UCLA grads Chana Campora & Kiara Mayo are Co-Founders of K’ANTU.
K’ANTU aims to create fair wage partnerships with women artisans in Peru to promote women empowerment, entrepreneurship and education. We give mother artisans the opportunity to improve economically, paying more for their products to ensure they are adequately compensated for their handcrafted work. In addition, we reinvest in the artisan’s community by creating a higher education scholarship fund for the children to cover the cost of tuition at their local technical institutions.
We are on a mission to permanently redefine the cycle of opportunity for Peruvian mother artisans and their families. Join us on this journey to celebrate the handmade wonders of their vital work and help us preserve their cultural heritage.
K’ANTU purchases crafts such as bracelets at a fair price from mother artisans living in the village of Chawaytiri Pisac, Cusco, Peru. These unique crafts are sold across the globe through an e-commerce platform and in shops in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Madrid, and Lima. 50% of the profits go to a higher education scholarship fund for the children of Chawaytiri.
How did you get to where you are today?
C: My educational career at UCLA has enlarged my field of vision globally. My curiosity has pierced and given me a critical lens in which to view the world. I began my career at UCLA, keen on applying to the communications major to go into Fashion marketing. Yet, the more courses I took, the more inspired I was by my Spanish and French literature professors to follow a more fulfilling path. Summer of 2017, I volunteered in an animal rehabilitation center in the Arava Desert in Israel. Never would I have imagined my time spent in the desert to be life changing—but to my surprise, it was just one of those experiences. I began to value the simplicity of life—the trees, the wind, the mountains and the animals around me, without being pressured by the everyday technology that consumes our minds and distracts us from our purpose. The quietness of the desert, gave rise to many enlightened thoughts that unveiled a new developing passion—that of helping others. I came back to our concrete jungle of a city, and began focusing on perfecting my French and Spanish because languages are our only gateway outwards. I realized that communication was what I wanted to do, but not in English. Instead, my aim was to be proficient in other languages in order to one day, contribute my knowledge to an NGO. At this point in my life, I knew languages would get me somewhere, but I did not know exactly where. My spontaneous trip to Peru was the glue to my scattered ideas. When I saw the beautiful hand-woven pieces these Peruvian women from the mountains spent hours tirelessly weaving, I knew I wanted to contribute to their empowerment. I wasn’t exactly sure how yet, but something had sparked.
Today, I am the Co-Founder of K’ANTU. Along with creating this NGO, I am in Graduate school at UCLA getting my Masters in Anthropology of African Studies, in hopes of understanding the challenges women and children face economically and educationally in Africa.
K: My entire life I thought I wanted to become a veterinarian. I worked as a vet tech since I was 15 and switched to the American School of Peru to perfect my English and study Biology at UCLA as part of my pre-vet track. I started to take amazing classes at UCLA and realized that there is so much more to life that I wanted to explore and do than just becoming a vet. I wanted to change the world, help animals and humans in a grander scale. Even though I didn’t know how, my mission in life became to help and find equality for everyone – people and animals.
One day I was talking to my boyfriend at the time about how lost I was feeling. He told me “if you have thought of a way to help, as silly as it may seem, just do it”. Right in that moment I looked at the bracelet I was wearing, a bracelet hand weaved by Peruvians of the Andes. I had thought so many times how beautiful these bracelets were, and although these are under looked in Peru I knew other people around the world would appreciate them. I realized that this was the perfect way to give back to my people and incentivize others to help as well.
I talked to my best friend, Chana, about it. She loved the idea and she was on board. We started to do research and create a plan. The only problem was that we decided to tackle a specific need without knowing if that was something that the community we would work with actually needed. I went to Peru and met the perfect group of women to work with, they told me that what they wanted more than anything was to give their kids what they never had, a higher education. Changing plans meant starting from zero all over again. Even though it was hard to let our first plan go, we knew what he had to do. And so K’ANTU was born.
I came to New York City to work at a non-profit, CITYarts, and find a future for K’ANTU. I found myself growing at a rate I had never before. Working at CITYarts not only taught me how to write grants and expand projects internationally, but it pushed me to find resources on my own and overcome my fear of reaching out to people. The director of CITYarts, Tsipi, invited me to a women’s leadership event at the Mayor’s house, and I discovered a passion for networking, meeting people, and finding ways to work together. Around the same time a friend introduced me to someone who wanted to help me bring one of CITYarts’ projects to Brazil. Little I knew Thomaz would become an inspiration. He introduced me to the 2030 agenda of the United Nations, which got me very interested in their sustainable development goals – something that I realized can and should be applied to every non-profit, including K’ANTU. I started my search for conferences to crave my need of networking and found Yale’s Conference in Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. After 8 hours of listening to panels I realized this is what I had been looking for. Working in sustainable development is the perfect way to connect K’ANTU with my insatiable need to help the world without disrupting the integrity and protecting the stability of the natural systems.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
K: My toughest obstacle in life was feeling lost (for a couple years) and not finding what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, I know I wasn’t looking hard enough. It took many chats, a lot of time researching on the web, and a train ride to Yale for everything to come together and finally make sense. The only way I found my way was by not giving up, looking hard, and talking to people on the field about it.
On the other hand, I see obstacles with K’ANTU as the perfect way to learn from and gain invaluable experience.
