Just sitting around knitting (and changing the world).

I hate meetings. In fact, I’ve pretty much developed a career around avoiding them. So I was somewhat dismayed when my introduction to Heifer Peru came in the form of a women’s meeting in Puno – a city about 14,000 feet above sea level in the south Central Highlands near beautiful Lake Titicaca.

The view outside...

Luckily, this meeting was like no women’s networking session I’d ever attended. For one thing, everyone had the same hairdo. The room was a sea of long black braids, topped by outrageously insouciant hats, tilted just so.

The view inside...

Instead of power pantsuits and hire-me heels, these women were decked out in abundantly colorful, multi-tiered skirts, intricately embroidered vests and spangled blazers. And while listening intently, almost every woman was simultaneously knitting or crocheting– hence getting a lot accomplished. I loved it!

The softest alpaca goods -- so beautiful!

The women were there to celebrate Heifer’s FEED project, in existence for 4 years with a mission to improve food security, nutrition and income, and encourage women in eight Puno rural communities to produce and collectively sell their handicrafts.

Like many of Heifer Peru’s projects, the FEED program is aligned with a local organization called APACHETA, The Center of Andean Development (obviously, Peruvians are as acronym-crazed as we are). While Heifer guides, funds and monitors APACHETA’s activities with 700 Peruvian women and their families, the leader of that organization is Cleida Incacutipa, a formidable 6-foot tall woman who used to work for Heifer but is now boots-on-the-ground in APACHETA’s drive to improve the lives of Puno women in ways both simple and complex.

Candida Canaza & the incomparable Cleida Incacutipa

The “simple” part is giving women the animals and the trainings to improve their families’ nutrition and income – teaching them how to grow more potatoes, breed the animals for income, and produce more high-quality handicrafts. More complex is developing leadership capabilities in these women farmers, training them to advocate for themselves in their households, neighborhoods, and local governments. To say Cleida has a gift for this kind of work is an understatement: she knows every woman’s name and personal history, she’s hugely dedicated, and she believes passionately in their capacity to achieve.

Three local leaders: Lidia Quiroz, Felipina Apaza & Elisabeth Ticona ...power to spare!

In a world where women are often not allowed to attend or speak in their local village meetings (not to mention their own households), Heifer’s gender equity sessions represent nothing less than a quiet revolution. From dealing with domestic violence to organizing a Congress of Female Farmers to running for local office, these women graduates of the gender workshops are taking the empowerment ball and running with it – especially the three fabulous rabble-rousers I sat down and talked to, while their friends were busy displaying their award-winning handicrafts on hilariously Caucasian manikins.

The women spoke again and again of the life-altering discovery that “I have a voice.” Once they truly embraced that, it was natural to begin to ask for things for themselves: workshops and looms to improve their community handicrafts, municipal help to support their entrepreneurial efforts, and always, in the Heifer way, offering to share knowledge and decision-making with other women to lift them up, too.

“In the past we were asleep,” says impish Felipina. “And then we woke up. We are new women now.” 

At the end of the long afternoon, I woke up to the shopping opportunities at hand, bought some beautiful hats, and got hugged about a million times around the neck. It was just about my favorite meeting ever.

Categories: Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “Just sitting around knitting (and changing the world).

  1. Martha Radatz

    ¡Viva those quiet revolutions! You gotta love those faces—how DO they keep those hats from sliding off? ¿E tú, habla español?
    Thanks for this. In 5 years of living in Cuzco, I never did make it to Lake Titicaca, so thanks for this window!

    • Hi Martha – I have NO idea how they keep those hats on, but how cool are they??! I was in Peru before but never made it to Lake Titicaca, so I was thrilled to get the chance — although it’s so high, I was panting the entire time! And I was entirely inspired by the quiet revolution, too … these women are SO brave to challenge the status quo, drag their husbands to the workshops to get englightened too, and step out to shake things up in their rural communities — SO inspiring!!

  2. You look so happy!! I retweeted this!! Happy Weekend!

    • Thanks, Sherry! It was impossible NOT to be happy around these women — they were not only so open with their personal stories, they were adorable and amazingly affectionate. I had no idea I was going to get kissed so much — and who couldn’t use more of that??!

  3. Mary McHugh

    Love following your beautiful adventure!
    Thank you for shining the light!

  4. Thanks for opening the window into that beautiful country. I take my hat off to you.

    • Can you believe that I didn’t even get to purchase one of those glorious hats (although I don’t think I could pull it off) … love to you, Rosie … and your knitting mom!!!

