In Her Words / A Message from our Artisan Partners in Peru

Awamaki from Kennedy Leavens

Dear Ibu allies,

When I started Awamaki in 2008, I was 24 years old and had no idea what I was doing. I was living in Peru and volunteering for a small non-profit that helped women artisans connect to markets. When the organization unexpectedly folded, my Peruvian colleagues encouraged me to start a new non-profit so we could continue. We have gone from a spirited but disorganized startup run mostly by foreign volunteers to a focused and professional non-profit. One of my proudest accomplishments has been guiding that transition and building a team of committed effective Peruvian women to lead the project with me.

Awamaki Artisans

Women artisans in the Patacancha Valley spin, weave, and knit fiber from the fleece of their sheep and alpaca herds. 

Almost all of our original group of 25 weavers still work with us, though the artisans number closer to 200 now. Two sisters started with us as teenagers, the youngest of five girls being raised by a single mom. I have known these sisters for fourteen years. They have grown into artisan leaders as I have grown into my role here, too. While most of the women speak primarily Quechua—many did not have access to a school growing up—these sisters learned Spanish which would serve them well in the future. They graduated school, married, had babies, and later rejoined the cooperative. I remember seeing Jesusa, with a baby on her back in the kaypina, speaking to me in perfect Spanish and quizzing me about how we price their products, then translating my answers to the whole cooperative. It was amazing to see her confidence and willingness to question someone in a position of authority—very unusual for women in the Quechua villages. Her ability to speak Spanish also allowed her to build a thriving tourism business, and it is incredible to see her confidence dealing with people from outside the community.

Jesusa and her daughter

Jesusa and her daughter, Lourdes. 

The Ibu Foundation is now helping us build a weaving center so we can shift our time into a nearby group that hasn’t had as many opportunities. I am so grateful to the Ibu community for all your investment in our artisan partners and their future. Leadership opportunities and the chance to connect to markets and earn a living is transformative for women. Imagine Jesusa’s daughter’s future, with a mother  that has control over her finances and her choices, and a voice in her community. I am so grateful to you for being part of our ability to collaborate with these incredible women.

All my best,
Kennedy Leavens
Founder and Executive Director, Awamaki