In development work you measure your progress in lots of ways. You look at indicators like the amount of children in school and number people able to support their families, but you also look for stories — stories of progress and change that can only be told by the people who have lived them.
About a month ago I was in the community of Chaullacocha interviewing the weavers there including Lucia Castillo Yupanqui. She is both a weaver and the president of the weaving association in her community. Through a translator we talked about a number of things and I want to share a few of them here. I want to share them because they encouraged me and because I think they do a good job of illustrating how the people in the communities we work with are taking initiative into their own hands.
One of the first things we talked about was her children. Lucia said she now has enough money to send two of her children to secondary schools in a neighboring community. That means they’re gone most of the time but it is clearly something Lucia is proud of.
Another thing she is proud of is her community. Lucia moved to Chaullacocha after she got married and said she loves her village. She loves that there is room for her livestock to graze and she loves the natural setting. She also is eager for more people to know about her home.
Lucia told me that she hopes her skills as a weaver will continue to grow and that the women who weave with her would also learn more through the workshops. As the quality of the work increases, Lucia wants more people to discover Chaullacocha’s weavings.
She said, “I hope that we will get a bigger name and be better known by people in other countries.” She said this to me after I asked her what her hopes for the future were. I was expecting something along the lines of “I want a bigger house” or “I want to buy more animals.” When she told me that her hopes for the future involved getting better at her art and promoting her community I was surprised — in a good way.
Even if she does dream of sending more kids to school, building a bigger house, or anything else money can buy, she understands that she holds the keys to her future. We are there to help but ultimately it is the women’s own skill and hard work that is their source of empowerment.