Thursday, July 10, 2014

Awamaki: Transforming Women's Lives

Empowering women. Making global connections. Transforming lives.

Photo credit: Jeff Encke

Awamaki is a non-profit, women's Fair Trade organization located in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. They combine beautiful, traditional Quechuan weaving with other forms of craft-making to create gorgeous, hand-made, ethically sourced products for the international market. What's more, they have a direct link to climate change impact-mitigation in Perú:
In February 2010, severe flooding destroyed every home in the community of Puente Inca. Families were relocated to temporary tent dwellings while the government looked for somewhere to relocate the families. The women of this community approached Awamaki about forming a knitting cooperative so that they could earn an income and eventually rebuild their homes. The cooperative was officially formed in August of 2010. Since then, the women have produced product for clients in Peru, the US, UK, and Japan. In 2012 they won a grant from the United Nations to help them learn more about making their cooperative into a small business." 

I first heard about Awamaki from my practicum instructor and was impressed with it from the moment I looked at their site. When I wrote to the Founder and Executive Director, Kennedy Leavens (former Seattle resident and owner of one of the cutest dogs I've ever seen!), about my project and my interest in speaking to someone about their program and its intersection with climate change, she immediately replied. She was enthusiastic to help and suggested that I come by the office and give a presentation to her staff and local NGO's about what I've learned so far about climate change impacts in the Sacred Valley. I was put in touch with Vivian, the Volunteer Coordinator, who sent out an introduction/invitation email to NGO's throughout the Valley.

What a great idea!!
(Full disclosure: I immediately panicked. And made pudding. And gently rocked back-and-forth. The panic lasted roughly 20 days (until I got glutened and was too sick to freak out any more); the pudding lasted 2. I HATE talking in front of groups. Intense fear. Nausea. Especially when I'm supposed to sound like I know what I'm talking about. Luckily grad school has prepared me well for this, forcing me to endure three years of long presentations with little research and lots of panic and bravado. Thanks, grad school?)
So I prepared and prepped and read aloud to empty rooms while Jeff was out running, and showed up on their doorstep with the tiniest secret hope that the whole thing had been called off.

Vivian is really good at outreach.

And it turns out, I wasn't so bad at presenting. After 45 minutes of listening to me EndOfTheWorld them, we ended up having a really interesting discussion. A lot of what I had to say was new to the American volunteers, and, like many people in the United States, they had noticed the effects of climate change — immigration, failing crops, flooding, increases in pests and disease — without really recognizing the cause.

"I'm surprised that the Peruvian government says so little about climate change, when it is such a danger," one woman said through an interpreter. We all nodded, and I thought about my own country's inaction, inaction which is shaping the fate of the entire world.

One woman, furiously taking notes, said that she plans on incorporating my presentation into her community tours in Ollantaytambo. And so small sparks of discussion in a darkening room in a sacred valley may lead to other sparks, yet.

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