Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ayacucho - Part 2

My morning begins at 10:00 AM when I am picked up by the Belgian development project driver and a Belgian volunteer who is going to translate for me. Our first stop is a business called Sumaq Qara, which started out as an 'associacion'  ~ these so-called associations seem to be the standard way of collaboration ~ of women who benefited from CTB investment in technology and capacity building during phase 1 of the project. They were trained in how to make and sell quality product, go to trade shows and transfer knowledge. 

These days Sumaq Qara is an organisation run by three sisters, employing some 400 women in different parts of the Ayacucha province which in the 1980s was ravaged by guerrilla warfare led by Shining Path, gross human rights violations and a reign of violent brutality. After the capture of the terrorist leader in 1992, the group largely disbanded, but (according to Sumaq's website) the devastation to the Peruvian countryside and rural populations will take many years to recover from. Today, many people are still displaced and wary of violence, which  has significantly curtailed the pace of economic development in the region. 

Sumaq Qara supports women by finding markets for products. It plays a vital role in the lives of women by training artisans to produce quality handcrafts, offering a foothold in the global marketplace, and helping to create greater income-generating opportunities for local women.   In the process of competing for global market share, Peruvian women come together to discuss common problems and solutions, learn from one another, and celebrate milestones within the group.
Sumaq Qara
Sumaq Qara provides its workers with the raw materials in turn for which the women get paid for piece work. The group leader brings the finished products to Ayacucha where they are finalised and prepared for shipping. About 80% of the products ~ intricately embroidered handmade bags, belts, cushion covers, jewelry and more ~ are exported to Europe, Canada and Australia. Export is facilitated by Prom Peru (think Austrade) through participation in trade shows.  Participation also allows them to keep up with market trends and reverse engineer designs in demand.
Yuu - Commercial Manager

Sumaq Qara has a website and commercial manager Yuu ~ who learnt to use technology in college ~ uses email to communicate with clients. When potential clients approach Sumaq Qara via the web, she gets Prom Peru to do a 'due diligence' check before she enters into trade. 

Yuu says life has changed dramatically for the women who work with Sumaq Qara. Earning their own money contributes to family income, builds confidence and makes the women less dependent on their husband, all of which contributes to reducing violence. A large percentage of the women workers are abandoned single mothers for which income is crucial to feed their children and send them to school. The biggest issue for Sumaq Qara, says Yuu, is the huge responsibility to keep the women in work. I requires belief in self and perseverence.


The next stop is Asocacion Carmin 11 de Junio where we are greeted warmly by Alejandrina who is the leader of the association, supported in an earlier phase by CTB. Asocacion Carmin is considerably smaller than Sumaq Qara, employing around 30 women in the region. They make alpaca shawls, gloves and toys using only natural materials and dye. 

The association is not in a position to directly compete in the marketplace and sells its goods via intermediaries including Sumaq Qara. They do not always receive fair market price for their product but have little recourse. After covering overhead, there is little left for expansion, training and knowledge transfer and the organisation would need  Alejandrina is not computer literate and depends on her daughter to communicate online. Not that she really needs online technology as she mostly interacts face to face with local women and local intermediaries either face to face or via mobile phone.

One of the ongoing issues for the association is continuity of work which ~ while not related to climate change ~ is reminiscent of the situation in Bangladesh. The association would need financial assistance to increase its output and diversify to keep up with market trends. Yet despite these issues, Alejandrina has great hopes for the future. She wants to start selling direct to market and look more 'professional' by building a showroom for clients, despite the fact that the outdoor setting has its charm. It takes courage and persistence, but Alejandrina says she is destined to help the women of the region and the struggle makes her stronger. 

Quality Control


I return to the hotel for lunch and ponder the fate of these women and their organisations.  Clearly the support from organisations such as the Belgian Development Agency helped to get these organisations on their feet. But I am told that phase 2 (2008-2012) of the CTB project ~ stretching across all 11 Ayacucho districts ~ no longer has an entrepreneurship component, so struggling organisations are either left to their own devices or need to secure support elsewhere (another example of 'dead aid'?). Clearly it also helps to have direct access to market, have ICT knowledge, and the entrepreneurial savvy to compete for market share. There seems little collaboration between associations which adds the pressure of competition to the already heavy responsibility to keep Ayacucho's rural women in work, on top of which one can only wonder how long before the market is saturated?


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ayacucho - Part 1

This is a big week!  I am going on a field trip organised by a section of MIMDES that administers the 'Program Nacional contra la Violencia familiar y Sexual'. Family violence against and sexual abuse of women is a huge ongoing issue in this macho society and there are many streams within this large national program. 

Violence against women is rooted in women's lack of power in relationships and in society relative to men. In many societies, women are expected to be submissive and sexually available to their husbands at all times. The World Health Organisation ((WHO) puts abuse by a partner at 11%  in provincial Peru, but I am told that in reality a substantially larger proportion of women experiences (sexual) violence.

I am introduced to Betty, the Director of an integrated program to combat violence supported by CTB ~ Belgian Development Agency which is the equivalent of AusAid ~ in the Ayacucho region. Phase 1 of the program started in 2005 in 4 of the 11 provinces of Ayacucho ~ also the name of the capital city ~ with violence prevention, awareness raising, training of social workers and police, fostering collaboration between prevention agencies, and supporting the pathway from violence to entrepreneurship. It is the latter component that will be my focus in Ayacucho.

Ayacucho is 500 kms south east from Lima in the south-central sierra of the Andes and the mode of transport to get there is either on a small plane, which leaves at 5:00 AM or an overnight bus. I am told buses and roads are quite good and safe, so I opt for the 10 hrs bus ride. Compared to Bangladesh, the Cruz del Sur bus is sheer luxury! There is only a small but... Ayacucho is 2.746 metres above sea level and the bus driver has to shift gear on every corner as the bus crawls up the winding mountain road. It doesn't do much for sleeping but beats looking down into the steep valley worrying about a big bus on a small mountain road..

Cruz del Sur bus
But it's all worth it when I get there in the morning. Founded in 1540 Ayacucha is a remarkable colonial settlement known as  the"Ciudad de las Iglesias" (city of the churches) for its 33 churches ~ which represent each year of Jesus' life ~ and beautiful buildings. My hotel is in a prime location, looking out over Ayacucha's main square Plaza de Armas. 

Plaza de Armas

The handicrafts of Ayacucho are some of the finest in Peru and apparently admired all over the world.  I am slated to visit several women-led handicraft associations as well as a guinea pig farming cooperative. There is a fair bit to cover and rather than cram it all into this blog, I will post a couple more blogs on Ayacucho in the days to come, so stay tuned.