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Our DukeEngage Chile at Lago Panguipulli, the last of the four lakes we visited, last week.

Hi, hello — Stella, here, to take the baton that Kevin has passed to me for this week’s blog post. As Kevin mentioned, we started the week by hitting a record four lakes this past Sunday — we only have one more to analyse before we reach the goal that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the summer. Since then, thanks to the rainy/snowy weather, we’ve mainly been indoors. Our focus has been getting content by interviewing artesanas and business owners, taking and editing photos of their beautiful handiwork, and developing websites that help with promotion. (Check out our work at We visited many of their “talleres” (workshops) to meet with the women in charge of creating the seemingly magical dolls and figurines that are found in many tourist shops and markets.

The artesanas are no ordinary women. They have extraordinary talents that allow them to create products that transport you to the rainforest of the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, since many are inspired by the native biodiversity. For example, the women of the Karu Lawem workshop create fairies that reflect the various medicinal herbs found in the region. They carefully select fabrics, colours, and even nuts, twigs, seeds, and mosses collected directly from the surrounding environment to bring these plants to life. They use locally-sourced wool and, by themselves, turn it into the type of thread or felt that they need — they’re essentially putting the spotlight on natural materials that would otherwise remain invisible to most forest visitors.

A finished “hada” (fairy) inspired by the “rosa mosqueta” (rosehip) flower.

The same is true for the other “talleres” we saw this week, like the Mapuche Magical Beings and Forest Magical Beings. The Mapuche are a group of people indigenous to Chile. They present their rich history and culture through their dolls, which are adorned with different outfits and accessories to portray their traditions and present the evolution of their communities. The Forest Magical Beings workshop designs, like Karu Lawem, are derived from nature. For instance, dolls range from representing different tree species to the famous huemul (South Andean deer) into humanoid characters. But how do they actually manage to transform their inspiration to real products?

Magical Forest Beings whose design draws on the “huemul” (South Andean deer) for inspiration.

By watching closely and listening intently to the artesanas during our interviews, we learned about the production process and their individual stories. It’s no secret that practice makes perfect, but this is especially the case when it comes to hand-making such detailed figurines. Certain knitting, embroidery, metalworking, and woodworking skills can take from months to years to perfect. And, since every design involves a unique combination of nuanced techniques and tricks, every artesana must re-master them before her product is ready for sale.

An artesana uses a needle to add details to the face of the figurine she’s working on.

Just as inspiring was hearing each woman’s journey to acquire the prestige she has today. Most of them had never formally worked in the labour force before becoming a member of her respective workshop. They had mainly remained at home, caring for their families as relying on their husbands’ income. But, they saw opportunities in the ecotourism industry and took the initiative to start working. The best part: they were adaptable and found ways to work on their handicrafts from home so that they could keep their families a priority while generating income for themselves. Some women, for the first time, can now afford sending their children to high school and university. I found this sort of empowerment extremely humbling. They used more than magic — hard work, determination, collaboration — to improve their own lives. These women not only created jobs for themselves, but have also successfully grown over the years as family members increasingly become involved in production and as their workshop communities expand.

Embroidered cushion covers that feature birds found in the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve.

I realise how lucky I am to have been dealt the cards this summer that have introduced me to the people I have met in Chile. The artesanas and their work are humbling; I am equally grateful to have gotten to know my DukeEngage team. So, without further ado, I’m signing off and letting the show go on with Nate’s post next!

Thanks for the blog last week, Kevin, and good luck on next week’s, Nate!