Back in October I had the awesome opportunity to participate in a Tech2Empower volunteer trip to Cusco, Peru. Tech2Empower is run by the nonprofit WAKE (Women’s Alliance for Knowledge and Empowerment), and the program aims to use the power of technology in supporting women’s rights and social justice leaders and organizations to help amplify their work and impact. WAKE hosts these programs in both the U.S. and abroad, and I’d participated in one of their one-day San Francisco programs where we hosted workshops for nonprofits in the Bay Area focused on women’s rights. It was super inspiring and after that experience I knew I wanted to travel with WAKE for their next Tech2Empower program abroad. I applied for the Peru trip and was thrilled to be accepted and to travel with a group of ~20 women to spend a week in Cusco working with local female entrepreneurs and business owners, helping them advance their businesses. We also got to work with a girl’s school and a high school, and do a speedy pitch-style workshop with more organizations the last day. Here’s a little snapshot of our schedule so you can see what a Tech2Empower trip looks like and read more about the work that we did (and the fun that we had!).
Day 1: Background and Exploring. On our first day we were introduced to each other, the program, and given some cultural background and context. Many of the statistics shocked me. We learned that in Peru, education is a privilege, and one that is usually reserved for boys, especially in rural areas. Because such a high percentage of women don’t receive an education, forty-seven percent of women in rural areas of Peru aren’t able to work and have their own incomes, so their financial support relies on their husbands. Forty percent of women in Peru have experienced physical or sexual abuse from their partners. We learned that same sex marriage is illegal in Peru, as are abortions, except in cases of risk to the mother’s health or life. But the feminist movement in Peru is on the rise.
We got to know each other with an icebreaker, and did a workshop that was started by Google called I Am Remarkable. Each of us got up and shared a few things about ourselves, starting with, “I am remarkable because…” After just a few minutes I knew that I was sitting in the company of some truly incredible women, and I was so excited to see what we’d accomplish together. OH, and it also happened to be my birthday, and the sweet WAKE team surprised me with chocolate cake for breakfast. Btw, this continued throughout the day and I ended up having chocolate cake FOR breakfast, and with lunch and dinner. Not a bad way to kick off 30. ? We spent the rest of the day sight-seeing and did a walking tour through Cusco, went to Sacsayhuamán (a citadel built by the Inca in the 13th century), and then went to a pisco tasting and cooking class.
Days 2 and 3: Working with the Empresarias. We spent the second and third days working with our empresarias (female entrepreneurs en Español), and we were in groups with four advisors, one empresaria, and a translator. The first day we really just got to know each other and listened and asked a lot of questions so we could understand our empresaria’s business, where she needed help, and where we could have the most impact for her and her business in two days. The empresaria my group worked with was named Claudia, and she runs the first coworking space in Cusco, which we also got to visit in person. We worked with her to create a new business plan, share feedback for updates to her website, and create a new marketing plan for her. Some of the other advisors worked with empresarias who owned a jewelry business, a llama trek nonprofit, a granola bar business, and an art tour business. It was so awesome to see what everyone had accomplished at the end of their two days together.
Day 4: Textile Factory and Llama Trek. This was one of my favorite experiences during our trip! We first went to an ethical textile shop and learned how the women there clean and dye alpaca wool and make gorgeous textiles from it. And then of course we did some serious shopping. ?Afterwards we got to hike in the Andes Mountains with llamas and the Quechua people who owned them and it was absolutely magical. Llama Pack Project works with the Indigenous people of Peru (Quechua people) who live in high-Andean communities, whose culture is at risk of disappearing due to the disadvantages they face. Their access to schools and health care is limited, and when they try to work in the cities they are asked to remove their traditional clothing. The families own llamas, and Llama Pack Project is teaching these communities how to safely breed their llamas, sell their textiles, provide meals, or assist in llama treks for tourism (like the one we did ?). These families are then able to have enough skills and income to get out of their poverty condition. The Quechua people who we hiked with helped us up the slippery slopes, cooked us Pachamanca for lunch (chicken and potatoes baked in the earth), sold us trinkets and textiles, and excitedly chatted with us in Spanish. They walked for four hours from their homes to meet us and do the trek with us. It was an experience I’ll never forget. ??
