Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Small Victories

For those of you who are wondering, I have not fallen off the face of this earth. I am just up to my ears in cartons of tote bags and placemat sets...

We spent our first month back in the States visiting family in Kansas (which was wonderful!), and have now arrived in Connecticut, where my parents are located, and also where our SHONA stock is located.

It has been great to see my parents, except that I have barely caught glimpses of them over the cartons of stock. You see I arrived and walked into my parents living room, to find five cardboard cartons staring back at me. They were elaborately wrapped with packing tape and had large lettering all over them.

My parents do not live in a large house. 5 cartons in their living room is not exactly convenient for them. So I embarked upon the task of opening them and taking out the new products that our craftspeople had shipped to me while I was traveling.

I do a lot of talking. I talk about how capable the SHONA craftspeople are and how often they amaze me... But this was the test.

These were cartons full of the products they had sewn AFTER I left Congo. Products I had never seen. It is one thing to start a sewing group in Congo, while you are there to supervise it. And quite another to see it carry on while you are gone. Would these young women really be able to carry the full responsibility for themselves?

I had no shortage of people who told me "no". They told me to hire a manager or a supervisor. But in Congo, managers and supervisors usually end up eating most of the profits in a group. And besides, why couldn't the women do it for themselves?

This means that each craftsperson goes down to the market, buys material, and finds a way to get that material to her house (no small feat when transportation is usually on the back of a motorcycle and each craftsperson carries crutches and wears metal leg braces)

Then she reads the text message I sent, requesting certain products and sizes for her to sew that month. Then she has sews them. Then she quality controls them. And then packs them up in a cardboard box, transports the box to a shipping location, has it weighed and addressed and paid for. During the month she is also responsible for keeping a record of the items she sews and calculating her profit. In each shipment she includes that record, along with a budget for her income.

Let me just remind you that these are women who have never gone to school.

And I can't tell you how proud of them I am. They have passed the test with flying colors, shipping exactly the products I asked for, sewn with even higher quality than when I was there.

And sometimes I just stand back and marvel at how much can be accomplished when I just get out of the way. Well, that is not entirely an accurate picture. We didn't come by this by chance. Years of work have gone into lessons on math and quality control. I handed over responsibility over time, so that they were already doing most of the work before I left. But still. You never really believe what someone is capable of until you stand back. And more importantly, THEY never believe it. Now, I think, they are starting to believe.

So I am ear deep in cartons of stock. And it takes forever to get photos of each item and list it properly in our store. That is why our store is currently "closed for restocking". But it will be back up by tomorrow. And when you check out the new products, take a minute to remember who picked that cloth, sewed that tote bag, and shipped it on its way. I promise, you will barely find my fingerprints on it.

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