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.