Magazine article New Internationalist

Trading out of Trouble: Alternative Traders Often Operate in Countries, and under Conditions, Where Conventional Traders Fear to Tread

Magazine article New Internationalist

Trading out of Trouble: Alternative Traders Often Operate in Countries, and under Conditions, Where Conventional Traders Fear to Tread

Article excerpt

Peru -- hope at hand

Juan Licas Coronado, president of the handicraft group Razu Willka, is taking me to the barrios altos to visit some of the artisans who work there. Bumping over dusty tracks in a battered old minibus with melancholic huayno music screeching out of its broken windows, we rattle up to a part of the city of Ayacucho I never knew existed. Dry, crumbling hillsides are crowded with scruffy settlements, their corrugated-iron roofs glinting in the blinding mountain sunlight. Through years of civil war in Peru, migration has caused Huamanga to grow from a compact little town of 74,000 in 1981 to a sprawling mass of more than 120,000 people today. In a place where formal employment is rarely on offer, handicraft production is often the only alternative.

Alejandro Curo Borda set up his workshop here after he and his family were forced to leave their village in the 1980s. Alejandro works as a carver of the hard white stone known as piedra de huamanga. He shows me around his workshop and explains how he hopes to encourage visitors to come up to the barrios to see the artisans at work, rather than buy on the streets or in the markets of the city.

Victor Quispe Pizarro runs a workshop making retablos -- the religious altarpieces for which Ayacucho is justly famous. He is busily completing an order for a European fair-trade customer. On average he earns 50 per cent of the final export price -- far more than he could earn locally.

The Razu Willka group belongs to the Centro Interregional de Artesanos de Peru (CLAP), an unusual fair-trade organization that is run entirely by the artisans. There are 16 groups to which some 700 of them belong, mainly in poorer regions like Ayacucho. The organization has built up its own reserves and offers many benefits to its members -- training, raw materials, interest-free credit, healthcare, Christmas bonuses. It also supports a nursery school and contributes to many community events.

Razu Willka provides more than purely material benefits. Traditionally seen as belonging to the lower classes, artisans have broken the mould and gained a voice for themselves. Although still small, Razu Willka is an example of hope rising from despair, of empowerment in a land where so much has been lost.

Kenya -- hard lessons

Joseph Machina was born and brought up in Nairobi's Mathare Valley, a crowded slum area of the city. Like most children in the valley he had a mother but no father, and wasn't able to go to school. When he was about 15 he trained in jewellery making -- and it changed his life. …

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