Last year, in March, we participated in Patxi’s Pizza’s 52 Weeks of Giving. For one day Patxi’s Pizza Hayes Valley donated 10% of the entire day’s sales to Ruraq Maki and we use the money raised to buy an industrial sewing machine for the women in Independencia.

The main goal of the industrial sewing machine was to give the women greater control over the production process, allowing them to earn more income and increase their production potential. The sewing machine was specifically purchased to handle thick materials, like the weavings and our products, which use khaki and weavings together.

We are so happy to announce that they sewing machine is fulfilling its purpose! Last year, Vilma, a young mother of 4 whose husband has a history of abandoning them (then returning when its convenient) began sewing the yoga mat straps. The yoga mat straps were a fantastic starting point because the construction is simple and acquaints the sewer with working with the weavings. This year, Vilma began sewing the cosmetic cases and she is now adept at sewing both products.

Ruraq Maki’s goal is to have at least 60% of the cost of a product go directly to the women. In Peru this is an easy goal to meet because all of the production, except weaving the manta, is done by the women. In Bolivia, it has been more challenging, as previously the women didn’t sew. This meant that the sewing was out sourced and we had to design with the cost of the sewing in mind. Now, however, the percentage that goes to the women for the cosmetic cases and yoga mat straps has increase greatly (far above the 60%). This is GOOD NEWS!

Sewing the weavings into cosmetic bags

Although we are thrilled that more money is going to the women, the sewing machine’s biggest accomplishment is providing a means of economic independence for women like Vilma. Many rural women have unreliable husbands. Alcoholism, domestic violence, and adultery are common struggles women face. Due to the level of poverty, women must stay with their husbands despite these things, because they simply cannot support their children without a second income. Giving women employment opportunities that are independent from their husbands is key in helping them feel capable of living without them. The goal isn’t to encourage the women to leave their husbands, the goal is to give the women the power of choice.

Dona Max admires the yoga mat strap she wove and her daughter, Vilma, sewed

Our long term goal is to get Vilma, and other women interested in sewing, to the point where they can sew all of Ruraq Maki’s products. Currently, Vilma is the only woman with the skills to do industrial sewing and she cannot sew the more complicated products. In 2016 we plan to sponsor a local trainer from Cochabamba to come to Independencia and teach a 3 days sewing workshop. This workshop would cover fabric cutting, good work space habits, sewing from patterns, sewing more complicated designs, and machine maintenance. We are in the early stages of planning this course, but if you want to see more women empowered like Vilma, please consider making a donation to support the class.

 

 


Today is my final day in Independencia before I head out early (3am early!) to Cochabamba. On Saturday we had the final jewelry making class with the chicas, huddled up in the library hiding from the cold, stormy day! Working with the new chicas this year has been a joy. The girls are so cute, engaged, and interested in just about everything they can ask about. Watching them learn a new skill and challenge themselves has demonstrated what creative and driven young women they are. 

Reina with her class projects

I’ve spoken about her in other blog posts, but I particularly enjoyed watching Reina, the oldest in the class, flourish. She works one day a week at PAZA teaching the younger girls crocheting and she is a superb role model. During the jewelry classes, she always helped the younger girls and often I would step back and let her take over the questions, so as to put her in the role of teacher. She has an inquisitive mind, constantly guessing the next steps of a jewelry piece, and this creative initiative will take her far. On our last day, I told her I hoped we wouldn’t see each other again and that next year she will be fulfilling her dream of studying outside of Independencia. 

Jhessica and Nayela

The final jewelry class with the women was also a perfect end to the two weeks. We made wire beads and I showed them how they could utilize the beads beyond the class earring project. In the afternoon, several of them returned to make bracelets from the beads and experiment with other designs. 

Dona Sebastiana models her earrings

One of the main goals of this class was to have the women learn more about the overall construction of wire jewelry so they could start designing their own pieces. By the end of the series, the women were testing their design skills, using a mixture of techniques that were taught in the class. This was extremely rewarding as many of the women have a real talent for jewelry design and color. I’m hoping that next year we will begin to see more jewelry designs from the women.

Dona Juana measures her wire

I concluded the class with photos of jewelry that utilizes woven textiles, showing the women how they can integrate jewelry with weaving. I also wanted to show them how weaving has become a popular hobby in the U.S. with young adults and demonstrate the innovative ways weaving has evolved. Who knows- maybe next year we will see some woven textile jewelry as well!  

Dona Maxima and her final projects

Like leaving Ayacucho, leaving Independencia is always bittersweet. I feel fulfilled and inspired by the women and girls, but also sad that it will be another year before I see them again. Each trip it becomes a little harder to leave, as I get to know the women bit by bit and become used to their presence in my life. This year the new women and girls, along with the past students, have been wonderful company for two weeks and I’ll be missing all the women I’ve worked with this summer. That said, I am so excited to see how the women and girls here apply the jewelry skills and color theory we’ve worked on in the coming year.   


While I’ve been in Bolivia, the blog posts have focused primarily on our jewelry making classes with the women and teenage girls. While the classes have been a big part of Ruraq Maki’s work here, I have also been working with the weavers in a sales capacity, helping them become more familiar with the needs of an international market.

Market access is a concept that is well known in development work, one that points to the need of small artisan groups to connect with a global market. Often language, level of education, financial resources, and location are the primary factors keeping artisans from selling internationally. A concept that is not discussed as widely is market knowledge, which is just as important as access. 

Market knowledge is what artisans know about the market they are trying to reach. This information can be vital to an artisan’s success, as trends in their local market differ from those in other parts of the world. Yet, how are artisans expected to know what designs and colors people in the U.S. like when they have no access to TV, internet, or fashion magazines? This is where Ruraq Maki comes in. 

