Willian Ojanama Sangama was full of energy and excitement as he showed pottery pieces his students were working on. “Now it’s very different for children who are 10 years old,” he tells us. “Now they can focus on studies.”
When Sangama was 10, he started growing coca. Many in Chazuta, a village located in the Peruvian Amazon, did as well. In the 1980s and 1990s drug trafficking took hold of the village, and it was losing a lot of its traditions, including pottery making.
In 2004, the government of Peru put together a plan to reduce illegal coca cultivation. This helped former coca farmers find legitimate work. They started growing cacao and coffee, and opening pottery businesses.
Together, the Peruvian government, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs reduced coca cultivation by 83% in San Martin, Ucayali, and Pasco.
Sangama followed his passion for ceramics. “Since I was 13 years old I practiced pottery, and my mother tells me that I used to play with clay as a young child,” he recalls.
He struggled when he first started his pottery business. In 2013, he participated in a USAID class on digital and financial literacy. A USAID-funded telecenter offered courses for artisans, entrepreneurs and farmers in Chazuta, expanding opportunities and strengthening the village’s economy.
“The training taught me how to use the internet and expand the business,” he says. “Before the training we didn’t produce a lot because there was no market to sell our products.” He now produces four times as many pieces.
Since 2002 USAID has provided job opportunities to 80,000 families, helping former coca farmers find legitimate work and connecting them with producer associations.
Perhaps the one thing Sangama is most proud of is becoming an art teacher. “We have to take care of our children,” he says. “We have to give them opportunities to prosper.”
A longer version of this article is available from USAID.