HUANTA, Peru (ILO Online) - In the heart of the Peruvian Andes, where fertile valleys and arid mountains form a landscape of harsh beauty, a truck rumbles on with an improbable cargo.
In the small village of Huanta, a group of women anxiously await its arrival. The cargo originates from far away, a factory in Vietnam. It is a load of Converse shoes, the mythical North American brand used by generations of young people all over the world.
In the village, embroiderers of Quechua origin put their local talent at the service of the global economy. Embroidering shoes with designs inspired by their ancestral cultures not only adds economic and cultural value to the product, but also represents an important source of work for the local community.
"For us it is great to have work, and we love to work", says Rosa Curi, one of the embroiderers.
Historically, the Ayacucho region has been a battlefield. Here, the last major battle of the Latin American Wars of Independence was won in 1824 by the Venezuelan Marshal Sucre. During the 1980s, the Ayacucho region was the epicentre of the terrorist actions of the Shining Path. Tens of thousands died and the economy lay in ruins.
Today, the Ayacucho region is fighting with grinding poverty and high levels of unemployment in a fragile rural economy. Almost all the embroiderers have tragic memories scarred into their minds, but today their work has returned to them their dignity and a decent source of work.
"ILO experts call this local economic development. This is key to the social and human development of women and their families in the Ayacucho region", comments ILO expert Mario Tueros from the Regional Office for the Americas in Lima.
Over 1,000 women in Ayacucho benefit from this work. Converse aims to employ up to 15,000 embroiderers throughout other regions of the country. The demand for their shoes increases every week in the exclusive commercial centres of Lima.
"This gives them the opportunity to reintegrate themselves back into normal life and save their age old customs as well as revalorise themselves and help recuperate their self-esteem", explains Jennifer Levy, the Converse representative in Peru.
Poverty and unemployment mostly hit the women in Ayacucho who are often victims of family violence generated by precarious social conditions. Vicky Bedoya who counsels the women and supervises their work also offers workshops on domestic violence and raising self-esteem.
But working for a global company also means respecting high levels of quality and tight production deadlines. The example of Marisol Cacéres, one of the instructors in Huamanga, the capital of the Ayacucho region, shows that this does not exclude friendship and comradeship at work. The women in their workshop laugh and talk, and they are proud of their work.
The cooperation between Converse and the embroiderers is part of a technical cooperation project financed by the Belgian development agency. For the ILO it is an example that shows the bright face of globalization.
"The project has generated opportunities for decent job creation and poverty alleviation in Ayacucho. Extending this kind of activity could transform the labour market of the region", concludes Tueros.