The Story behind Madres Luchadoras

In 2017, together with various committed volunteers in Arequipa, Intiwawa went in search of ideas for a sustainable project that would allow the mothers of the children of Intiwawa to generate an alternative source of income from the physically exhausting work in brick production and to promote the mothers’ self-confidence and self-worth, which in turn would contribute to the long-term development of the community of San Isidro, Arequipa.

Initially, Intiwawa pursued the idea of creating a bakery. Thanks to the generous support from donors, we were able to fundraise €2,475 for this new project in the spring of 2018. A small, dedicated team of local volunteers quickly teamed up to carry out a comprehensive feasibility study. The study included an analysis of the local market, financial viability and
projected benefits for the mothers. Contrary to our expectations, it turned out that the framework for the project was not viable and the risks higher than initially assumed. Due to a highly saturated market for bakery products in San Isidro, the profit margins would be considerably lower than expected and would therefore generate very low salaries, making the self-sustainability of the project impossible. We would only have been able to hire two mothers to work in the bakery, for a salary that would end up being only slightly higher than brick production. In addition to this, the working hours for this type of work are not family-friendly. For all these reasons, the benefits for the mothers and the community were not as convincing as we had initially hoped. We decided to abandon the idea of the bakery project and identify alternative projects that would meet the developmental goals of IntiWawa and contribute to the mothers’ empowerment.

In the following months, we evaluated various new project ideas. In mid-2018, Intiwawa decided to create a textile project called “Madres Luchadoras”, with the idea to train the mothers in producing textiles made from alpaca wool and sell them in the local and international markets. Its aim would be not only to create a viable, alternative source of income for the mothers, but also to empower them through their active participation in the social and economic life of their community with equal rights and opportunities. Consequently, this will improve the quality of life of their children and families and contribute to promoting their identity, values and customs. 

The project initially began at the end of 2018 with 10 mothers of our Intiwawa children. Supported by trainers, the mothers were first taught the basics of sewing, knitting, and weaving, before starting to make a variety of textile products. More mothers progressively joined and started to sell their products, ranging from little bags for a local organic chocolate company to pillow cases to sweaters and other clothing items. After having produced 1000 textile bags for chocolates, Intiwawa invested betterplace funds for an in-depth training of the mothers at the beginning of 2019. Reaching the end of that year, the mothers had produced 500 clothing items of which more than 300 items as well as approximately 750 chocolates decorated with textile bags have been sold, leading to a total income of up to 15000 Soles. A whopping 50% of the initial investment had already been regained in the mothers’ products sales after only 6 months, giving us high hopes for the long-term financial self-sustainability of this project!

With the money raised in 2019, we purchased 6 weaving machines and started the first classes of training on these machines in March 2020, just a few weeks before all onsite activities were shut down due to the first COVID-19 cases in Perú and the subsequent quarantine that followed. The year 2020 has not been an easy year, especially for our mothers living in the community of Mollebaya who have had to cope not only with the lack of employment brought on by the pandemic, but were also faced with new and urgent needs such as means of protection from COVID-19 (masks, disinfectant, etc.) in addition to the lack of financial resources to support their families, attend to their children’s medical and new technological and educational needs. Due to the extraordinary restrictions as a result of the pandemic, we designed a 100% online training with the objective of continuing with our mission to empower mothers and to be a
point of support in the midst of the health crisis that has been affecting underprivileged families in a profound way. In addition to the textile production and leadership training, our mothers also received psychological support – for example, identifying various difficult situations in their homes – as well as personal finance classes where the mothers learnt that the time and dedication they put into their weaving training has an economic value which should be recognized.

In October and November of 2020, we made an inventory of the products woven by the mothers in 2019 and exported 73 of the 259 hand-knitted pieces to Germany, selling all of these products during our Christmas campaign and generating an income of €1274! After deducting transport costs, 80% of the revenue has been paid out to the mothers and 20% will be returned and reinvested this year for our program needs. The project has evolved since its beginnings to include a stronger holistic component in our mothers’ social and economic empowerment, encompassing not only textile training but also support in other key areas – namely psychological and financial. The idea for the future of Madres Luchadoras is to progressively involve the mothers in the areas of administration and commercialization of their products and to continue supporting them so that they can become leaders in their communities and use the financial, productive, socio-emotional and marketable skills they have learnt to achieve their dreams and contribute to sustainable change in their communities !