Following a strand of wool… we ended up in Bolivia

Following twisting paths in search of those who are passionate about using natural fibres, it is inevitable to come across someone who has chosen to live in the same place as the animals who provide the precious threads – llamas, alpacas and vicuñas – and the women who have always used them (because spinning and weaving are generally considered women’s jobs the world over). This particular someone is Patrizia Palonta, President of Coordinamento Donne di Montagna (the Mountain Women’s Organisation) and Head of Progetto Donne Controcorrente (the Women’s Counter-current Project), which is financed by Tavola Valdese. Having just arrived in Bolivia, Carabuco to be more precise, 3,800 metres above sea level on the shores of Lake Titicaca, it did not take her long to realise that if she wanted the project to succeed then she would need to stay. She knew that she had to look beyond the picture perfect lake and see the decay that lay behind it – she met the women and children living there and understood that any help they received would need to be tangible, consistent and well-motivated. Put simply, she had to stay and make herself at home in a country so far from her homeland and the mountains where she grew up.

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The rallying cry in these parts is redevelopment and recuperation. Local traditions have become as badly polluted as the waters and the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Polluted not by the native people themselves, but by the western world which for years has plundered and contaminated for its own gain, contributing to the cultural, economic and dietary impoverishment of the entire region. Urbanisation and mining produce the majority of the chemical pollution, with plastic contributing the rest. These aspects of the ‘western model’ have been introduced to Bolivia, which has been helpless to stop or even adequately resist them, for example by introducing urban cleaning which only exists in certain towns.

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Patrizia’s challenge was to revive the ancient traditions of female handicrafts in an eco-sustainable setting. This included wool and all its various uses, along with weaving and its products, which can be sold to an international public attracted by the unique nature of handcrafted products. Synthetic colours introduced by the western world are out.

Recuperating knowledge of traditional handcrafts and reintroducing them to the younger generations, unconscious victims of the loss of this knowledge, is also part of her strategy, as is introducing new techniques that can be used to transform the raw materials and threads into something new. It is a job of epic proportions that must be carried out step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson, making Carabuco an anchor for dozens of women who are taking back their most ancient traditions and getting rid of the burdensome superstructures that the ‘civilised’ world has imposed on them for years.

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In our long-distance chats, which take place at night or dawn due to the time difference, we discovered a common goal – the desire to seek out and promote sustainable lifestyles. And so we are able to travel part of our journey together – because sharing experiences and promoting them go hand in hand. No Serial Number has started to document and promote what it is happening thanks to Progetto Donne Controcorrente, and the coming months will see a new project launched, Sistema Titicaca (Titicata System). We will try to follow it as it moves closer in the direction of sustainable recovery and we will share information about it in a systematic way so as to maximise the project’s results. Here, our objective is to increase awareness of the women participating in the project and all those who wish to contact them through our pages.


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