Reconnecting with artisans in the mountains

This past Sunday night, my supervisor, Daniela and I took a night bus to Huancavelica to start a two-day excursion to visit most of the artisan group members of Bridge of Hope.

The trip took us to Huancavelica, where we took a collective car to the Yauli district intending to meet with members of Tupaq Yupanqui, Sumaq Ruracc and Achka Maki. In the afternoon we returned to Huancavelica to meet with El Mercurio and then take a collective car two hours to Huancayo. On Tuesday, we met with La Esperanza and Llamkay Tuki. Tuesday night, we came back via another night bus.

During the trip, Daniela presented new design ideas suggested by Bridge of Hope clients, while I continued my project of taking photos and videos of the groups to update each group’s page on our website. I also invited each group to an artisan gathering in March, in honor of the Peruvian Day of Artisans. Most importantly, we rekindled and maintained some relationships that had been starting to waver in recent years as the quantity of orders diminished while the time between visits increased. Plus, I learned a heck of a lot about the role that Bridge of Hope plays in assisting artisans. Overall, it was a productive and critical trip on a personal and organizational level.

In fact, the trip was so productive, I have far too many reflections to be offered in one post. I gained a greater appreciation for Fair Trade, thought about ways to model the concept for study, and witnessed notable disparity in artisan success even within Bridge of Hope. I’ll leave that for other possible posts and choose instead to stick with an overview and a short reflection on my own growth.

As I said, the trip was successful. The whole picture obscures a few little hiccups along the way. Some were minimal. I decided to pack light and had far from the proper warm weather attire and rain gear for the mountains, which are currently in their rainy season. Luckily, Yody, the leader of the group, El Mercurio, provided me with a small blanket to help me survive.

Additionally, our first visit, with Tupaq Yupanqui, was something of a mess. Daniela had prioritized this group, having organized a workshop on improved weaving techniques for them. Unfortunately, we learned upon arrival that the group did not have the necessary tools and materials for this workshop. Likewise, several members arrived three and a half hours later. This slow morning meant we had to cancel our visit with Achka Maki, as we were too far behind schedule to meet with them and be able to move on to Huancayo that night.

Daniela was visibly upset and frustrated, but persevered to show them new design ideas and have a frank discussion about communication. Also, she agreed to provide funds for them to buy the necessary tools for each group member.

Looking back, that perseverance was inspiring. Especially, alongside my own floundering. Admittedly, I was not surprised that the whole process seemed to break down. I’ve, somewhat unfortunately, come to expect these sorts of hiccups whenever coordinating with folks in the mountains. In some ways, I feel bad being so frank about it, but generally sometimes things move more slowly than people from the outside expect. It’s not my place to make any explanation as to why that is, but it’s what I’ve noticed.

Unsurprised by the slow morning and mildly confused as to whether or not I should wait to get started, I sat alongside Daniela, occasionally taking pictures. I am still working on moving past my frustration with these scheduling miscues, because they are exactly what holds those in privilege back from helping others in solidarity.

For example, my video interview was objectively worse with the Tupaq Yupanqui than the other groups that were far more organized. I struggled to connect with this group. Later, it became clear to me that Tupaq Yupanqui’s lack of organization comes from a lack of notable success with fair trade. Those that are the most need are often the toughest to help.

Of course, sometimes groups stay unresponsive and that is very frustrating. Daniela circumvented the question of when to stop offering support, by offering more autonomy. She is pushing all groups, including Tupaq Yupanqui, to seek out and submit workshop ideas for approval by Bridge of Hope.

Admittedly, the strategy of participatory development is not a new one. It’s not a silver bullet. Still, it aligns far more with the fair trade schematic and will hopefully lead to group empowerment, even if that is arguably unmeasurable.

After the slow start with Tupaq Yupanqui, we went on to have a far more successful set of meetings with the other artisan groups. I conducted more fulfilling interviews, developed a slightly more inviting approach, and decided to share the best photos with the artisan groups and show the videos at our gathering in March. It’s a small gesture, but one I think will truly help build and maintain relationships.

Plus, Daniela and I had some much needed bonding time. It’s not that we didn’t not get along before, but we were often on different pages. My hope is that going forward, we will both work better together for the greater cause of BOH.

From here my plan is to write a few other posts with more targeted reflections on the trip. If those don’t come out, my apologies. I have quite a lot of video editing to do in these next few weeks.

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