During our trip to Peru we were able to visit with four of the artisan groups we work with: with Bridge of Hope we met with Llamcay Tuki (carved gourds), El Mercurio (knitted animals and finger puppets), and Munay Rumi (sterling silver jewelry). We also met with the group that carves Huamanga Stone from Manos Amigas. The meetings were a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about recent growth and changes in the groups, see new product designs, understand their challenges, and talk about ways to further develop our partnerships. They also demonstrated how they make their products, and I will forever be amazing as the skill, artistry, and resourcefulness of these artisans.
Each time a group from Partners for Just Trade or the Joining Hands network visits our artisan partners, we learn more about what it means to come together as a loving community, to persevere and be forward thinking, and to be connected with the earth in a profound way. The groups shared with us what they have learned through their work with their fair trade cooperatives. Their life mottos include: “don’t look back and keep looking forward”, “perseverance and future thinking”, and “there is no bad situation, because every situation can help us learn and grow”.
We also hear more stories about how individual members and the groups as a whole have overcome obstacles and challenges through applying Fair Trade principles and engaging with Fair Trade marketplaces. Many of them worked in situations where they worked too many hours, weren’t paid fair wages, and weren’t able to be there for their children and families. Many of them also either only had a basic knowledge or no knowledge of their handiwork craft. The artisans are better role models for their children and canengage in a better education for their children.
The artisans have grown personally, many of the artisans explained to us that before being a part of their cooperative they were timid, quiet, and weren’t able to stand up for themselves. Now, they know their rights and they are outspoken and defend themselves and members of their community against unfair or abusive treatment. They are leaders and mentors in their families and their communities.
For three of the people in our Joining Hands group, it was their first time meeting our artisan partners in person. We loved having them as part of our group because they brought a fresh perspective to our work and our partnership. After our meeting with the artisan groups, one of these new group members reflected, “For me to be able to be there and hand my money directly to the person who made my product was a really cool experience.”
The artisans also explained to us the meaning of many of the designs in their products and how they uphold important cultural values and their respect for the earth. For example, in Andean beliefs, the hummingbird is seen as a messenger and a connection between the heavens and earth. Owls are a sign of goodwill, wisdom and protection. The snake, puma, and condor represent the three levels of spirituality: the underworld, or death, the middle world, or life on earth, and the upper world, or the heavens. The artisans also use as many natural and organic materials as is available to maintain sustainability and avoid contaminants.
Not only are we able to see the the sisterhoods and the family-feel of the cooperatives during these visits, but we are able to build an authentic and tangible relationship with them as well, building stronger bridges and breaking down barriers. We are able to see what an environmentally conscious and caring business can look like, and we are inspired by the strength, hope, and passion of our partners.