It had always been my ambition to live and work abroad, to experience new places, cultures and ways of living, which led me to study languages at university. This dream was put on hold due to the global pandemic, but by May 2021 things were tentatively starting to look better with vaccinations being rolled out across the world. I decided it finally had to happen. The universe certainly agreed with me as I did a quick google search and within half an hour found the Madres Luchadoras project. This combined two great passions of mine, the empowerment of women, and textiles. I applied straight away and 5 months later, here I am. 

“What is this project you’re going to work on ?” you may ask, as many of my family and friends did. Well, Intiwawa has been supporting families in the Mollebaya district of Arequipa, but realised that additional financial and emotional support to the mothers of these families would be extremely beneficial to both current and future generations. They therefore started the Madres Luchadoras program, which trains the mothers in knitting and garment making, and supplies the materials, so that the “mamitas” have both a skill and a product that they can sell. 

After a week of quarantine, I began working with the Mamitas. I arrived at a time when the group were finishing their training  and were handing in practice products, and so I went straight in to trying to understand and organise the intake and outtake of materials and finished garments. 

I also tried my best to start to get to know everyone and understand a bit more about their lives. I learned about the sacrifices these women make just to attend the sessions at Intiwawa, as well as finish the quotas of products attributed to them, as many also work long hours at other jobs as well as looking after their families. 

As the weeks went on, my role also included sourcing and collecting new materials and tools in town, making an inventory of finished products which will be sold internationally and also at local markets, helping to organise and run our place at this local market (feria), keeping updated on the progress the mamitas were making and trying to keep everyone informed of day to day activities. This may seem a lot, especially considering my still sub par Spanish and unfamiliar country and culture. Luckily I have the support of Manon, the general director of Intiwawa, Luis, the president, and many of the other lovely volunteers, whose hard work and dedication to Intiwawa and the families of Mollebaya is truly awe inspiring. 

As I become more integrated into the Madres Luchadoras project, I feel more and more excited about its potential and the opportunities it creates for the mamitas and Intiwawa as a whole. We are currently working on “Intiwarmi”’s (mothers of the sun) first official collection of hats, gloves and scarves that will be made from high quality 100% baby alpaca wool and which will be sold in Europe via retailers and on the Intiwawa website. We are also hoping to send some other handmade products out in time for Christmas, so keep your eyes peeled!

Other than that, living in Arequipa is great fun! The food is cheap and tasty, the people are friendly, the traffic is crazy, the buildings and landscape are beautiful and the weather is predictably variable – sweaty in the day and freezing cold as soon as the sun goes down. I’m lucky to live in Intihouse, a big historic house right in the centre of the city with amazing views of the mountains from the terrace. Arequipa itself is very lively and, little by little, things are starting to reawaken after COVID. I can’t wait to explore how many more things Arequipa, and Peru, has to offer!

Each week out here is different, but every day I am learning and experiencing new and exciting things! 

Many thanks to Intiwawa for having me, and many thanks to you for reading!

Ella McGee