Ecuadorian mother makes money to support her family as a WE artisan.
By Wanda O’Brien
Olga Shiguango’s eight-year-old daughter asks to get a snack from the corner store.
“Put it on my credit,” Olga tells her.
It seems totally uneventful, but it represents how drastically life has changed in this small community on the shores of the Napo River.
“I couldn’t do that before,” the 29-year-old mom explains. Before joining the WE artisan group in her community of Bellavista Baja, her family struggled to afford basic meals. Extras were out of the question.
Olga lives in a community in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. It’s accessed only by canoe or a bumpy, dirt road that cuts through the jungle. Jobs are limited. For Olga, the only income option was farming, but even that wasn’t reliable. Then, her husband Saul—a builder—went through a period of unemployment.
“We didn’t have money,” Olga says. Preparing basic meals, like yuka (a root vegetable) with a bit of salt, became the norm. Eggs were considered a luxury. Some days, the family would have only chicha, a local drink made out of corn. A high school graduate herself, the mother of two was struggling to keep her kids in primary school.
In March 2014, WE—already in the region to rebuild a school—requested a community meeting to discuss income opportunities. The gathering had one provision: women only.
Inspired by the region’s rich ancestral history of crafting, WE asked if the women wanted to form an artisan group. Olga, along with her sister, sister-in-law and nieces, were some of the first to form the collective, and together, they learned to turn indigenous fibres and seeds into beautiful jewellery.
“At first, I didn’t know if I could do it,” Olga confesses. Although this region of the Amazon is known for its traditional crafts, Olga had never made anything before. She wasn’t going to let that stop her, though. “My husband told me, ‘I think you can do it. You just have to work hard and show others what you can do.’”
The group started meeting twice a week and with the training provided by WE, women not only learned how to make handicrafts, but also acquired skills in financial literacy, small business management and public speaking. With each milestone—such as finishing her first order of 100 bracelets or being elected group Treasurer—Olga’s confidence grew.
Olga first used her extra income to cover the basics of food, clothes, school supplies, and medicines. After the essentials were taken care of, she made her first large purchase: a fridge. Now, that money is going towards an education fund for her children.
When Olga’s daughter is not studying, she likes to help her mom. On those days, the artisan beams with the pride of a working mom providing for her family.