Felicitas comes trekking up the hill, her manta woven of the brightest yarn, and her montera covered in sequins and flowers glistening in the sun. Confident, and with a broad smile she approaches me, reaches out her hand to take mine before I’m even aware she knows who I am. I’m not used to such exuberant social confidence from the women of our Quechua communities, but right off the bat I can tell something about Felicitas is different than the other women in our partner cooperative, Songuillay.  Felicitas joined the cooperative this year as part of a cohort of young women who are educated and speak fluent Spanish. Awamaki requested that the cooperative add these young women to help the cooperative connect with customers for their weavings and their community tours, in order to build a sustainable business and graduate the group from Awamaki’s impact model program. As Awamaki’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, I went up to Patacancha to chat with her and get to know a little more about what has brought her so much success in life, so young.

Felicitas is an energetic 21-years-old, and she exudes an “I can do anything I want to” mentality, like any young adult. She was born and raised in the rural Quechua community of Patacancha, a mere 45 minute car ride away from Ollantaytambo, and yet  seemingly another world entirely. The eldest of six daughters, Felicitas explained to me the pressure she felt to be an example to her sisters, and to show them what was possible in this world.

After completing 11 years of primary and secondary schooling in Patacancha, Felicitas continued on to pursue further schooling so that she could prepare for a career in tourism. Few from this region complete high school, especially women, but Felicitas did, and then continued on to specialize in a professional field. “My parents paid for my schooling, my uniform, my materials,” explained Felicitas, “they made many sacrifices.” Her father worked long and difficult hours as a porter on the Inca Trail, while her mother worked with one of Awamaki’s partner artisanal cooperatives, weaving.

She too found herself with many responsibilities when her parents left for their farmland to care for their animals; Felicitas was left behind to care for her five younger sisters. “I did everything; I had to comb their hair, feed the animals here in town, cook the food, wash the clothes, help with their homework,” all the while attending high school herself.

Finding employment has proven to be challenging for Felicitas, like others who live in Patacancha. Felicitas hopes to contribute to the Songuillay weaving cooperative and build a career in Patacancha using her education in tourism and her proficient Spanish skills to support the group’s work in tourism and weaving. “They can’t interact very easily down in the cities,” she explained, only a few of the women know how to read and write, or speak Spanish. This results in economic challenges for the community. Her success in school has already opened doors for her as her ability to fluently speak Spanish will assist the cooperative to connect to market opportunities beyond those of Awamaki.

Many of the girls from Patacancha encounter challenges along the path to graduation, and are unfortunately not able to finish school. Pressure to drop out to help at home or start a family of their own is high. Felicitas, however, has managed to overcome these challenges. “Since I was 15 I’ve had many dreams, after secondary school I thought ‘I can’t stay here;’ I’ve always wanted to better myself from my parents and be an example to my siblings.” With the support of her family she left her community for three years as she attended an institution in the nearby town of Urubamba to establish a career in tourism.

Felicitas is passionate about staying and living in her community again, and using tourism as a way to preserve their local cultural customs and traditions. “Before my goal was to finish my training program, but now that I have, I haven’t earned my degree, so this year I want to do that,” Felicitas explained while talking about her goals for the future. A final project, and a presentation at the institution in Urubamba is all that stands in her way. From there she is eager to work in experiential tourism, and eventually start her own tourism business in the area.

“My mom has always had to work so hard to support for us, and I saw my siblings and I knew I wanted to someday start my own business.” Felicitas knows that starting her own small business based on the trainings she’s completed will help her to support her younger siblings and ensure that they find success in their educations in the same way that she has thus far.

This is the cycle of empowerment at Awamaki: from Felicitas’ mother, Fortunata, to Felicitas, and now continuing on with her younger sisters. As Felicitas and other young, educated artisans join our cooperatives, they will be able to increasingly connect their fellow artisans to outside markets, on their own terms and for the benefit of their families and communities. We at Awamaki are very excited to see the benefits of empowered and educated women continuing on toward the next generation, and we are honored to be working with so many women who are as inspiring and joyful as Felicitas.