Two University of Richmond seniors have a homegrown mission to empower women in Bolivia after receiving a $10,000 grant for their crocheted clothing company, Todo Suma.

Fabiana Ayala, WC ‘17, and Yasmine Karam, WC ‘17, were awarded the Projects for Peace grant after applying through the Davis United World College Scholars Program. They will use the grant to spend six weeks in Cochabomba, Bolivia, this summer to grow Todo Suma by training the community’s women to work for the company.

The project has a personal connection to Ayala, who lived in Cochabomba until she was 16 years old. Ayala met a struggling single mother in her village and tried to help support her by teaching her how to crochet different items of clothing and sell them. Soon, the small project grew.

“I didn’t necessarily start this with the idea that it would be this big,” she said. “I just wanted to give someone an opportunity, because I feel I was lucky enough to get the opportunities I have in life.”

The rate of domestic abuse in Cochabomba is nearly double the country’s average; women’s independence and empowerment is not common. As a long-term goal, they hope to spread acceptance of the idea of a working woman in Bolivia.

“Ideally, the women that we’ve brought on both feel a real sense of job security and confidence in themselves,” said Karam. “They can not only do their jobs and support their families, but they can also inspire the communities around them to accept this new reality.”

The process of growing Todo Suma in Bolivia will consist of recruiting women, giving them technical training and leading capacity-building workshops. The capacity-building workshops will address themes such as personal finance and self-empowerment.

Karam said recognizing the practical side of their business was as important as their dreams to inspire the community.

“We all want to save the world, but we also really have to think about the technicalities, like how the money will actually be allocated,” she said.

Todo Suma has made a profit of $2,500 in six months.

Krittika Onsanit, director of international student and scholar services at UR, serves as the head of the committee that recommended Todo Suma for the grant. Onsanit said that she believed Ayala and Karam would be able to succeed in their mission of empowering woman. She sees Ayala’s previous experiences and connections in the community as crucial to this.

In addition to inspiring women of her own community, Ayala said she hoped Todo Suma would be able to affect shopping habits outside of the community.

“What I’m trying to create with Todo Suma is that movement of consumers understanding their power and using it for good,” she said. 

Contact news writer Alexis Angelus at alexis.angelus@richmond.edu.