SEATTLE — Though Peru has experienced development and economic growth in recent years, severe poverty and inequality remain issues for the country. There exist troublesome contrasts between the rural and urban populations, as well as the male and female populations. Extreme poverty is primarily a rural phenomenon in the country, where 32.9 percent of the population is affected compared to only 3.5 percent in urban areas. Additionally, high levels of gender-based violence, unequal access to resources and teenage pregnancy have led to alarming gender gaps in Peru. However, disheartening though the statistics may be, one organization in Peru, the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC), has been committed to improving conditions for victims of rural and female poverty for more than 40 years.
The Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco is a nonprofit, indigenous weaving collective based in the Cusco region of Peru. It was created in the 1970s when a group of indigenous women weavers came together to study and learn about the slowly disappearing traditional textile designs of their culture. The women pioneering this effort also hoped to market their high-quality textiles to the developing tourism industry in Peru and help support weavers, most of whom live in extreme poverty. Today, 40 years later, the members of the CTTC are still weaving and reclaiming their culture.
Recently, The Borgen Project had the chance to speak with Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, the founder and director of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco. Alvarez discussed the important role that the CTTC plays in the communities that it is a part of and the various programs that the organization operates throughout the greater Cusco region.
The Borgen Project: What issues was the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco created to address?
Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez: The CTTC began informally in the 1970s as a group of indigenous women weavers in Chinchero who saw their textile traditions disappearing before their eyes. They decided to work together to recover the designs, techniques and styles that were being lost, and began to meet in each other’s houses to study old textiles and speak with elders. Their second goal was to sell their textiles in the budding tourism market in order to earn an income independently of their male family members.
After years of hard work, the women eventually founded the CTTC as a nonprofit in 1996, with the idea of addressing the same two problems: recover and revalue traditional Cusqueñan textiles that were in danger of disappearing forever, and support the weavers, most of whom live in extreme poverty, through the sale of their textiles at a fair price. Today, we work with 10 communities spread throughout the region.
TBP: How have the 10 communities who have partnered with the CTTC benefited from its services and its role in their communities?
NCA: Through the sale of their textiles at a fair price, many of the weavers and their families have been able to greatly improve their quality of life. They are able to invest their new income in their children and land. More children are able to complete high school, and now many young people are even going to university or institutes in the city of Cusco. Families can access better health services and improve their homes or even buy more land.
The weavers are now proud of their traditions, of their textiles and of themselves. After centuries of discrimination and abuse, many indigenous people no longer wore their traditional clothing. Today, the CTTC weavers are proud to use their traditional clothing and are proud of their work to recover their traditions and the influence they have had on others.
TBP: Lastly, can you speak about the education department run by the CTTC and some of the programs and functions of this branch of the CTTC? I was particularly impressed by the “Young Weavers Groups”; can you talk about this program?
NCA: The Education Department in the CTTC includes our two museums, Weaving Lives located in Cusco on Av Sol 603, and our recently inaugurated Weavers House in Chinchero. [It also includes] national and international fairs, exhibits and events, a small library on textiles and related subjects, the permanent collection of textiles, […] Tinkuy: Gathering of the Textile Arts (an international conference we organize every four years or so) [and]three yearly events: one for the adult weavers, one for the young weavers and one for the general public.
In the last few years, we have been focusing more on the Young Weaver Groups. Each of the 10 communities works with a group of young people who are between 6 and 30 years old. Each Saturday or Sunday, they meet in their community weaving center to learn to weave from their elders. In this way, the next generation will be able to continue traditions on into the future.
Despite the challenges that Peru faces, the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco is working to improve the lives of many in their home country. It is often easy to become jaded when looking at the the multitude of inequalities that exist in our world today. But in order to measure our progress towards making the world a more equal and fair place, it helps to see some of the good work being done to make impactful change.
– Clarke Hallum