When we ask our partner cooperatives what they dislike about participating in out programs, we often only get silence in return. The weavers assume that if they give us negative feedback, we won’t work with them anymore. Of course, this isn’t true, and when we overcome this assumption we receive fascinating feedback.

“The thing that I hate about tourism is that my husband treats the tourists better than he treats me. When I want to eat something nice, he doesn’t cook it for me, but when the tourists request something, he cooks it.”

Margarita Sinchi shared her complaints about tourism during the first of a series of workshops we hosted in the community of Patacancha. Designed by Awamaki’s tourism coordinator, Juan Camilo Saavedra, these workshops aim to move the tourism cooperative of Songuillay towards further independence. Though the cooperative currently receives tourists from Awamaki, they want to be able to host independent tourists passing through their community, especially as the nearby Lares trek becomes increasingly popular.

The workshop began with Juan asking the members of Songuillay how they define tourism, what they like about it, and what they dislike about it. To make sure silence wasn’t an issue, the women chose amongst themselves who would speak next by dressing them in a sparkly tie. Juan Camilo said that “the dynamic was very interesting because they were laughing and attentive. They were waiting to see who would be chosen next.”

When Margarita was chosen to speak on her negative feelings towards tourism, she didn’t hold back. Even though many of the women laughed at her sassy answer about her husband, it highlights how tourism is changing the culture of the community. After Margarita’s comment, the group further opened up about changes they have seen. Many of the women mentioned that over the last decade people have started wearing their traditional clothing. People had stopped wearing mantas and ponchos, but tourism motivated them to wear these visual signatories of their culture again. Several in the group thought this was a positive side effect of increased tourism but were saddened that it didn’t happen organically through cultural pride.

After the group thought about how tourism has impacted their lives, Juan Camilo tasked them with thinking about how tourism impacts other communities. He showed the cooperative several videos about rural community tourism in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Initially, the women were surprised at how drastically different the communities looked, whether it was the people’s appearances or their environment. Many thought that the living conditions of the people were quite harsh but were impressed that the community was still attempting to do tourism. Elena Mamani, president of the Songuillay tourism cooperative, commented that “if these people, who we didn’t know existed, in these places, that we didn’t know existed, are able to do tourism, then we should be able to do it too.”

The workshop ended on a motivational note with the cooperative members chattering excitedly about what was to come next. Juan Camilo plans to host five to six more workshops covering various topics, ranging from community qualities to marketing opportunities. The end goal of the workshops – as with all of our capacity-building trainings – is to move the cooperative further towards independence and the ability to run their own tourism business independent of Awamaki. With the completion of this workshop, Songuillay has taken another giant step forward!