Dear friends and supporters at NINA,
First, I want to say that we at Awamaki are so excited for this partnership. We love to partner with brands that are committed to giving back. Thank you to all the customers for purchasing prints from NINA and, in turn, for all the support for us at Awamaki. We are so happy to all work together to bring education and opportunity to women artisans in rural Peru.
A bit about us. We are based in Ollantaytambo, in the heart of the beautiful Sacred Valley of Peru, in between Cusco and Machu Picchu. We partner with artisan women from remote indigenous villages. Women in these villages are isolated from the modern economy, but they have incredibly rich artisanal tradition and practices. In normal times, we offer business training and market opportunities so that they can earn an income and create a sustainable and prosperous future for their families, their villages, and their culture.
In COVID times, all that has changed.
Peru had one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world; despite these drastic measures, it has also had one of the worst outbreaks and highest fatality rates in the world. Borders were closed and transportation and many basic services were suspended. Our female artisan partners were sequestered in their remote villages for months. They had to walk many hours to reach the nearest market or store. But even if they did, the shutdown left them without work or income. Many had no way to buy essentials like food and medicine.
Over the course of this pandemic, we at Awamaki have drawn strength from our artisan partners. As they work their land, practice their craft, and take refuge in their community, we are deeply inspired by their resilience. They have told us about a return to older ways and supporting each other with the custom of Ayni. "There are many people working in the Ayni," artisan Simeona from Huilloc told us.
Ayni, the principle of Andean reciprocity, means "Today for you, tomorrow for me."
This idea has guided Andean life for centuries. Ayni governs how villages work together to farm each family's fields and share resources. In the pre-tourism economy, this shared community effort was necessary for small farming communities to survive in the harsh and remote Andes. "Our grandparents used to practice Ayni, then the farms were abandoned," said Agripina of Patacancha. Now, as the planting season begins, families are taking turns working in communal labor parties in each other’s fields, trying to grow as much food as they can for the coming year.
As part of our mission, we strive to give a hand up rather than a handout. Opportunity rather than material support. But we recognize that, sometimes, material support is what's most needed. This year has been one of those times. Over the course of the past year, our artisan partners have gone from hardworking entrepreneurs building their businesses, to struggling to feed their families through subsistence farming. When they told us their greatest need was for food staples and household items like soap and matches, we launched a gofundme campaign to bring these essentials to them until they are able to return to work.
Our artisan partners and their communities are strong and resilient.
It is an honour to work with them and support them as they draw on their customs and the resources they have to build a better future, even as they face the threat and uncertainty that the pandemic has brought.
We are so happy to partner with NINA (and with you, as supporters and customers) so that we can continue to stand with artisans. We will do so through this difficult time, and all the way out the other side when we can rebuild a common future.
Founder at Awamaki
Photographer credit: Elaine McKellips