Day 5: Chicuchas Wasi and GAL School. We started our day by heading outside of the main city of Cusco to Chicuchas Wasi, a school for rural Quechua girls that aims to break the cycle of keeping girls uneducated and impoverished. You can read all about this school’s incredible mission and why it’s so important here. The girls welcomed us with the sweetest performances—poetry, songs, and dances—and lots of hugs. We spent the afternoon doing activities with them, including one where they wrote down their hopes and dreams for the future, where they wrote things like, “I want to…be a police officer, travel the world, or be a singer.” After that and a bunch more hugs I felt like my heart was going to explode. We spent the second half of the day at GAL School, an active learning high school. It was amazing to see the type of work these students were doing—everything from playing music and art, to presenting projects on how they would use technology to help solve societal issues in Cusco, like the lack of gay rights or violence against women. Girls from another local high school joined us and we did different workshops with them—I did one on interview skills. We also did the I Am Remarkable workshop with them, and felt really emotional hearing some of the girls’ statements like, “I am remarkable because I get straight A’s and am at the top of my class, even though my dad said girls can only do housework.” ?
Day 6: Speed Pitches and sight seeing. On our last day we met with several groups of entrepreneurs and listened to their business pitches, giving them feedback and suggestions afterwards. Honestly by this point we were all pretty tired from the week’s jam-packed schedule, so it was nice to be able to do a quick workshop like this for a couple hours, where we could be helpful and give feedback and call it a day. After the speed pitches we had some free time to ourselves and a lot of the women went back to the hotel to relax. But I figured how often am I going to be in Cusco? So I grabbed one of my girlfriends from the trip and we did an excursion out to the salt mines and Moray terraces. We got back just in time for our farewell dinner with the whole group.
I had one extra day that I had tacked on to the end of our Tech2Empower trip, and that’s when I did my day trip to Machu Picchu! You can read all about this incredible world wonder in this post.
Our itinerary was jam-packed with both work and sight-seeing, and while at times it was tiring it was so worth it. The WAKE team did an incredible job coordinating everything, from our cabs from the airport, to our transportation for all the activities every day, and the prep and set up for the actual work we’d be doing with all the groups we partnered with. I really think that if I had visited Cusco on my own I would have liked it and enjoyed the incredible sights like Machu Picchu, but after traveling there with Tech2Empower it was such a different, special experience and Cusco will forever hold such a special place in my heart. It was such a great experience, and I’m so grateful for all of the wonderful, inspiring women I got to meet and become friends with.
Want to get involved? I don’t blame you! Tech2Empower Peru was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity. You can reach out to [email protected] if you’re interested in applying to become an advisor for future programs.
THANK YOU! A huge thank you to all my friends, family, and even strangers at Google who donated to the GoFundMe page I created, which contributed to WAKE resources and planning for the trip, and food and accommodations. I hope through this post and all the photos you’re able to see what an awesome impact we were able to have through your donations and the time we spent there working with inspiring female entrepreneurs and young girls.
Chocolate cake for breakfast, and Eileen being cute at our cooking class.
This woman carried her baby up the slippery mountain (it had been raining), all while herding llamas and giving us a hand when we needed it. Note the incredibly sweet photo on the right here. ?
The Quechua people who we hiked with made us a traditional Pachamanca lunch, baked in the earth.
Elise Armitage is an entrepreneur and founder of What The Fab, a travel + lifestyle blog based in California. At the beginning of 2019, Elise left her corporate job at Google to chase her dreams: being an entrepreneur and helping women find fabulous in the everyday. Since then, she’s launched her SEO course Six-Figure SEO, where she teaches bloggers how to create a passive revenue stream from their website using SEO. Featured in publications like Forbes, Elle, HerMoney, and Real Simple, Elise is a firm believer that you can be of both substance and style.