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Sorapa is a small farming community in the Puno region. It is home to more than 30 families that raise colored alpacas. Once a year, they shear the animals for fiber to make clothing and for sale. But these small producers are at a disadvantage in a market that has high quality standards and demands white fiber almost exclusively.
In 2005, Heifer Peru began working with this community through the "Sustainable Development in High-Mountain Communities in Southern Peru" project, promoting the recovery and appreciation for the value of the diversity of colors in alpacas.
With training, the families, especially the women, began to recognize the worth of their work.
"Because we raise alpacas, we have raw material in the form of fiber in different natural colors, but this year we have been paid very little. So we have organized to produce our own handcrafts. In textiles, you can combine natural colors so they look pretty, and we can earn more than we could be just selling the fiber. We make different products, such as sweaters, scarves, gloves and other handcrafts." Elsa Huanca
In 2008, 15 women formed the "Alpaqueritas de Sorapa" handcraft association, courageously setting out to help the community regain interest in protecting the biodiversity of its colored alpacas.
The next year, 14 members of the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs-GFWC in the US state of Florida visited Sorapa as part of a Heifer Project International Study Group. They were welcomed with a traditional festival in the community, and the visit offered the opportunity for the two groups of women to meet. The women from Florida admired the attitude with which the mothers in Sorapa faced their community's difficulties. As they learned about the women's situation, they identified with them and decided to support their efforts by purchasing a loom and two knitting machines.
The women of Sorapa saw this support as a form of resource sharing that joined their communities. On May 10, 2010, the community held an agricultural fair with dancing, weaving contests and an exhibit of its best alpacas. The people invited local officials and families from nearby communities to celebrate with them.
"All the women in my community, especially those in my organization, are happy because of this sharing. We thought we were far from fulfilling our dream of having this equipment. We thank the women of the United States, who are sharing this equipment with us, from the bottom of our hearts. This is a huge motivation for us to keep working together as an organization." Elsa Huanca.
The president of the craftswoman's association felt the support as renewed encouragement for the women's effort to organize and remain united despite all the challenges they faced in making their dreams come true:
"At times, it seemed that my organization was falling apart. We were sad, because someone found out there was a large order for sweaters or scarves and we could not commit ourselves because we were afraid we wouldn't be able to do it. It's very difficult to fill large orders if you only knit by hand, but now we can even make blankets with these machines. No matter who comes to place an order, now we can accept and fulfill our commitments." Elsa Huanca.
With the sharing and the emotion of the day, these two women's organizations, which might seem so different, actually share the same hope of contributing, through their work, to a better life for the people in their communities.
"We women are always encouraging our husbands to keep breeding and conserving colored alpacas, because for us the natural colored fiber has great cultural value. …we want to keep progressing together, and everything we achieve will be for the good of our children." Elsa Huanca.