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Global Gifts: Artisan stories from Peru 

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click to enlarge Rosa Pariona
  • Rosa Pariona

Rosa Pariona Antonio

Artesanías Señor Ccechccamarca

Rosa Pariona produces small stuffed animals made from different types of wool: alpaca and sheep, for example. The animals are common Peruvian animals like guinea pigs, vicuñas, llamas, rabbits, and chicks. She also makes hats and gloves, throw rugs, and seat cushions from the same wool. "Anything that can be made from wool and skins, I make. I can sew anything!"

Her most popular product is the vicuñas. She has had her workshop since 1984.

Rosa is from Huancayo, a city in the mountains approximately 8 hours from Lima. She never knew her mother; she and her two sisters were raised by her father. One sister now lives in Lima, the other in Italy. Rosa learned all of her artesanía skills from her father, who, she says, knew how to make nearly anything. "He didn't make large quantities of products but rather made many different types of products, all beautiful. In addition to making bags, clothing, rings, hats, he was skilled in carpentry and also built houses. He really knew how to work!"

She married and had nine children. Rosa's husband began to drink heavily and abuse Rosa, including selling their comfortable, 2-story home in Huancayo without telling her and without giving her any of the proceeds from the sale. She realized she had to leave.

She had land where she grew vegetables (the chacra), apart from their home in Huancayo. "When he started to drink and treat me badly, I thought, where am I going to go? Am I going to go to the chacra? No, because the kids didn't know how to farm. I have to go to Lima for the opportunities."

She left with her children, ranging in age from 5 to 15. They left with just the clothes on their backs, without even money. They slept on cardboard "beds" on the floor of an empty house for three months near the center of Lima. She sold drinks and ice cream, anything she could sell to begin saving a little money.

Soon, however, Rosa realized she needed to move her family. There was a lot of unsafe behavior near their home, and her kids were frightened.

A friend told her that in Huaycán, on the outskirts of the district of Lima, there was available land. Rosa commented, "I like the climate here. There is always sun in Huaycán, it never rains. It's good for drying out the skins."

So they moved to Huaycán and spent one year living on the hillside, a place where the poorest of the poor make their homes. The hillsides rarely have access to utilities and life is a barebones existence.

She had slowly started to construct their house; they had walls but no roof. An earthquake caused her neighbor's house to fall onto hers. It destroyed their home and almost buried them there too. While they went to the clinic to have their injuries examined and treated, all of their belongings were stolen. She had to start over, yet again.

Rosa's big break was when a buyer from Ten Thousand Villages ordered 10,000 stuffed alpacas and gave her a $5,000 advance. "With that money I was able to buy land in Huaycán and start building our own home. He took a chance on me, giving me that money without really knowing me. I was really grateful."

Her son Enrique built the workshop for her. The front room is a small store, showcasing the artesanía produced inside as well as selling soft drinks and water to neighbors. Rosa commented, "He deliberately made the front room with a curved wall so that a large window could be placed there, bringing in a lot of light to the store to more beautifully display our products."

Rosa later remarried, had two more children, and her husband now works with her in the business. She designs all of her products and has taught her husband the skills needed to work in the workshop. She likes everything about running her business, from the drying of the skins to the sewing and stuffing; even the quality control. "While it takes a lot of time to do quality control and correct items when necessary, it is expensive to have others do it and it isn't done as well."

She currently has 9 workers, in addition to herself: three are family members (her husband and two of her oldest children). The six others perform their work in their homes, coming and going from the workshop as needed to pick up materials and drop off completed products.

While she has always been involved in artesanía in one form or another, before starting her own business she made little bags, jackets, socks. She also spent a lot of time in her chacra, tending to her crops. "I have worked so hard to provide my kids with food and clothes and an education."

All of her children are artisans and are skilled in various forms of artesanía in addition to working with leather and wool. Some carve wood, others carve gourds or make beaded jewelry. Even her youngest, a 15 year old who is still in school, is skilled at artesanía, making beaded bracelets. Rosa is proud that they each can support themselves with these skills from her family.

Her orders have lowered since the economic crisis started. Whereas she used to produce 15,000 vicuñas per year for clients, she now receives orders for approximately 6,000 vicuñas annually. When she doesn't have many orders, she augments her income by preparing typical Peruvian food to sell such as cuy (guinea pig) and pachamanca (a dish of meats and potatoes, cooked underground). She rents a kiosk nearby when she has food to sell.

A local parish often has international visitors who come and place orders after seeing her products in her store. These are smaller orders, though, dozens of products instead of thousands.

She explained that she doesn't have a store in Miraflores, the main neighborhood in Lima that tourists visit, due to the high costs involved. "How am I going to survive if I have to pay out all that money? People come and make small orders from our store here. And every few months I receive an order from Manos Amigas for about 2,000-3,000 vicuñas. I appreciate that Manos Amigas immediately pays me, since then I can go back and immediately pay my workers. They always give me an advance, too, without asking."

Manos Amigas is her primary client. Rosa appreciates that Manos Amigas treats her well and always fulfills their promises. They are very prompt with their communications. "They are part of my family," she says.

Rosa can point to very specific ways that her life has changed and improved since she has worked with Manos Amigas. Going from sleeping on cardboard boxes with nine children, with no support from her ex-husband, to building a home and workshop, running a successful business and ensuring that all her children were educated as well as learning the family trade, even after having had to restart from scratch several times... Rosa is resilient!

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