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Emily Larson 2019-7-9

Supporting women entrepreneurs in Peru

The handmade alpaca clothing of Pan Peru weaves together the stories of underprivileged Peruvian women and the generosity of the Western Union Foundation. The hands that knit these pieces are the hands of single moms and teenagers. They have struggled for the opportunity to overcome the challenge of limited access to clean water, electricity and education. The Western Union Foundation provided just that opportunity, to which one woman proudly exclaims, “I consider myself a crocheting and knitting entrepreneur!”

The stark, jagged peaks of the Andes are beautiful but isolating. This makes the rural highlands incredibly difficult to survive in. The government has largely overlooked this region due to its inaccessibility, and the consequences show.

Pampas is a small village nestled high in these mountains. To this day, the 1,500 population subsists by farming and herding, which is simply not enough to cover basic needs. The women in this region agonize under the expectations to marry young and provide for their children. Sadly, there are few opportunities to improve their impoverished situation. Many women feel that they cannot do more, and their community only confirms this.

My mother, Julia Ardiles de Espinoza, was born in Pampas. She walked three hours to school, learned under ill-equipped and often drunk teachers, then trekked three hours back home. At that time, Pampas had no highway and no reliable electricity. Julia worked hard to attain scholarships for higher education. Eventually, she became an entrepreneur, climbing out of the grip of poverty.

My mother knows personally the obstacles before these women; however, she also knows their determination and ability. Because of this, she took on a crazy dream in 2004 to start Pan Peru. This 501(c)3 nonprofit educates, equips and empowers the most vulnerable women of her home to also become entrepreneurs.

Towards this vision, in 2018 the Western Union Foundation funded a weaving workshop through the employee nomination program, WU Gives. The 3-month workshop trained and mentored 23 women from the rural highlands. Through this, women learned the production technique of handmade alpaca clothing, product design, commercialization, marketing, and production.  Already these women have generated an incredible $6,800 in revenue from producing over 100 garments. Now, these new entrepreneurs enthusiastically embrace their skills and their quality of life is improving.

To help support organizations like Pan Peru, Western Union employees can nominate non-profit organizations  year-round for a WU Gives grant.

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