By Catherine Amy Jones, Marketing and Communication intern

When I first told my family and friends that I was moving to Peru for ten weeks to live in the last living Inca city and near Machu Picchu, their reactions made me excited but quietly nervous. I knew Awamaki’s work empowering indigenous women was important and so I knew my internship had real purpose and that I would need to give it my all. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how life-changing my time with Awamaki would turn out to be. And while I gave it my all, I gained so much more.

I gained new perspectives and an understanding of the power of women. I gained new skills and experience as part of the Marketing and Communications team. I gained a newfound love of handmade textiles. I gained an understanding of how tourism can benefit a rural community when conducted in a thoughtful and sustainable way with cultural reciprocation at the heart. I gained the patience to overcome the niggling challenges of working in a small, rural Peruvian town, for example, sporadic wi-fi and a lack of general supplies. I gained a greater appreciation for individuals who work in the field and visibly make a difference through NGOs. Most of all, I gained many amazing friends; my fellow volunteers, Awamaki staff members and the compañeras who all call the Sacred Valley home and pursue a united mission to empower women.

Now that my time with Awamaki is sadly over, I thought I would reflect on three of the things that I learnt this summer that I will never forget:

  1. Empowering women transforms whole communities

Empowering women is an integral way to lift and transform an entire community. Awamaki gives women in its cooperatives the opportunity to lead and create. After igniting this drive for improvement, the women run with it – building a fair trade business model, taking on new responsibilities and developing textile products that are sellable in a wider market to ensure their model is sustainable. When these women stand up as leaders and valued artisans, not only are they able to earn an income to support their families, but their whole communities adopt a holistic approach to progressing into a future where both men and women contribute to its success.

  1. Art is identity

I had the privilege of witnessing the skill and dedication that goes into creating Awamaki’s woven and knitted textiles. From shearing the alpaca, to creating vibrant colours with natural dyes, to spinning the wool, before finally weaving or knitting the designs – each product has been crafted through a traditional and time-consuming process. This definitely made me appreciate the importance of artisans gaining a fair price for their work and not having to bargain their labour of love away for a few soles in the market. But I also came to realise that the issue goes much deeper than money. While each product has a market value, each product also has a cultural value. The Quechua community demonstrate their heritage through their artistry to tourists visiting the cooperatives and those buying Awamaki products, which in turn, celebrates the community’s pride in their identity, way of life and culture.

  1. A story to share with the world

As a Marketing and Communications intern, my role was to communicate Awamaki’s work in Peru with audiences around the world. The indigenous women Awamaki works with have an inspirational story to share; one that transcends gender stereotypes, one that weaves its way through history and one that, while of course has many challenges to overcome, has a promising future. It was a privilege to play my part in telling this story, via many different platforms, and create a greater impact by informing more people about Awamaki’s work. Storytelling celebrates the women’s talent – cementing their textiles as valued and beautiful pieces of art and fashion on a global level.