Ashli Akins, an ambitious 20-year-old, decided to exchange her classroom studies for a real-world education by learning Spanish and backpacking through Peru. She fell in love with the small village of Ollantaytambo, nestled in the Sacred Valley, and made friends with the high school students there. The students are of the Quechua culture and were torn between the desire “to preserve their indigenous culture and the need to develop economically for a more prosperous future. They couldn’t find a way of doing one without losing the other,” says Akins.
A Need To Preserve Peruvian Culture Emerges
Hand-woven textiles using patterns that have been handed down for centuries have kept alive the important stories of Quechua culture. Globalization, synthetic dyes and fibres, and machine-made products now compete with the culturally rich handmade textiles in the local markets. Economic development in the villages has brought new jobs requiring expensive post-secondary education, which is out of reach for many. Uneducated youth are left unemployed and often more poor than prior to economic development. “I tried to figure out an innovative way to marry the two problems (tradition versus growth) so they could help and support each other,” Akins explains.
Non-profit Organizations Inspired By Ashli Akins’ Vision
Akins’ vision to address the tension between tradition and progress led to the evolution of three non-profit organizations: Mosqoy (meaning “dream” in the Quechua language), a post-secondary initiative for promising underprivileged youth; Q’ente Textile Revitalization Society (which means “hummingbird”), an ambitious program to promote Quechua weaving; and Global Stewardship Education Initiative, which enables Canadian students to experience world development issues in their schools. Volunteers drive these programs. “It’s at the point where we know the model works,” Akins says. “What we need now is financial longevity.”
Atkins’ dream has moved far beyond her initial vision of raising university tuition for her friends. Many people ask her, “Why Peru? Why not support something like this in Canada?” Her response: “I guess I see the world as somewhat borderless. It is our business, and we are part of the problem if we are not directly and actively being a part of the solution.”
When viewed from the air, Machu Picchu is the shape of a hummingbird: a powerful symbol of regeneration and rebirth for the Quechua people of the Sacred Valley of Peru. Each year tiny hummingbirds make a remarkable journey from Peru to Canada.
Find out more about the humanitarian work of Ashli Akins and how you can help the preservation of Peru’s culture by visiting mosqoy.org.
To discover more about Peru’s weaving communities, visit qentesociety.org.