When I imagined my freshman year of college, never did I see myself joining something as important as Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace, much less traveling to Ecuador. Throughout the year, I worked not just to sell beautiful jewelry and textiles from our artisans but to learn and share their stories. When I was given the opportunity to visit our site in La Calera, Ecuador, I was ecstatic! I had heard so much about the artisans and their community and felt an internal need to see and meet them for myself.
Co-Directors Madeleine Wagner and Kealey Clemens, External Relations Coordinator Cindy Peréz and me, Event Coordinator, finally landed in Quito, Ecuador after three different flights. My excitement was almost as high as the altitude. Immediately, we were awed by the beautiful, mountainous landscapes. After spending the night in Quito, a taxi brought us to Flora’s house in La Calera.
Flora is the leader of ‘Sumak Muyo.’ The business name, Sumak Muyo, means “good seed” in their indigenous language, Quitchua. The day following our arrival, we were given a tour of the community by Flora and Marisol. The women showed us different community areas including ponds where they raise Tilapia. On special days, the community cooks and enjoys the fish all together. We got a chance to try it, and it was delicious!
Later that day, I met my gracious host for the week, Inez. She is a part of Sumak Muyo, but she also does works in Otavalo and the surrounding community to promote gender equality and to help victims of violence.
A lot of how change is made is through education. Women have become leaders in the communities that relay the importance of education to their children. La Calera is dedicated to preserving their indigenous culture and expanding the education of the community’s youth with the help from the jewelry business profits.
Throughout the week, we worked with the women to see how they make the jewelry and figure out ways that we could support their efforts. They showed us their work space at Flora’s house where they gather around 9 a.m. to begin work each day. Collaboratively, we created a new line of colors for the WWBM La Calera fall collection after looking through the bead inventories.
Then, together, we went with to a neighboring city, Otavalo, where the women of Sumak Muyo buy the beads. In Otavalo, we learned, firsthand, why it can sometimes be difficult to find the same colors every time.
Later, we saw how the women of Sumak Muyo pieced the products together and then, they had us give it a shot for ourselves. Collaboratively, we worked on developing new designs for men and women that will hopefully launch within the next year! Throughout the week, we learned the stories of our wonderful partners, friends and collaborators. We got to know them and their children, and shared many interesting conversations and laughs.
Overall, I will forever cherish having the chance to be immersed in the Spanish language and Ecuadorean culture. It was amazing seeing how these incredible women are becoming leaders in their communities through microenterprise and international collaboration.
!Ojala que tenga la oportunidad para regresar! | Hopefully I will have the chance to go back
This was blog was written by Ashley Summers, Event Coordinator.
Summer has arrived. Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace had a busy couple of weeks to finish off the spring semester and kick off the start of summer. Between the last few events of the school year, final exams and preparing for WWB Marketplace next semester, everybody has been on the move. We’ve had some big events like the School of Human Ecology’s Impact Fashion Show and the Morgridge Center’s Day of Service this spring. These events were able to help us strengthen our engagement with our community here at home and contribute to the success we share collectively with our friends here and abroad.
We were proud that our very own Graphic Design Coordinator, Erica Hess, had some of her original pieces in the spring Impact fashion show this spring! The event also allowed us to reconnect with some of our friends in the Global Artisan Design class who helped transform our current products into what we have today. Each piece only seems to get more beautiful every season. It was great to hear the stories of some many of the individuals who all play a different role in the connection outside of the business executive team that I interact with frequently. We were also able to share the success with our friends abroad by telling them the stories of our sales and events, and of course reinvesting profits back into their communities.
But this time it was in person!
This past week, four of our coordinators, Madeleine Wagner, Kealey Clemens, Cindy Pérez and Ashley Summers went to La Calera, Ecuador to meet with our global artisans. They’ve learned so much in Ecuador and have had a blast with the community in La Calera.
Madeleine mentioned the other day that they picked out colors for the WWB Marketplace fall collection. In between coffee breaks, they have also been working out designs for some new products and dancing with the community. When they settle back into summertime state side, they might even do a little guest blogging to tell their stories and our partner’s stories, first hand. Their plan was to lead workshops, learn the stories of our artisans more personally and connect with the community. We’ll be eager to hear the full details soon!
As for the rest of the team, with school out of session our staff is scattered all over the world. Our social media guru, Sophia Goldschmidt, will be spending the summer months in Australia working on social media with a foreign company. Hannah Keeser our master of wholesale operations spent some time already in Nicaragua for a global health field study. Our True Cost event queen, Jessica Stanislaus graduated and is now taking on the world. And I'll be keeping with the affairs of the nation and the world from Washington D.C. So keep your eyes peeled on social media for WWB Marketplace around the world. If you’re going on an adventure, take your WWBM pieces with, snap a picture and tag us in it --you never know, you might get featured!