Awana Wasinchis is located in Cusco, Peru, the gateway city to the well-known Incan citadel, Machu Picchu, set high in the Andes Mountains. Meaning “our home of textiles” in Quechua, the indigenous language of Peru, Awana Wasinchis is a fair-trade cooperative of weavers from Andean communities.
The weavers sell textiles made from their own alpaca and sheep. Wool is spun with a drop spindle and dyed with local plants. Then it is woven on backstrap looms using traditional Incan patterns that have been passed down through generations.
Many tourists visit Cusco while on their way to Machu Picchu. It is full of people trying to sell things, from high-end stores with traditional artisanal pieces to people on the street selling earrings. But Awana Wasinchis is the only fair trade shop in Cusco. With its complex weavings, it represented, pre-COVID-19, nearly 250 weavers from over a dozen villages in remote locations outside Cusco who bring their work to the shop to sell. Weavers received 80 percent of the sales price and 20 percent supported the shop.
While the skill of these Andean weavers is recognized internationally, they are disappearing, like so many indigenous traditions and languages, because there is little incentive to continue.
This was all before COVID-19. The country has been hit hard. Tourists disappeared overnight, and Cusco was under a strict quarantine for weeks. And still people died. Cusco wasn’t spared and neither were the villages, remote as they are. Sickness and death has touched many families, leaving children without one or both parents. Food supplies are dwindling, and healthcare is non-existent. The shop is closed, perhaps not to reopen. The co-op has contracted to four villages and 70 families.
A mother and son who founded the cooperative a decade ago are trying to help families hit by coronavirus, carrying food and medicine—a four-or-five-hour walk one way. Through a long-time colleague and world traveler, we learned of this need and a GoFundMe site to help support this community. The situation is dire and it is unlikely tourist dollars will return in time to save the small shops, weavers, and a culture that is dying along with its people. A donation of any size will help families weather this storm, and can help to preserve a craft passed down through generations.