This month, an important piece of our vision for the future actually happened. How often can you say that!?
For three years we have been telling you about our goal of graduating our cooperatives as independent businesses, and 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. Our vision is that through our program, they will not only earn an income but also learn to run successful businesses beyond our guidance. When we made the goal to graduate our partner cooperatives as independent businesses, we weren’t even sure that it would be possible.
Well, as it turns out: it is! Earlier this September we graduated our first cooperative of hardworking women. “One of the goals of Awamaki is that our groups can be self-motivated, that they are groups with the capacity to manage themselves,” Mercedes Durand, head of our Women’s Cooperative Program, beamed during the recent graduation ceremony for our Rumira Women’s Cooperative. The Rumira knitters show that this is possible.
Located just down the valley from Ollantaytambo, Rumira is home to 24 motivated women. With your generous help, we have been providing business and knitting trainings for four years, including helping them build an artisan center. Once they had their own space, they gained a home for their floor looms, and landed several orders from the local train company for placemats for their tourist train. We also connected them to a store in Cusco, for whom they knit sweaters, and they are currently making samples for a third potential client. In total to date, the women have earned over $20,000 in nearly 25 orders from clients of their own. In this group, 42% of the women have only had access to either primary schooling or in some cases, no schooling at all. “We have learned from the difficulties… Now we can continue fighting and continue working to make things better, and continue achieving our goals,” Martha Zuniga, Awamaki production coordinator and Rumira cooperative member, exclaimed during the ceremony. For Martha the Rumira graduation signified an “important passing for all of the women, they will be able to continue to develop as businesswomen.” Graduation marks this group transitioning from a loosely organized group of women to a professional and highly successful artisan cooperative. This is something we couldn’t be more proud of accomplishing!
This group of women has transformed significantly over the past four years. “At first they didn’t know how to knit professionally, and secondly they didn’t know how to interpret the patterns, they didn’t have good communication, and they weren’t organized, Martha commented. With your support the artisans have been trained in women’s empowerment, weaving and knitting techniques, quality control standards, fashion, marketing, exportation, tax brackets, and even computer classes. “First of all, they know how to interpret the patterns, and they can create samples without my help, and they organize for whichever activity they have,” added Martha, of the changes she’s seen take place among the women. They also keep track of their orders from other clients, bill those clients and manage artisan payments for them. After four years of working with Awamaki, nearly 46% of the women are earning as much or more than their partners. With the money they make, they support 70 children and disabled or elderly adults in their homes.
Rumira’s graduation gives us the capacity to begin working with new cooperatives and allows us to direct our energy into empowering even more women from the Sacred Valley. This year we have added a new group of spinners and knitters both in the community of Huilloc, something that we wouldn’t have the capacity to do without the anticipation of Rumira’s graduation. This recent expansion brings the total number of artisans in our partner cooperatives to 168 women. Thanks to the support of all of our donors we are able to continue our work everyday towards more graduation ceremonies like Rumira’s and continuing to grow and expand the communities with which we work!