Dona Max explains color theory to the women in Huancarani

This year, in addition to working with product development, I have also dove deeper into the details of the U.S. market with the women. One of the items of greatest interest to the women is what colors people in the U.S. like to buy and through our discussion I’ve introduced the idea of contrast and color design to the women. 

The women have been intuitively warping the looms with contrasting colors because it is pleasing to the eye but color theory has always been an unconscious effort. Through our discussions, the women are beginning to understand how contrast works in their weavings. In Huancarani we repeated this discussion, bringing examples of pieces that use contrast to show the women. After the talk, the women pulled out their yarn balls and began experimenting with different, contrasting, color combinations. 

This is important because often the women warp the same colors with little changes, primarily because they don’t know they can, or how to, do something different. Although Ruraq Maki doesn’t control what colors the women weave, we do want them to have the greatest chance of success selling their weavings. The more products we sell, the more orders they get, so helping them understand what colors and designs sell best is a win for all. It also pushes them out of the comfort zone and inspires their own creativity with color. 

Demonstrating the yoga mat straps to the weavers

Another way we have increased market knowledge is by introducing the women to the products made from their weavings. Transparency is extremely important to us and we want the women to feel good, and proud, of how their weavings are used. This year we introduced the women to our popular tote bag and yoga mat strap. The women absolutely adored the tote bags, each wanting one for herself, and were interested in how the yoga mat strap worked.

Adviana models a tote bag made from her weaving

My favorite moment in working with color and design was when Dona Max was posing with the yoga mat strap she wove. She looked down at it and said, “I see now that I could have added an extra row of grey here- that would increase the contrast and make the pink stand out more. It would be very beautiful that way.” 

This is how market knowledge works- little by little artisans understand how they can refine their products for the market they are trying to reach and these little changes lead to big successes. 

 

 


Yesterday we went to Huancarani, a community 2 hour outside of Independencia that is home to the association of weavers that we work with. Every year we spend a day with the women, teaching a mini jewelry making class and discussing items related to their weavings and projects. The jewelry class gives the women a chance to take and enjoy time to themselves and often the class booms with laughter and storytelling. This year was no different. 

A typical house in Huancarani, settled against the backdrop of the Andes

 

The women begin by selecting their beads, a process that can take some time as everyone wants to get their color combinations just right!

Dona Max, PAZA’s trainer, shows the women how to wrap their wire

The wrapping begins! Although she could barely see, this woman was determined to finish her earrings

A little one gets ahold of the pliers and investigates

The women’s polleras (full skirts) make a great work surface for storing beads- who needs containers when you have a velvet skirt!

Lots of laughter in the class as the women chat and catch up with the local gossip. The jewelry class is one of the few opportunities the women have to spend time together.

The group gathers around the materials tarp and work side by side, helping each other

Before she moves on to the next step, this woman takes a proud look at her finished pieces

With the extra time, some of the women made simple bracelets of strung beads

Group shot of the women with their completed projects

 

Trying on her earrings and looking beautiful from a full day of fun with her friends

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We are still raising money for our Plier Fundraiser! As of today, we have raised enough for 24 sets of pliers. Our goal is 25 and we are only ONE set short! $15 buys one high quality set of 4 pliers, which will greatly enable the women to create sales-quality jewelry pieces. Currently, 80% of our plier sets in Peru and Bolivia are broken or dysfunctional. Support our fundraiser by donating online and help us get that last set!  


Today we had a morning jewelry class with the Club de Artesanas with two new students who did a fantastic job keeping up with the old guard. The class was accompanied by lots of littles ones, who played along the side of the house while the mothers made jewelry. Adviana, who is 20, had her baby in her lap for the majority of the class and I was impressed with her dexterity and skill in holding and nursing a baby, while working with jewelry pliers. 

Adviana works with her baby in tow

The mothers here are champions at multi-taking. Often, children are close in age, only 1-2 years apart, and young mothers like Adviana can have three littles ones under 5 at a one time. In addition to caring for babies and toddlers, all of which constantly need something, the mothers also cook, tend to the land, do the washing, get the older kids to school and somehow find a way to earn an income. It is no small feat.

Dona Sebastiana concentrates while her daughter plays

Mothers like Adviana seem exhausted. There is so much to DO and it seems the doing never stops. Sometimes I think the Club is as much about learning skills as it about breaking up the doing and having a chance to be outside of the demands of the household. A chance to just sit. It is no wonder jewelry is so popular. Even for those of us with fewer responsibilities, it is an relaxing, meditative activity. With so much constantly tugging on the women’s skirt tails (or polleras as they are called here), making jewelry must feel like a trip to a zen garden.  

Finding time to enjoy laughter and stillness

The broad of little ones meant the morning was brimming with interruptions, fighting, crying, laughing, and overall chaos. In the midst of all this, the mothers just kept trucking on, tending to the tears, the fights, the hugs, while concentrating on their pieces without missing a beat. Oh and somehow they found the energy to laugh and to joke. It is inspiring, how in the wake constant movement there is time for stillness and laugher. 

Even babies love jewelry making!

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We are still raising money for our Plier Fundraiser! As of today, we have raised enough for 18 sets of pliers. Our goal is 25 and we are only 7 sets short! $15 buys one high quality set of 4 pliers, which will greatly enable the women to create sales-quality jewelry pieces. Currently, 80% of our plier sets in Peru and Bolivia are broken or dysfunctional. Support our fundraiser by donating online!