioeconomic stratum.

Virginia, one of our partner artisans from the community of Huilloc who attended a full series of the workshops, mentioned her favorite part of the workshops were “the interactive activities centered around group dynamics.” Virginia started working with Awamaki more than five years ago. Now, at 30, she has begun to set up a support system for her children and her community. “It is improving our lives, so that we can gain what we want for our children,” she commented. In the workshops, she especially appreciated the parts of the workshop that explained the benefits of having a clean and organized life.

One of the workshops centered around organization and managing group dynamics. To begin the workshop, Pabel instructed the artisans to form a circle. A common first activity of Awamaki workshops is an introduction circle in which the women toss around a ball of yarn, while holding onto a piece to create a web, and then alternatively following the path of the yarn backwards untangling themselves as a team. The activity was meant to represent the ways in which people in a community are connected. Once each woman introduced herself, Pabel directed a group discussion about why organization was important for a successful business. He advocated for universal participation, and asked follow-up questions to encourage the women to further their critical thinking skills.

Pabel often works with large visual tools such as the posters he used to explain the cycles of organization. He portrayed the process in a way that was accessible for the artisans using large illustrations, and bright colors when possible. Whenever a woman had a question, Pabel was sure to answer in a thoughtful and deliberate manner to help encourage participation and questions from the artisans.

After the discussion, he asked the artisans to form groups of six. Once the groups were formed, he brought the first group to a table in the middle of the room. On the table was a marker with six strings attached to it and a blank piece of paper. Pabel instructed each woman in the group of six to pick up one piece of string. When all six were holding on to a piece, he told them to draw a picture; one group was told to draw a sun, and other groups were told to draw a moon, a flower, and other various seemingly simple items. Each holding on to one-sixth of the marker, the women had to work together to create an image, requiring not only teamwork but highlighting how vital communication can be for a group to succeed together. This exercise encouraged the practice of values like patience, cooperation, and flexibility. Once all of the groups had drawn their pictures, Pabel led the artisans through a group discussion about the takeaways from the exercise.

It is incredible to see the magnitude that a three-hour interactive opportunity can have on a community and its individuals, especially with consistency of a few consecutive workshops. It is inspiring to see the success of Awamaki’s business training and empowerment initiatives.

Introduction activity
Introduction activity
Group dynamics activity
Group dynamics activity
Virginia after our interview
Virginia after our interview

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Watch our 2018 Thank You Video!

This month we are sending thanks to you! We couldn't do what we do all year without your generous support of our projects. 

Your donations and dedication have empowered 180 talented artisans to care for their families and preserve their traditional crafts.

The coming year marks our ten year anniversary and a chance to reflect on what we've built with your support. We hope you will support our work again in 2019. We're looking forward to the launch of our new line in February, the expansion of our artisan cooperatives as we train more women entrepreneurs, and building our sustainable tourism program in new partner communities.

We are so grateful for all you do for us. We hope you enjoy a glimpse into the joy, dedication, and passion that our artisans share with us throughout the year, all thanks to your support, with this video!

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Sabina, Genara, and Elena help welcome a tour.
Sabina, Genara, and Elena help welcome a tour.

Situated deep in the Sacred Valley, the community of Patacancha is home to a cooperative of 42 incredibly talented artisans. The Songuillay cooperative was formed well before Awamaki’s founding in 2009. Songuillay began working with Awamaki ever since one of our founders, Kennedy Leavens, had worked with them previously through a former organization in the valley. Since collaborating with Awamaki, the artisans have undergone trainings and capacity-building workshops in the hopes of one day operating as their own autonomous business. Their cooperative was the only one to work in both tourism and weaving. By 2010, Awamaki was bringing tourists up to visit Patacancha and buy textiles directly from the women of the community. Then in 2014, we officially launched our sustainable tourism program with the enthusiasm of their cooperative, while continuing to place orders for export with them.

With your support over these past nine years, Songuillay has received continual training and guidance as they gain skills such as color theory, quality control, customer service, and financial literacy. The women have completed construction on their very own Artisan Center, allowing them to host tourists during inclimate weather and hold cooperative-wide meetings in one central location. With their earned income, these 42 women care for a total of 128 children. With 110 of these children currently enrolled in school, their futures are bright.

“The next steps will be finishing up some final details on their tour presentation and activities offered,” Melissa Tola, our new sustainable tourism coordinator comments. We’ve been planning with them to prepare for their graduation since the beginning of 2018. With the departure of Juan Camilo, our sustainable tourism coordinator of the past two and a half years, and welcoming Melissa to her new role, the preparations have been delayed a bit. However, Melissa has been working hard to get to know the women and understand their mindsets for the future “in order to help them achieve their own goals.” Although communications can be a challenge because of the limited Quechua fluency within our staff, we are working hard to ensure that the women of Songuillay fully understand the details of their final trainings. Their understanding is more important now than ever, because after these final trainings they will be operating as a fully autonomous business.

While we are still going over final details like tour conduct, timing, and scheduling, we are encouraged by the recent success of the Songuillay cooperative. Over the past few months, the women have gained independent clients on their own. “The women were approached by several tourism agencies during the high season, and managed to make a deal by themselves, and were able to do so without any of our support,” Melissa points out. Gaining their own independent client signifies a lot to us here at Awamaki. Not only are the women clearly demonstrating new skills and abilities learned in the capacity building workshops, but they have also completed our Impact Model, and are now fully ready for graduation.

“We developed the Awamaki Impact Model as a way to encourage the women to make improvements in their businesses and to take initiative in their work,” Kennedy Leavens, founder and executive director, explains. “Our vision is that through our program, they will not only earn an income but also learn to run a successful business beyond our guidance.”

The women of Songuillay have surely proven themselves capable on that front. We will continue our relationship with the cooperative, working with them in specific tourism contexts, such as large student groups or multiple overnight tours. “We will become clients of theirs, and we will also act as advisors if they need any support with logistics for their tours,” Melissa adds.

One of the most important and exciting parts of graduating a cooperative is the opportunity to work with a new group of women from a new community that is seeking training and assistance to launch their own careers. Already, we have been approached by a new community eager to build a partnership and gain new skills that would allow them to better support their families. While we are not quite there yet, we see what the future could hold for these new women because of the inspiring example of Songuillay in Patacancha. Melissa is full of new ideas for improvements and growth, and we know the future of sustainable tourism is safe in her hands.

Cristina and Yolanda work together on a textile.
Cristina and Yolanda work together on a textile.
Margarita, Estefania, & Maria discuss a new style.
Margarita, Estefania, & Maria discuss a new style.

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Organization Information

Awamaki

Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @awamaki
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru
$27,087 raised of $30,000 goal
 
544 donations
$2,913 to go
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