|By Meaghan Bogart, Tourism intern
|As 2017 drew to a close, buzz of graduation increased within the Songuillay cooperative. Over the past year, this cooperative, made up of forty two women, has been taking steps towards their independence from Awamaki.
In September of 2017, Awamaki celebrated the first graduation of a cooperative, Virgen del Carmen Rumira. This means that as Rumira continues to maintain Awamaki as a client, they now have the skills to work with and maintain clientele outside of Awamaki. Now at the beginning of 2018, Awamaki is preparing Songuillay to be the first tourism cooperative to graduate as well.
As the largest and most senior group in the Awamaki Sustainable Tourism program, this hardworking group of women have hosted hundreds of tours, sharing their culture and weaving tradition with visiting tourists with the support of Awamaki staff.
Looking into the future, Sustainable Tourism Coordinator Juan Camilo Saavedra commented, “instead of seeing Awamaki as a mother figure, I want the women to see Awamaki as a business partner and equal.” However, there is still work to be done before the celebrating can begin.
Being a rural, indigenous, farming based community, there is a long stretch between a the women from this community and a visiting tourist. Because of their remote location, the community has had limited contact with foreigners and subsequently have had little exposure to give context to other languages and customs. Despite this unfamiliarity, by hosting tours the community now has very direct contact with visitors. Awamaki staff currently support these visits with translation and guiding.
The women artisans of Songuillay primarily speak Quechua and worry about how they will communicate with English-speaking newcomers without the help of a bilingual Awamaki guide. The artisans don’t necessarily understand what motivates and interests tourists, which makes it hard to guide them.
For these reasons, the workshops that we are conducting with the women currently focus on understanding the specific attractions they can offer tourists, and how to offer them. We are also working on a management system that will continue to ensure that all the women can participate, benefit, and have a voice in the project.
Although many women in the cooperative are excited to take the next step forward, many are still nervous to deal with clients and agencies on their own. Elena, one of the cooperative’s leaders, explained that she values tourism in her community because it has brought a positive source of income. Despite her excitement to move forward, she feels that they still have much to learn. In her eyes, many of the women are on different levels of knowledge regarding the tourism program. She says that if something goes wrong, everyone will receive the criticism.
In the next few months, our Sustainable Tourism team will be working to empower and capacitate the women of the Songuillay cooperative so that they can confidently manage their tourism clients. We are also working with local guides to connect the women with their first direct clients. From what we have seen in our years running tours with Songuillay, we think they are going to do a fantastic job.