We spent most of this week in Cuenca, Ecuador, travelling several hours each day on winding roads to see our two panama hat co-operatives in the region.
Sara and Mark spent the first few days working on Quality Control and finalising ribbons and trims for our SS10 collection. I didn't get to our main Panama hat association until Wednesday as I had to make a presentation to members of WFTO Latin America in Quito. Several Latin American members are starting to implement the Sustainable Fair Trade Management System and I talked about the tools we had developed to assess our producer groups.
I arrived at the hat weavers HQ to find the courtyard filled with the record-breaking 'biggest hat in the world'. Very impressive and HUGE! Around 100 weavers had gathered, all in their finest clothes, and were sitting around the giant Panama hat, weaving as they waited for the day's festivities to commence.
Sara, Mark and I were shown upstairs to a large meeting room, filled with our Panama hat weavers, along with the mayoress and local dignitaries from the town. The surprise ceremony for me started with the Ecuadorian on Wednesdaynational anthem. I stood at the front as guest of honour, looking out on all these women and realising the huge responsibility which I bear in getting enough orders to ensure that they earn enough money to feed them and their families each year. They rely on me for 95% of their orders.
After a short, taped 'musical interlude' which was quite amusing, it was time for a poem written by one of the weavers to Senora Carry. Next, it was time for the presentation of a plaque by the mayoress of the canton in appreciation of my work in the community. Very moving and was trying to hold back tears. Then realised that both Mark and Sara were finding it all very emotional as well! After another musical interlude, it was a song about hat weaving dedicated to me and then a glass of very sweet bubbly. Just as I thought it was all over and I could get to work as everyone moved downstairs, another celebration started in the courtyard. Several dances by small groups of weavers from different communities, one involving dancing around fireworks and another with one boy dress
ed as a soldier and another dressed as a pig who had obviously got the day off school for this special occasion! Then another really beautiful song by Zoila Aleman, a weaver proudly sporting the glasses we had bought for her a few years ago. Finally, some loud music started playing from speakers and Sara and I had to get up and dance with the dignitaries for about 10 minutes - not easy at that altitude! Finally, the celebration drew to an end and we were taken through to the dining room where Guinea Pig was served. Delicious crackling!
It really was such an incredible honour to have this ceremony thrown for me and the weavers and community had obviously spent a long time preparing for it. Now I have to do my part and try to increase our Panama Hat orders for 2010 so that the weavers all have enough work for next year.