By: REBECCA WONG
Sunday, July 14, 2013
We took a break from the building today and instead visited a women’s co-op in Sumak Ahuana and spent the afternoon with a woman in Santa Anita doing everyday chores. Little did I know this day would impact the rest of my life.
When we arrived in Sumak Ahuana, the Chimborazo volcano had apparently erupted, so we had to wear masks to avoid inhaling the volcanic ash. Definitely something none of us ever had to worry about at home!
We broke up into groups and went to three different stations of activities the women in the group performed. The first one I went to was the weaving station. The women had three different weaving “looms” that they used to weave ponchos, sweaters and hats. The second one was the sheep shearing station. They laid a sheep on the ground and cut off its wool not with an electric buzzer, but with the exact same pair of scissors I have at home to do crafts. The cutest part of that experience was seeing one of the women’s sons named Sebastian, who was only five years old, help his mother shear the sheep, and showing us how to do it properly. Boy did he show us up! From that activity, we moved onto cleaning the wool and then turning it into yarn, which you do by stretching and twisting the wool on a spool.
After getting to try all the activities, we went inside to their little store where they sell all of the handicrafts they actually make themselves. Before we got the chance to purchase the items, we got to participate in a question and answer period.
We learned that all the money that they get from sales goes to three things; materials, labour (the women get this money) and to a “credit union” which is used to invest in things their community needs. The women each get a share of the money (about $2) which they bring home to either feed their family or to pay for their children’s education. The group of 10 women, who meet monthly but who knit 24/7 (literally – they knit when they’re at community meetings, walking down the street, talking to their friends), have changed their entire community’s way of thinking.
Many women in the village suffer from discrimination from gender discrimination as Ecuador is still a machismo dominated society. Many other women were not permitted to be in the group because their husbands didn’t allow them to participate in any type of group where the women could have power, like community meetings. Many of the women suffer from physical abuse from their husbands and are rarely permitted to attend school. But this is all starting to change.
Once the women started bringing home money from the sales of their sweaters, ponchos, hats, mittens, scarves, socks and even leg warmers (how cool is that?!), the men started to see the value in having a women’s co-op. What’s even more amazing is the impact it’s having on their children and the next generation. Just like Sebastian, many children accompany their mothers to group meetings and knitting sessions, even helping them out. But it’s not only daughters who come with their mothers; it’s their sons, too. And these boys see how powerful their mothers are and consequently are learning that machismo needs to be eliminated. The women believe that by the next generation, machismo will be completely eradicated. Fathers are starting to allow their daughters, and even encourage them, to attend school, seeing the benefits of empowering girls. Most of the women have gone back to school, even completing university studies. Women are slowly starting to gain equality. And all because of one group of 10 hardworking ladies.
We followed that eye-opening session with a little shopping trip. I spent half of all the money I had brought, buying a sheep wool sweater and mittens, and alpaca wool socks and scarves. Never have I felt better about spending all that money on clothing. I knew it was going straight to these incredible women who deserve 110% more.
We then got to experience the everyday life of a woman by tagging along with the woman who started the women’s group and many others – Maria Angelica. She lives in Santa Anita on a farm with her father, mother and siblings. She also happens to be Sebastian’s aunt. The little boy’s skills weren’t restricted to just shearing sheep, oh no.
He told us which potatoes were good enough to eat and which ones to throw out; he cut alfalfa from the field way faster than I can even type the word on a keyboard; and he showed us girls how to milk a cow the right way. Man, he wasn’t afraid of anything. He did each task flawlessly and skillfully. But never once did he complain. Any child who had to do manual labour back home would have probably started whining after say, half an hour? But this kid? Not a word. The hard work of every single person I met just blew me away.
Lesson of the day: Women are powerful. Women who were discriminated against and victimized still decided to stand up and do what they believed needed to be done. And they changed their whole world.
Song of the Day: “Corre” by Jesse & Joy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2hM9CLAMu4