  5. In your travels did you ever find the answer to how those women keep those hats atop their heads? The hats are never actually ON their heads, but hovering over them…


    • Occasionally, Ronnie, the hats will tilt off far enough to fall enough, but VERY infrequently — I really have no idea how they stay on, but it doesn’t appear that they’re fastened with hat pins. What a mystery!

  6. musingsofastormypetrel

    I love it!! These posts make my day 🙂

  7. Okay Londgergan. That’s it. I am officially really really jealous. I love knitting. People who knit get it. I have read about the wonder of these women, please write more, more pics. I kinda hate you.

    • Darling, what kind words! (and you can misspell my name anytime — it’s kind of a rite of passage!) … I’m going to be writing another whole post on the knitting/weaving thing, so stay tuned! I even have a video of spinning alpaca wool! I’m not really gifted in that arena (at ALL) but I love that so many people are so fascinated by it. And hate is so similiar to love, in its intensity — I’m flattered! ( :

  8. Sorry I misspelled your name.

  9. Deb Morrow Palmer

    I love all these posts also. I have loved the history of the Incas and their desendents. I love their arts and talent, and I love the hats!! Ha!! How do they keep them on their heads?? I pray for the opportunity to see the country someday. Thanks again for sharing.

    • I hope you get to see Peru, too, Deb — it’s an amazing country and really truly gorgeous! The history seems so tangible and it infuses so much of their present day culture .. you’d love it!!

  10. Ginger O'Neill

    Hi Betty,

    Does the high altitude attest for the fact that these women do not have any grey hair? Although they all adhere to a similar dress and style, their individuality comes out in each and every remarkable face.

    Again and again, I don’t know how this world ever became so patriarchal. Women across the globe are emerging as the power hitters in one form or another. Certainly, we would have far less wars globally than we do today, if women were in power. I guess their is hope for the generation we raised. That is, if they can get off their smart phones and engage a bit more!!!!!

    I would really like to know what youth today would vote Republican?



    • Ginger — Only you (and me!) would be most mystified by the fact that these women NEVER seem to go gray! I asked my Peruvian friends and they had no idea, but if we could market THAT, it would be better than discovering oil! As for the patriarchal system that keeps so many women under its thumb, I don’t get it either. Every macho guy is raised by a mother — so how can they be so unwilling to give women their rightful due?? Hope that gender equity really does become the new reality … it’s about time!!

  11. Women – they make the world go ’round, don’t they? You just continue to capture their beauty and strength on every level! xo

  12. We certainly DO make the world go round, Ivette! If there is one thing that has really profoundly moved me in my travels is the strength, hope and boundless work that women do … and how, if you help a women succeed, she will pass it along to her whole community. I’m so moved by the Heifer commitment to gender equity, and how it infuses almost every part of their teachings … Thanks for your sweet comment!

  13. Love, love, love the hats. What a hoot. Think you could grab me one to wear to the Derby next month? Millener’s mania!

  14. Betty, I don’t always comment, but I always read your blog. I am so moved by the Heifer program, your travels with them, and the heartwarming, amazing ways in which women are coming together, supporting one another, and learning from each other. If I were to win the lottery, Heifer would definitely get a portion of my winnings. It hasn’t even been a hundred years since women in America won the right to vote and look how far we’ve come! But we still have a ways to go. I am so envious of your travels and live vicariously through your posts. Thank you for helping to make the world a better place for all women.

    • teresa hart


      The earth moves on a woman’s hips, they are round and smooth and sometimes sink ships.
      I learned about hefier in sunday school fifty years ago and via the net it found me again… It is great to see a whole new crop of women growing and empowering each other, this is the real deal……

      AND love is powerful, Teresa

  15. I wish you were sporting one of those marvellous hats in the photo. 😉

  16. I can’t even imagine those women watching mindless reality shows or reading celebrity gossip. They seem to understand the value of time. Thank you for this post, Betty, and all the others. You’re helping to educate the world.

    • Charles, these women get so much done (with their husbands’ help!), and they are really ON FIRE to try to improve the lives of their community. It’s amazing how this one Healthy Homes program has opened this window for them, where they can see that there may be hope for a much brighter future — and they feel capable of doing it! It was profoundly moving to see them building extra bedrooms in their homes, to have a place for visitors to stay .. that’s how much they want to bring tourists there. And why not?? It’s literally one of the most charming places I’ve been — so happy you wrote!!

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  19. Pingback: Deep Thoughts About Peru… | Heifer 12 x 12

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