When I was an undergraduate, I was fascinated by the idea of helping others in the world. So after graduation, I got an office job in the development sector. But my office job was boring and somehow it seemed far disconnected from the field. So I decided to go to the field to gain some real field experience and make a ‘real change,’ working with local people. As I had a wonderful time as an exchange student in Peru, I knew I wanted to help to improve Peruvian society, especially in terms of women’s empowerment. That’s why I joined the HELP Women Project with OCN.
For the last two months, I have been working on the coordination of two women groups of mothers; the baking group and the sewing group. The baking group sells their products (mainly cakes and traditional Peruvian cookies) at Los Pinos or at el Comedor. Currently, they are focusing on promoting their products in Huanchaco. The kitchen for the group is under construction, too, meaning they will be able to produce more once it is finished. The women sewing group produces bags, T-shirts and other products to order. Currently they are working on the order for 40 bags. They also want to promote their business and develop new designs and products for tourists.
HELP Women – Moms of baking group with their cakes
HELP Women – Selling cakes at Los Pinos
My role includes having regular meeting with mothers of the two groups to help their planning, improve their marketing, checking up on progress of the production and sales, helping them to solve problems, communication with OCN and el Comedor, etc. I have to confess that the two months I have been here have been too short to achieve something big for me. However, I have been able to understand how the project works, build intimacy moms and their kids, and earn their trust a little bit.
HELP Women – sewing group cutting fabric
Working for the women project is much more challenging than I had expected. Sometimes moms don’t show up without letting you know. You want to call them but some of them won’t pick up the phone, or don’t have a cell phone, so you’ll end up waiting for them the whole day. Other times, you will have a meeting with mothers for 4 hours, only to have no result. You may want to offer them a help in a sustainable way but they will say that is not exactly what they want.
Things change at the last moment and you won’t have a clue. Their common sense won’t be exactly the same as yours. Moms are busy with taking care of their kids. Sometimes it is difficult for you to understand being a mother. These are the problems I have faced. It can be really frustrating when you try to make a difference with so many new ideas for their own good but you encounter such unexpected problems.
However, I can also say that I have learned a lot over the last two months working with mothers and other volunteers. By helping mothers make embroidery bags, I have learnt how difficult and laborious sewing is. I have definitely learnt to be even more patient than before. I also have learnt the importance (and difficulty) of communication to work with people from different backgrounds and what it is like to work as volunteer. Above all, I realized that change doesn’t come easy. Change means overcoming the cultural background and the habits of their lifetime. Obviously it takes a very long time and with much effort.
The most rewarding moment so far was when I received a message from one mother, saying ‘You know what? I like you so much. I am really happy that you are with us.’ At that time I was discouraged that I couldn’t see any progress on the project. It seemed that I was so useless there. But that message relieved me. I thought I was somehow making a progress in terms of earning their trust even though it wasn’t visible.
HELP Women – At an event for the Mother’s day
My favorite moment was when moms and volunteers visited the fundraising event of Exquisipan. That day, the baking group’s promotion plan wasn’t really successful and they had a lot of cake left in the basket. We were worried about how to sell them out. Us, the volunteers, were thinking about selling along the beach, but moms suggested selling at the fundraising event of Exquisipan.
Soon after, they talked to the person in charge and got permission to sell at the event! And one of them said, “You know, this is our business, so I figure out how to solve the problem.” Moms tried to solve their problem on their own initiative and they did! It was another touching moment that showed their growing ownership. They used to wait for others to solve their problems, but they have became independent little by little. I was happy that it actually worked that we had tried to ‘help’ solve their problems, not for us to solve their problems instead of them. That night, we couldn’t sell out the cakes at the event. However, we had a great time together enjoying the event – taking selfies, chattering, and taking a rest from the problems they had in their homes.
HELP Women – At the fundraising event of Exquisipan
I have ten more months left here with the moms. I hope I can help them to develop a strong sense of commitment as well as ownership. As well as a sustainable system that can really work for both groups. More specifically, I would like to help the baking group to acquire a sales licence from the municipality. Also have their own place to sell their products and promote sales in Huanchaco. Meanwhile, the sewing group is relatively at an initial stage as business. I hope I can help them develop new products by organizing some field trips to professional sewing workshops. In terms of marketing and sales, I would like to help them receive new orders and display their products in some local shops.
If you are dreaming of being a development worker and are looking for a real field experience, this project is a good option for you. First of all, Huanchaco has a nice beach and sunset, with which you can relax when things are tough. Secondly, the moms are very friendly and welcoming. Thirdly, you can use your discretion and creativity in this project. Lastly but not least, you never know what you are going to experience. Everyday you will face a new situation that you’ve never experienced. Sometimes moms will disappoint you but other times they will surprise you in a way you’d never expect!
Huanchaco beach and sunset
For more information on the specific positions available please visit our website at http://otracosa.org/projects/help-women/