When Pablo Neruda visited the ancient Peruvian city of Machu Picchu, the ruins inspired an entire book of poetry. In The Heights of Machu Picchu Neruda called to the indigenous people who once lived there: Look at me from deep in the earth,/tiller of fields, weaver, quiet shepherd /Show me your blood and your furrow /And give me silence, water, hope.
Every year thousands of visitors flood to the tourist town of Cusco, Peru, and pay top dollar to hike the old Incan roads and clamber to see the abandoned city cresting over the top of Mt. Machu Picchu. Quechua men from nearby villages also flock to Cusco. Looking to make a living, they frequently act as porters, carrying equipment and cooking for the travelers. These men are descendants of the Incan people Neruda spoke to and, for generations, they have made their lives on the steep slopes of the Sacred Valley, in the shadow of Machu Picchu.
In 2005, women from one of these villages, Ccaccaccollo, got together to find a way to make a living while remaining in their community. With the help of the nonprofit Planeterra Foundation, these women founded the Asociación de Artesanos y Productores Agropecuarios Ricch’Ary Ccaccaccollo. Now 43 members strong, the women produce alpaca wool and weave it into clothing, bags and household textiles. A partnership with the travel company G Adventures ensures that 30 to 90 tourists visit Ccaccaccollo each day and have the opportunity to purchase goods directly from the artisans.
Besides supporting the families of the individual weavers, the cooperative works to enhance the foundations of the community. They have built a structure that doubles as a weaving studio and a meeting hall. Through teaching their craft they ensure that new generations learn the ancient weaving skills.
Instead of chasing the tourists to Cusco and moving to look for menial jobs, these Ccaccaccollanas, most of them Quechua speaking and illiterate, use time honored knowledge to bring tourists to their village. Through a business model that allows members to control production, sales and profit, the cooperative gives the hope for which Pablo Neruda asked.
To learn more and view a video about this cooperative visit Planeterra’s site by clicking here.