Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru

by Awamaki
Nelly, Sustainable Tourism Assistant, speaks
Nelly, Sustainable Tourism Assistant, speaks

When we ask our partner cooperatives what they dislike about participating in out programs, we often only get silence in return. The weavers assume that if they give us negative feedback, we won’t work with them anymore. Of course, this isn’t true, and when we overcome this assumption we receive fascinating feedback.


“The thing that I hate about tourism is that my husband treats the tourists better than he treats me. When I want to eat something nice, he doesn’t cook it for me, but when the tourists request something, he cooks it.”


Margarita Sinchi shared her complaints about tourism during the first of a series of workshops we hosted in the community of Patacancha. Designed by Awamaki’s tourism coordinator, Juan Camilo Saavedra, these workshops aim to move the tourism cooperative of Songuillay towards further independence. Though the cooperative currently receives tourists from Awamaki, they want to be able to host independent tourists passing through their community, especially as the nearby Lares trek becomes increasingly popular.


The workshop began with Juan asking the members of Songuillay how they define tourism, what they like about it, and what they dislike about it. To make sure silence wasn’t an issue, the women chose amongst themselves who would speak next by dressing them in a sparkly tie. Juan Camilo said that “the dynamic was very interesting because they were laughing and attentive. They were waiting to see who would be chosen next.”


When Margarita was chosen to speak on her negative feelings towards tourism, she didn’t hold back. Even though many of the women laughed at her sassy answer about her husband, it highlights how tourism is changing the culture of the community. After Margarita’s comment, the group further opened up about changes they have seen. Many of the women mentioned that over the last decade people have started wearing their traditional clothing. People had stopped wearing mantas and ponchos, but tourism motivated them to wear these visual signatories of their culture again. Several in the group thought this was a positive side effect of increased tourism but were saddened that it didn’t happen organically through cultural pride.


After the group thought about how tourism has impacted their lives, Juan Camilo tasked them with thinking about how tourism impacts other communities. He showed the cooperative several videos about rural community tourism in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Initially, the women were surprised at how drastically different the communities looked, whether it was the people’s appearances or their environment. Many thought that the living conditions of the people were quite harsh but were impressed that the community was still attempting to do tourism. Elena Mamani, president of the Songuillay tourism cooperative, commented that “if these people, who we didn’t know existed, in these places, that we didn’t know existed, are able to do tourism, then we should be able to do it too.”


The workshop ended on a motivational note with the cooperative members chattering excitedly about what was to come next. Juan Camilo plans to host five to six more workshops covering various topics, ranging from community qualities to marketing opportunities. The end goal of the workshops – as with all of our capacity-building trainings – is to move the cooperative further towards independence and the ability to run their own tourism business independent of Awamaki. With the completion of this workshop, Songuillay has taken another giant step forward!

Thank you for your donations that make workshops like these possible!

Chosen to wear the tie!
Chosen to wear the tie!
Juan Camilo readies the presentation
Juan Camilo readies the presentation
Maritza and her daughter
Maritza and her daughter

This year, the Puente Inca knitting cooperative has been working to advance as an independent business. Your odnations have funded trainings in quality control, and the beginning of construction on their new crafts center. They know they have a long road ahead of them to build the kind of excellent quality and business skills necessary to graduate from our training model. With that in mind, we sat down with them to ask them their New Year's resolutions. 

Rosa told us that her resolution for the new year is for her cooperative to become comfortable taking risks. She wants them to learn new knitting techniques, finish their artisan center, and work together as a group to take on an independent client.

Maritza hopes that in 2017 the Puente Inca group will be able to work independently with a business in the Cusco region. She wants the group to finish their artisan center, especially the second floor, so that they can host visitors to their cooperative and have a permanent place to meet and work. Personally, Maritza aims to save enough to finish building her house, which still needs to be painted and furnished since she lost everything in a flood in 2010. By making these improvements, she will be able to host tourists and use her extra income to buy more animals for farming.

Rosa, Maritza and their fellow knitters are motivated and excited to grow their business skills, but they can't do so without your investment. Please consider helping them achieve their goals in 2017. 

