National Geographic Traveller (UK)



Esilda took a government course to learn how to run a business and, today, runs Damartes, a women’s co-operative that sells handicraft­s and holds craft workshops for travellers

I run my workshops in my fishing village of La Boquilla, a 30-minute drive from Cartagena.

Our products, like jewellery and belts, are made from recycled coconut shells that restaurant­s would normally throw in the bin.

My aim is to empower local women and help them be independen­t by making their own money.

During our workshops we have the chance to speak to travellers; for the women in the village, it’s a chance to see that in many other cultures, women have more independen­ce than we grew up expecting for ourselves.

The biggest challenge we’ve faced since starting 13 years ago has been from the men in the village.

They were angry and didn’t want their wives leaving the home; they didn’t believe in us. But after we counted the earnings from the second project — and the wives were able to pay for roof repairs, new TVs and washing machines — they changed their minds.

My ambition is to have a full-time workshop, a shop and an online business where we can show everything we make.

We want to create more opportunit­ies for women to work, instead of the ambition being to find a man who will pay for you.

When we teach women they can earn an income themselves, they get another perspectiv­e on life.

We are a big example of independen­ce in a poor community. The women are so happy to see that something they’ve made can produce money. They never thought they could do it — but they can.

How to do it: Four-hour coconut workshops in La Boquilla can be booked through Alternativ­e Travel Cartagena. alternativ­etravelcar­

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