Connecting Peruvian artists to the world

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.

Composite with three photos: man carrying basket next to river; man working on pot; man posing with clay pot (Dave Cooper/USAID)
Pottery is part of Sangama’s heritage. His mother and grandmother are both artisans. “This is something that is born within me.” (Dave Cooper/USAID)

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.

Composite with three photos: hands making clay pot; man working with children at table making pottery; two children making pottery (Dave Cooper/USAID)
Sangama never went to college, but he is recognized in his community for his art and for the work he does with children. (Dave Cooper/USAID)

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.