In what has become an annual tradition, we have put together a video to thank you, our donors, as another year draws to a close.
We know that a lot of you live pretty far from our work. By giving us your time and funds, you show incredible faith in us. You also demonstrate your humanity by caring about impoverished women who live so far from you. The world needs people like you, and we are grateful. 
We wish we could bring you to Peru to see the incredible impact your donations have. This videois our best effort at bringing the joy of our work to you. We hope that it makes your day a good one. 
Thank you so much for all your support. 

The Awamaki Team
p.s. Care to support these amazing women with your holiday dollars? Shop our store!


Alpaca fiber
Alpaca fiber

At Awamaki we work with experts. Expert weavers, expert knitters, expert spinners. The members of our cooperatives are already phenomenal in their crafts. They choose to partner with us because they want to show others their expertise. They want to connect with new markets, with tourists, with opportunities. We tell them that we can be that link.

So, when we fail at Awamaki, we aren’t just failing ourselves, our donors, or our supporters. We are failing experts! That is hard to admit, but thankfully, the experts we work with are phenomenal in ways other than their crafts. They are remarkably patient and flexible. So even when we fail, our links remain strong.

The thirteen members of our Huilloc cooperative are the experts to beat in the Andean phuska, or drop spindle. Since 2008, they have been spinning natural sheep and alpaca fibers into yarn for textile and knit products produced by our other cooperatives. Over the past year, however, Awamaki has been taking steps to grow our line of all-natural handspun yarn for international sale, expanding even further the markets accessible to our spinners.

Getting the Huilloc spinners ready to sell their products per international standards has been an ongoing project over the past year. We promised them that we would find a way to professionally sort and clean the raw alpaca fiber so that they could do what they do best – spin it into high-quality yarn.

Well, we failed them – numerous times.

First, we tried to sort and clean the fiber ourselves. Adam Riley, a professional alpaca shearer with years of experience, worked alongside the families of our artisans and their alpacas to teach them how to shear the highest quality fiber. He also worked with our volunteers in the office to show them how to sort and clean the fiber that we then received. While the shearing lessons went well with the families, our volunteers didn’t have the time to spend hours sorting fiber on our office floor. We also realized training new batches of volunteers would be unsustainable, especially after Adam’s departure.

Next, we looked to outside sources to wash and card our fibers. This was extremely difficult because most yarn processing in Peru is done on a larger scale, and thus existing resources are not targeted towards our smaller-scale production. Plus, there is competition. The big, successful companies don’t want to share their resources with small organizations like ourselves and our cooperatives.

Finally, we found a local factory in the nearby province of Urcos that processes alpaca and sheep fibers. They were willing to meet with us, so we sent members of the Awamaki team to check it out. They came back with high-hopes and were excited about the possibility of a new partnership for our Huilloc spinners. However, during a second visit to the factory we learned that our fibers had become tangled in the machines when they tried to process them. Their machines wouldn’t work with our fibers – because they were too fine!

Because the factory was an unviable option, we couldn’t move forward. Although the previously mentioned Awamaki volunteer sorting team was unsustainable, they did manage to successfully sort the fibers with Adam’s help. However, without a system for washing and carding the fibers, the yarn would never be up to the international standards we needed.

Throughout this process, the members of the Huilloc spinning cooperative had been waiting patiently for a solution. Their production had been reduced significantly due to our quality issues – not their skill. We had to figure out a way to make it work. So, the Awamaki crew went back to the drawing board.

We brainstormed, and we realized something.

The whole time we had been looking for external solutions. We tried to allocate Awamaki time and resources, or we tried to find others who would share their resources. But maybe, we should have been looking internally. We should have been looking to those we already regarded as experts in their craft.

We took this idea to our Huilloc cooperative and they were extremely receptive. Of course, they were the best candidates to sort and clean the fiber they would be spinning. Because of their backgrounds, it was an easy transition for them to make. They just needed supplies and training.

We held a fundraiser to get them the appropriate fiber-washing equipment and gear. We invited a fiber professional from Puno, Hortencia Rivera Mamani, to lead a capacity building workshop on fiber sorting, washing, and standardized spinning. Giulia Debernardini, Awamaki Head of Sales and Impact, described the partnership with Hortencia as “serendipitous” in its timing considering the previous obstacles we had encountered. Even with Hortencia’s help, the fiber is not at the level of quality we want, and we are still looking for ways to improve the process. The spinners of the Huilloc cooperative have already received one international order, but we know we can do better.

