Saturday, February 25, 2012

Update on the Sewing Coop

The poor are always prophetic. As true prophets always point out, they reveal God's design. That is why we should take time to listen to them. And that means staying near them, because they speak quietly and infrequently; they are afraid to speak out, they lack confidence in themselves because they have been broken and oppressed. But if we listen to them, they will bring us back to the essential.”

Jean Varnier

My neighbors are poor. Very poor. The homes that buttress mine are built of mud and tin. There is usually one outhouse with three holes in the ground for 10-12 homes. The paths in between the homes are strewn with litter and washed out maize bags full of mud and trash that are used for stairs. Children play with whatever they find on the street. Their diet consists primarily of potatoes, beans and a green leafy vegetable that grows everywhere. I employee two of the women from this neighborhood. They now earn double the average wage and have the chance to learn English. Their children are now in school. Every week I have someone knocking on my door asking for a job. I so wish I had a multitude of jobs to offer. There are no unemployment benefits here. You don't work; you don't eat. But I can't, which was one of the impetuses behind enrolling 11 of the moms in sewing school for six weeks and partnering with Noonday Collection to purchase products they make. We are now less than three months away from graduation and I am in awe of what these women have accomplished and humbled by what they are teaching me.

We started the process of becoming a cooperative, but the way it works here is that you actually have to have be in operation before you are approved as a cooperative. One of the steps in becoming official is to elect leaders - president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Since our first step in meeting with the local chief last month to tell him we wanted to become a cooperative, I have not done anything except facilitate the gathering of the women and the relationship between them and Noonday. They have ownership. Today I hosted them all in my home once again to discuss who should lead. This is what I heard from the women prior to a vote:

Alleluia! Amen! - This is their official opening.

A leader must know her workers.

A leader must start work early. If she says to her employees to be there by 8 am, then she must be there by 7:30 am.

A leader must be sharp and know her product well.

A leader must give of herself.

A leader must serve.

After this discussion of the traits of leadership, they selected from among themselves in an open, democratic way. Some of it was practical, as in, the president must have a Rwandan ID card and not a Congolese (several of our women are from the DRC).

They chose all of their officers. They made a to-do list for their next step in becoming an official cooperative. And then they ended.

A woman, who was so shy the first time I met her, asked to pray. They all stood up. She prayed. There were tears. There were amens. There were alleluias.

I know their stories. These women have become my friends, good friends. These are women who have been broken. Who have been oppressed. Who had to flee from enemies and live like refugees in a foreign country. Yet, they sing and they pray with a new confidence and new hope. I took a deep breath, praying all the details of our business partnership in the States would work out, but when I opened my eyes and saw their faces and saw how far we'd come in such a short time, I knew....I knew....that my and their lives were changing for the better.