C: It was 2:37 am when I woke to banging on my door. I opened my stinging eyes to a smoke-filled bedroom. Fire. Panicking, I fumbled my way to my family’s voices, nearly tripping down the stairs, frantic to see if they were unharmed. The heat and smoke nearly overwhelmed us as we scurried down four flights and out into the cold night. We watched as the fire engulfed the first floor, awe- struck by its ferocity, while firefighters worked to extinguish it. Liam was in Papa’s shivering arms and Maman moaned “mais pourquoi…" (but why…), while Sinaïa stood huddled next to me, clutching my hand, as shaken up as I was, tears rolling down our cheeks.
February 25, 2010 was the first night in a long year of five different “homes.” Tucking myself into squealing hotel beds, I imagined slipping into my bed back home, living nostalgically through my memories to bypass my current reality. The more my family moved, the less we tolerated each other’s presence. Sleeping in the same bed as my siblings and living amongst boxes made it nearly impossible to get my schoolwork done and my college applications completed. Yet, somehow I had to rise above. I pushed myself more than I’ve ever done, and focused on my future. It was now, or never.
At that time, school helped keep me sane in this shattered world of mine. I knew that if I disregarded my circumstances and challenged myself with a goal, I could keep my sense of purpose. French novelist Albert Camus once said, “in order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” That cold February night mishap jolted me away from the world I knew, forcing me to fast forward, skip my teenage chapter and become responsible for both my family and myself. Daydreaming, wishing what was…that was not how I wanted to live. I learned that life is unpredictable, and even the most inauspicious events—the ones that force you from your home on a cold February night—can change your life for the better.
Today, whenever I feel like life isn’t going my way, I think back to the person I became junior year of high school. Because of that moment, I know I am capable of greatness.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
C: Living in such a technologically advanced society, many will admit, it is difficult to remain focused. Netflix, Hulu, Facebook and Instagram, are just a few platforms we use daily, maybe to escape our current realities. I would say, the key to staying focused and motivated is to incorporate these platforms into our daily work, utilizing them not only for our personal and social benefits, but instead, learning from them to help us stay connected and relevant. I don’t think anyone has “mastered” or revealed the “secret” to ALWAYS being productive. It’s all about self-will and passion. If you have passion, that will drive you in the right direction, no matter what. You just have to believe in yourself.
K: I am a very passionate person, intrigued by everything life has to offer us. When I was a child I was never able to perfect a hobby because I was constantly changing my afterschool activities – not because I was bored but because I wanted to discover everything there was to do. I have tried swimming, running, playing the piano, photography, boxing, gymnastics, pilates, yoga, playing the flute, painting, spinning, dancing ballet, salsa, afro-peruvian dances, and Israeli dances.
More than lacking motivation, I lack focus. This is something I am still working on today. I wish I could help the world in every possible way – fight poverty, climate change, woman equality, protect animals’ habitats, etc. Furthermore, I love finding new projects and jobs to work on. Right now I am working part-time as a vet tech to pay my expenses but at the same time, I work at CITYarts and KANTU, and I am also on the Climate Change Committee for the Chelsea Film Festival. Even though you may think I am all over the place, I believe trying different things was necessary to find my purpose in life.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
K: My professional relationship with Thomaz evolved into a long-distance friendship. I was one day telling him that I want to change the world and be the voice of animals and humans who are not listened. He told me that the best way to change the world is doing something specific, in one specific area, and then connecting it to the world and motivating people from that sector to thrive for good practices. Follow your passion and bring it to the world.
C: Struggling to commit to a major at UCLA, I asked Jessica Alba what she thought I should do. She told me, “School is your chance to learn what ever your heart desires. The rest, you’ll learn on your feet.” That gave me a push to learn and experience all the cultures I was curious about from anthropologists, world-renown authors and devoted professors. Even if those studies didn’t necessarily give me a clear-cut path after college, it was what I loved studying everyday. She inspired me to choose my heart because she knew that would lead me to what I was most passionate about.
What advice do you have for another person who is looking to start a new venture?
C: Remember that saying they always told us when we were kids? I think it went something like, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That is seriously how everyone should live his or her life. When starting the new chapter, things will almost never go as planned—and I know, I’m a firm believer in planning, but sometimes, they just don’t work out. It’s all about trying again, over and over again. I’ve realized with K’ANTU, how much I love the cause and the women we are closely working with. But I know for a fact, my love for the organization grows with the amount of work that goes towards it. You have to have thick skin and not be afraid to confront troubling realities. Be honest with yourself, and know your limitations and your strengths. Your strengths and weaknesses will follow you throughout your journey and can sometimes harm you and those around you. Once you’ve identified your weaknesses, own up to them and always work towards bettering them. Just remember, be honest with yourself.
K: JUST DO IT! Life is too short, enjoy it and don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams. You are probably thinking, “right now is not the best time.” It will never be the best time, you will have to give up things and it wont be easy, but at the end it will be worth it.
My advice to those specifically trying to do a project/ non-profit is 1) Know the specific need. Assuming the need and providing the community with the wrong solution will not provide an effective benefit. 2) If you are creating a project that is tackling a global issue, find an expert to help you along the way and find someone from the community itself (in our case it was the mother leader) to work with. Most importantly, stay in constant communication with them. 3) Network. Find people to collaborate with. Many people are looking to give back in some way, and your project could be what they have been looking for.
How do we get more women leaders?
K: The passion and work ethic of a woman is unique. We all have it in us; we just need to inspire and empower each other.
C: Empowerment is contagious. Once you empower one person, that person instinctively wants to empower another, and the empowerment chain continues. It is all about creating connections with other women and believing in their work and in their failures. Women should always stick together, because when they do, they create greatness.