By going back to our experts, our entire fiber production process was turned around. We might have failed them initially, but they never failed us. With a little training, they expanded their skill set and became the solution to our problem. All it took was for us to realize we were failing because we weren’t putting our trust in those that matter most. Now the spinners of Huilloc are producing beautiful and higher-quality yarn.

Launching our line of handspun yarn at a quality level we can be proud of has been and continues to be a learning process. It would be easy to feel discouraged if it were not for our confidence in the spinners of Huilloc. Even with the obstacles we have encountered, they remain determined to build their skills and go after new opportunities and markets. We failed forward, and the members of Huilloc spin on.

Carding machine
Carding machine
Huilloc gathered for workshop
Huilloc gathered for workshop
Wrapping yarn
Wrapping yarn
Spinning with Hortencia
Spinning with Hortencia
Awac Puna members draw visions of empowerment
Awac Puna members draw visions of empowerment

“We are all women, we all can have confidence in one another,” boomed the reassuring voice of Mercedes Durand, Head of the Awamaki Women’s Cooperative Program. Mercedes opened Awamaki’s sixth women’s empowerment workshop with this statement directed at our youngest weaving cooperative of Awac Puña. Even though our capacity-building workshops often focus on business and economic skills, we realized that it was also important to understand how the women personally connected with Awamaki’s mission and higher goals concerning empowerment and fair trade.

After a name recall ice-breaker exercise to wake everyone up, Monitoring and Evaluations intern, Kate Goldenring started the meeting by asking the women about changes in their lives since working with Awamaki. Octavia Quispe, president of the Awac Puña cooperative, stepped up to say, “Before [working with Awamaki] there wasn’t training or tourism.” Other artisans continued by speaking about improvements in infrastructure, such as straw roofs, lighting, bathrooms, and telephones. Many women were also proud to be able to better support their children financially, such as by paying for school fees and supplies or purchasing more fruits and vegetables for their children's meals.

Awamaki workshop facilitators took a break from the discussion to lead the women in some creative and problem-solving exercises. Members of the cooperative were asked to draw pictures of when they felt empowered and when they felt powerless. Many women drew pictures of themselves spinning, weaving, or spending time with their families and animals as examples of when they felt empowered. Next, Asunta Quispe Yupanqui bravely shared a time when she felt powerless, saying that “I only went to school for one year, so I could not go anywhere without feeling intimidated.” She explained that this feeling changed when she stated receiving trainings from Awamaki because now she better understands how to sell her products and in turn can earn her own income.

Some of the women also had the opportunity to participate in a role-playing exercise dealing with marital economic decision-making. Asunta and another cooperative member, Nicolasa, volunteered to assume the roles of husband and wife. Despite some giggling at the onset, husband and wife Asunta and Nicolasa decided to use their fake money to first take their baby to the hospital and then use the remaining money to repair their roof. Even though Nicolasa was the wife in the simulation, she had a greater say in how the money would be used because she contributed some of her weaving income. Her additional income also meant that some money was left over to repair their roof.

When asked to reflect on her experience in real life, Nicolasa beamed and said “I now have the liberty to spend my money.” Asunta continued by explaining that the women and their husbands share their money and make decisions about expenses together because the women are contributing, whereas before the women always needed to ask their husbands for money. “We no longer have to look in our husbands pockets” summarized the group.

Through our empowerment workshops with Awac Puña and the other cooperatives, Awamaki strives to have the women reflect on how their lives are impacted through their relationship with Awamaki. We want to go beyond basic economic and business skills – we want our weavers, knitters, and spinners to understand that their work and their decisions are powerful and important. Thank you for your continued support of our capacity-building workshops and dedication to our cooperative members.

Maria shares when she feels empowered
Maria shares when she feels empowered
Nicolasa discusses changes in her life with Giulia
Nicolasa discusses changes in her life with Giulia

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Organization Information


Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru
$20,052 raised of $24,000 goal
376 donations
$3,948 to go
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