Workshops that Empower

By Leighton Katz, Marketing and Communications Intern

A core piece of our work at Awamaki is supporting our artisan partners with the training and education they need to be successful entrepreneurs. This can be hard because we need to overcome language, cultural and educational barriers to do this. For example, many of our artisan partners are not literate, and some have spent very little time in a classroom. Many are nervous about speaking publicly, even in their cooperative. Trainings also need to be conducted in Quechua.

We have worked over the years to find training methods that are respectful, complementary and effective in Quechua culture in order to overcome some of these barriers. Recently, we partnered with Pabel Aimituma, a local economist from Cusco. We worked with Pabel to lead a series of five workshops varying in subject matter, such as self-esteem and business skills, all topics of which support our mission of women’s empowerment.

Pabel began his career working for an NGO and quickly realized that vulnerable groups, in this case indigenous women, were not getting the attention or accommodation necessary to achieve their goals or experience success in various professional settings. He decided to curate workshops that focused on skills that the women cared about learning, and ones that would actually benefit them in the long run. He began to design workshops he believed would make an impact by communicating with the women and asking them about their desires and their business needs.

When building the workshops, Pabel strives to incorporate games and group activities instead of lectures. He explained that he prefers being a facilitator to his workshops and encouraging the women to figure things out on their own rather than just telling them what to believe and how to think. He wanted to create a space in which the women could have fun and connect, while also learn valuable lessons about themselves and their communities. Before facilitating the workshops, he researched extensively about the women in their specific environments, allowing him to customize each workshop to fit a certain community’s structure, and makes sure the language he uses is clear, direct, and resonant.

Because he works in a social field, he is exposed to various displays of vulnerability and poverty. He explained that indigenous women are especially susceptible because of their limited access to sustainable economies. When I asked him about his main objective in creating the workshops, he replied, “ to contribute to improving the quality of life of rural families through the reaffirmation of cultural identity and providing information to make better decisions.”

Pabel’s workshops aim to convey that success, freedom, and personal happiness knows no age, color, gender, religion, education level, or socioeconomic stratum.

Virginia, one of our partner artisans from the community of Huilloc who attended a full series of the workshops, mentioned her favorite part of the workshops were “the interactive activities centered around group dynamics.” Virginia started working with Awamaki more than five years ago. Now, at 30, she has begun to set up a support system for her children and her community. “It is improving our lives, so that we can gain what we want for our children,” she commented. In the workshops, she especially appreciated the parts of the workshop that explained the benefits of having a clean and organized life.

One of the workshops centered around organization and managing group dynamics. To begin the workshop, Pabel instructs the artisans to form a circle. A common first activity of Awamaki workshops is an introduction circle in which the women toss around a ball of yarn, while holding onto a piece to create a web, and then alternatively following the path of the yarn backwards untangling themselves as a team. The activity is meant to represent the ways in which people in a community are connected. Once each woman introduces herself, Pabel directs a group discussion about why organization is important for a successful business. He advocates for universal participation, and asks follow-up questions to encourage the women to further their creative thinking skills.

Pabel often works with large visual tools such as the posters he used to explain the cycles of organization. He portrays the process in a way that is accessible for all artisans using large illustrations and cheerful colors. Whenever an artisan has a question, Pabel answers in a thoughtful and deliberate manner to help encourage participation and questions from everyone.

After the discussion, he asks the artisans to form groups of six. Once the groups are formed, he brings the first group to a table in the middle of the room. On the table is a marker with six strings attached to it and a blank piece of paper. Pabel instructs each woman in the group of six to pick up one piece of string. When all six are holding onto a piece, he told them to draw a picture, one group drawing a sun, another a moon, or a flower, or other various seemingly simple items. Each holding on to one-sixth of the marker, the women have to work together to create an image, requiring not only teamwork but highlighting how vital communication can be for a group to succeed together. This exercise highlights values like patience, cooperation, and flexibility. Once all of the groups had drawn their pictures, Pabel led the artisans through a group discussion about the takeaways from the exercise.

Over the years, we have seen an immense amount of growth from our artisans thanks to work like this. From increased confidence in speaking in public and to people from outside the community, to improved business management skills, we can see a real difference between the cooperatives who have graduated from our program and those just starting out. Partners like Pabel help us create a culturally respectful and effective approach to entrepreneurial success so that our artisan partners can help create a better life for their families.