Congratulations Songuillay!

By Kennedy Leavens, Executive Director, & Brianna Griesinger, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

The highlight of our year is the graduation of Songuillay, a cooperative of 42 women in the community of Patacancha. This is a major milestone for Awamaki. Songuillay was the first group of artisans with whom we worked, and some of their members have been with us for all of our nearly ten years. In fact, it was they who suggested the name Awaqmaki, which means handwoven, for the new non-profit we were founding.

The weavers of the Songuillay cooperative live in the community of Patacancha, a remote, high-altitude Quechua village. When we started working with them, most of the women had no way to access cash income. When Awamaki began, we initially ordered traditional flat textile pieces like table runners and wall hangings for our store from the artisans. Eventually, we moved to ordering textiles in specific sizes so we could create more saleable items like pillowcases and bags and then to specific designs, colors and sizes of textile for our export and custom orders. We also grew our tourism program in partnership with them. The program started informally, as our team invited tourists we met in our store to join us when they went up for meetings with Songuillay. Now, the program has grown into a major source of revenue for us and several of our artisan cooperatives, with 6 tour offerings. It is the #1 most popular tour designation on TripAdvisor for the area, and a National Geographic World Legacy Award Finalist.

With your support over these past nine years, we have worked with Songuillay to provide training in hosting tourist groups and customer service; in natural dyes and weaving technique such as color theory and quality control; and in business, financial literacy and leadership skills. The women have completed construction on their artisan center, allowing them to host tourists in inclement weather and hold meetings and trainings in their own space. With the income they earn from their work, these 42 women care for a total of 128 children. With 110 of these children currently enrolled in school, their futures are bright.

In the last few years, Songuillay has grown their tourism business outside the tours we bring. “The women were approached by several tourism agencies during the high season, and managed to make a deal by themselves, and were able to do so without any of our support,” Melissa, our Sustainable Tourism Coordinator, said, explaining why we believe they are ready to graduate. Our design team agrees: This year, when we went to them to ask them to make the textiles for the samples for developing our next year’s export collection, as they do every year, they turned us down because they were too busy with orders from new clients in Lima.

When a cooperative gains their own direct clients, it means a lot to us here at Awamaki. Not only are the women clearly demonstrating new skills and abilities learned in the capacity building workshops, but they have also completed our training program, called the Impact Model, and are now fully ready for graduation.

After their graduation, we will continue to work with them to bring tourism and order textiles, but we will make a greater shift to focus training and market access programs on the newer cooperatives we added last year in preparation for this. Songuillay’s graduation is part of the continued fulfillment of our long-held goal of moving cooperatives through our business training program, called the Impact Model; giving them the skills they need to lead successful, independent businesses; graduating them from our model; and opening more space for new cooperatives that want to learn to run their own businesses.

“We developed the Awamaki Impact Model as a way to encourage the women to make improvements in their businesses and to take initiative in their work,” Kennedy Leavens, founder and executive director, explains. “Our vision is that through our program, they will not only earn an income but also learn to run a successful business beyond our guidance.”

Thanks to your support and their hard work, we believe the women of Songuillay are well on their way.