Artisan group leaders in the Amazon share what the Minga bracelet means to them.
BY WANDA O’BRIEN
Behind every bracelet is a story of the woman who wove it.
Handmade in Ecuador, ME to WE Minga bracelets are symbols. Their woven threads are more than ornamental arm jewellery (although cute!); they represent women’s entrepreneurship, empowerment and friendship.
That’s a lot for a little bracelet, but it lives up to its name.
Minga is a Kichwa word. There is no one-word English equivalent. A minga is a call for collective action. It is a rallying cry for a community to come together in the pursuit of the common good. When someone calls a minga, people drop everything to help, be it to build a house, a school, a drainage system to prevent flooding, or—in the case of this story—join a women’s artisans circle.
We borrowed this inspiring word of impact and named a bracelet after it—a bracelet made in the traditional style of weaving found in the Amazon. These Minga bracelets serve many purposes. They create income, financial literacy and leadership building.
Across WE Villages communities in the Amazon, artisan groups bring women together to create change for themselves and to get the resources to further the education of their children. Each artisan group chooses their own name to celebrate how they want their group to be known.
We spoke with leaders from three such groups in the Amazon. Read on to learn the impact Minga bracelets have in their lives.
Mirian is a farmer, small business owner and mother of four in the Amazon’s Los Rios community. Since joining the WE artisan group two years ago, she’s added professional artisan and treasurer to her repertoire.
She joined the group for the job opportunity and the income. She wants to support all her children through high school and dreams of sending them to university.
“We’re an organized group of women. That’s what I like,” Mirian says in Spanish, through a translator. “We’re moving forward to benefit our children. What we want is to work and get more and more orders. I’m motivated. I want to share our craft with the world.”
The women contribute a percentage of their earnings to a group savings pot, using their collective power to strengthen their financial prowess. As treasurer, Mirian wants to collect enough savings so that the group functions as a small-loan bank, enabling women to take out micro-loans to develop other small businesses.
Her second youngest, Najelly, is in her first year of high school. When WE Villages launched a Girls Club in the Amazon, Mirian signed her up. The club provides girls with an opportunity to learn leadership skills, build confidence and access part-time income opportunities to help pay for school and keep them in class.
Like mother, like daughter.
Wilma always enjoyed creating bracelets and jewellery from fibres and seeds in the Amazon; so, when she heard WE was starting a women’s group with a focus on handicrafts, she joined. When she realized she was getting paid to do what she loved, she wanted to get more involved and sought a leadership role.
“When I was young, my parents sent me to school by foot, not even wearing shoes. When I think about helping my kids, I want to give them what they need.” Wilma, speaking through a translator, says she uses the bulk of her earnings to buy books and uniforms for her children.
Wilma joined the group to provide for her kids. The positive impact it’s had on her husband is a surprise.
Women take part in leadership development and confidence-building workshops that give the women new-found status in the community.
Wilma’s husband, Rene, is the elected President of the community. He also happens to be a self-identified ex-misogynist.
“Before I thought that women had to stay at home and didn’t need to attend any workshops, or anything,” he admits. Through exposure to the group’s activities, Rene’s mentality changed. “I realized that we both had rights, I learned to respect women and want to lead the community this way.”
Now, when Wilma gets a Minga order, Rene is beside her, helping to put the finishing touches on the bracelets.
Before the women’s group, Olga had never crafted. “At first, I didn’t know if I could do it,” she confesses. But the promise of extra funds to support her two primary-aged children gave her a push. My husband told me, ‘I think you can do it. You just have to work hard and show others what you can do.’”
She’s done just that. One of the first women to join the group, she’s encouraged others to take part. Whether it was reaching the milestone of completing 100 orders, or being elected group treasurer, Olga approaches each challenge as an opportunity to improve her family’s life. She hasn’t looked back.
Her group meets twice a week to talk about upcoming orders, participate in workshops and, simply, be present to support one another.
“We decide everything when we’re meeting. We talk about problems and how to move forward. This is the reason why we joined Sumak Warmi.”
That’s just it. The real impact of the Minga Bracelet lies in the way it brings women together—capitalizing on individual strengths and merits to bring out the collective power of the group.
A single thread can break, but a series of threads thoughtfully woven together? That’s a bracelet you’re going to wear for a long time.