After lunch the first group and I began the second project, earrings, with a new technique, wrapped loops. Unfortunately this time I did not have Doña Maxima to translate and instead had to rely on the other Spanish speakers in the group who were also trying to learn the technique. Also, wrapped loops are far more difficult than the basic loop and the class got off to a rocky start.
Many women initially complained that they were unable to do the technique, and that it was too hard. Over and over I told them it would just takes practice, yet I don’t think I convinced anyone (although who knows how many understood what I was saying!). For a moment I thought all was lost- between the language barrier and the difficulty of the technique- yet we persevered.
I am so proud to say that after a lot of coaching, patience on all our parts, and repetition the women all learned the technique and finished their projects! I had three favorite moments during this class. The first was showing a woman, who was having a lot of trouble, the technique over and over again until, finally, when she understood, her frustration turned into laughter. The second was also with a woman who was having a lot of trouble and who I had to work with a lot. For a moment I turned away to help someone else and when I turned back to her she was doing the technique on her own! The third was hearing a women, who initially said, “We can’t do this, this is too hard” say, after finishing her project, “I can do it!”.
In the meantime the first group finished their bracelets and we took photos of the women wearing their new creations! When the second group finished we took photos with them as well and I watched as women tried on their earrings and dangled them in the sunlight.
In total we had 23 women in the jewelry making class and 2 men, for a total of 25 participants, ranging in ages 16-75. All the women in the class finished their projects and no one gave up due to the difficulty. Dorinda was impressed with their dexterity with the pliers since, she told me, many of the women have difficulty holding a pen. We all agreed the class was a great success and women not only learned a new skill, they were also empowered.
After the class and photos the association had a meeting, which was conducted mostly in Quechua. For the past few days Dorinda and I have been talking about product design with the weavings and how we can make products from the weavings to sell in the United States that are practical for the women. One big change we agreed on is the women need to limit weaving ch’uspas, which are traditional square shaped bags.
The problem with ch’uspas is that bags of a similar shape and style are made all over the world and popular with importers, priced for far less than a fair trade price. Also, the ch’uspas require specialty finishing work that many of the women are unable to do well. The result is that, often, after the women spend so much time making the ch’uspas, they are unable to sell them for a good price, or at all, due to the quality of the finishing work. Dorinda and I agree that that the women should still weave ch’uspas for a Bolivian market, yet if they want to move into a foreign market, where they can receive a fair price for their weavings, they will need to weave other items, which just so happen to be less time consuming and easier.
Dorinda told the women the decision was up to them, as we do not want to make them do anything, yet the women agreed that it wasn’t practical to spend their time weaving a product that doesn’t sell. They also agreed that they were open to working with other designs, which is a great step forward as now Ruraq Maki can begin to focus on product design and how to help the women earn the most out of their weavings. Dorinda also reminded the women of the importance of consistency but, like anything, it will be a process learning how to implement consistent standards and quality control.
I couldn’t be more pleased with our trip to Huancarani. After the meeting the women I am convinced launching the Manos Indepedientes program was the right decision, as these women, with such determined spirits, need a bridge to a larger market, and that is exactly our goal.
Written August 1, 2012