By Ali Alford, Marketing and Education Volunteer

Here at Awamaki, we believe the way in which we overcome challenges tells as much about our organization’s integrity as do our accomplishments. One of our recent challenges is an internal political muddle among our weavers in Patacancha. While our Sustainable Tourism project has expanded in Patacancha, bringing higher incomes for the women in the cooperative, we’ve learned that the husband of one of the cooperative members, who originally donated the land to build the center, was increasingly attempting to unduly influence cooperative business so that certain cooperative members benefitted more than others.  Other members of the cooperative and their husbands have attempted to undermine his efforts, resulting in a complicated political and legal situation for the cooperative.

As a rule, we try to stay out of community politics as much as possible, but these issues threatened to undermine our goal of women’s empowerment as the husbands became increasingly involved in cooperative affairs. We brought a Quechua-speaking lawyer from our partner organization, the CBC, to help the women understand their legal rights and their cooperative’s membership and bylaws. We have stopped using the weaving center, which has been a focal point of the disagreement, until the issue is resolved. Finally, with the advice of the lawyer, we have suggested several possible solutions for the women to consider.

This is a learning moment for us at Awamaki. When we started working in Patacancha, we didn’t realize how important it was that the women fully understand their constitution and bylaws. We also didn’t require that the women take strong leadership in their cooperative business. In fact, it was our new emphasis on these principles in Patacancha that resulted in the airing of some of these issues. The economic opportunity that our projects bring can engender unscrupulous behavior, and the cooperatives must have strong administration and leadership to withstand these pressures.

We believe that the women in Patacancha will come out of these challenges stronger and more empowered to lead. In the meantime, we have found a silver lining. This has given us the opportunity to work with the women in our Huilloc spinning and weaving cooperative to develop an additional tour in the community. In offering a new Quechua Community Visit tour in Huilloc, we can not only alleviate some of the pressure on the women of Patacancha, but also provide an additional source of income to the women of Huilloc. We believe this expansion, regardless of the outcome in Patacancha, will make Awamaki’s Sustainable Tourism project stronger and more sustainable in the future.