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Renaissance in Chile's Ulloa Valley

With World Vision's help, a group of 19 female potters unites to improve their family history of deprivation.

May 2008



Alexandra Fernandez Ulloa, 5, Elly's daughter, works alongside her mom. Olga, Elly's mom, also a potter, works in the background. One of the 5-year-old's most prized possessions is a photo of her World Vision sponsor that she loves to show to visitors.
Alexandra Fernandez Ulloa, 5, Elly's daughter, works alongside her mom. Olga, Elly's mom, also a potter, works in the background. One of the 5-year-old's most prized possessions is a photo of her World Vision sponsor that she loves to show to visitors.
Photo ©2008 Renato Hernandez/World Vision
Some 300 miles south of Chile's capital of Santiago, a convergence of wooded, hilly ravines forms the "Valley of the Ulloa." It is named for a family that has lived there for centuries.

Ulloa women are potters, their craft rooted in pre-Columbian and colonial traditions — a skill passed down from mother to daughter since the 16th century.

Centuries of economic deprivation also are part of the family lineage. In recent years, World Vision's Amigos Sin Fronteras (Friends without Borders) sponsorship program efforts have helped to change this.

Native influence

When the conquistadores arrived in what is now Chile during the 16th century, they met fierce opposition in the Ulloa Valley zone from local Mapuche Indians, one of several Araucanian peoples in the area. After the Mapuche either fled or were killed, Spanish soldiers occupied the zone. When the need came for dishes, and in the absence of more advanced tools, their women, using Mapuche techniques, began making pottery for their own use, and later for sale.

Toward the end of the 20th century, large timber companies bought up the Ulloa Valley lands. Eventually the area's sole employers, they began offering just a few weeks of seasonal work once or twice a year, virtually decimating area residents' ability to support themselves.

Artistic opportunity

Elly (foreground) and her mother, Olga, stand at the back of the Ulloa art gallery.
Elly (foreground) and her mother, Olga, stand at the back of the Ulloa art gallery.
Photo ©2008 Renato Hernandez/World Vision

When World Vision began its sponsorship program in this destitute region, increasing Ulloa economic opportunities was made a high priority. This included providing business training and support for their artistically gifted women.

Today, 19 potters — all mothers of sponsored children — have formed their own business venture that includes:

  • Legal business status
  • An open, wood-fire kiln built to traditional indigenous specs
  • A common bank account
  • Their own art gallery — the hull of an old bus painted a shocking pink

"The most important thing that World Vision has done for us," says Elly Ulloa, who began work as a potter when she was 13, "is to bring us together; this is the cause of our success. Before, each one of us used to work in [our] own house … all apart."

Chile's Fair Trade Department, which supports small business ventures, has further strengthened the enterprising women's endeavors by offering them marketing techniques to increase sales.

A packaging expert has trained the women about how to prevent the 30-percent losses in profit that they previously incurred due to breakages during transit to shops and venues across southern Chile, where their wares are sold.

When a piece of pottery is purchased, a 19-percent sales tax is deducted; 10 percent of the sales price itself is set aside to meet administration costs and business improvements. The remaining amount goes to the potter who crafted the piece.

Traditions upheld


Ulloa pottery has changed little since colonial times, when artisans didn't use potters wheels and baked their pottery — copies of the ceramic designs imported from Spain — in open-fire clay ovens.

Recognized for their remarkable skills, the Ulloa women have earned a state grant, a prestigious national prize, and opportunities to participate in international art fairs. Several museums carry some of their pieces as well. Small casserole dishes they make are in particular demand at local restaurants.

Ulloa men help transport the clay from a nearby river, but the pottery craft is traditionally considered women's work.

A woman of means


Because of World Vision, Elly says she has a regular income "not dependent upon the scarce visits of summer tourists."

She is just as emphatic that economic opportunities now abound for her family. "I want my children to go to school, but I don't want them to leave the valley after that," she concludes. "There is plenty of work to be done here: pottery, marketing, packing, transportation…"

Taking a handful of unformed clay, she quickly fashions a small dish with delicately scalloped edges. It is a fitting illustration of the Ulloa Valley's new beginning.

Learn more


>> Read how World Vision's work inspired a Nicaraguan mother of two sponsored children to become a community activist with World Vision's assistance.
>> Learn more about World Vision's work in Chile.

Three ways you can help

>> Praise the Lord that the Ulloa family of potters was able to turn a God-given talent into a source of income that helped lift the women out of poverty. Pray that this trade will help sustain and grow this community for generations to come.
>> Sponsor a child in Chile. Your sponsorship will lend extra support and help provide the programs and tools necessary for a future of hope.
>> Help equip a girl or woman with job training. Unlock the door to a rewarding, sustainable career for her.

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