All posts by Jessica Bachansingh

Final Reflections

What a summer it has been! Two months ago, I had all of these internship goals, and now finishing up, it feels amazing to say that I’ve accomplished them!

I also want to reflect on how incredible this journey has been for my personal growth. I went from a college student with a dream, to an Executive Director of a Nonprofit. I learned to prioritize; business over beach days. I learned discipline; 8 hours a day means getting tasks accomplished. I learned to share my passion; talking and writing about my summer helped me to refine the story and inspire others. I learned to dream; as I was making decisions I kept the future in mind (new countries and new girls!). I learned to journal; both for organization and for reflection. I learned to problem solve; sometimes life throws you money curveballs. I learned to be alone; sometimes God is the only friend you need. I learned so much about myself in these past two months and I’m thankful for the time to refocus my priorities toward the future of Gifts for Confidence.

Overarching Milestones from this internship:

  • Developing a 4 month social media plan to increase the Elpis International presence
  • Compiling databases and learning the stories of so many Elpis kids
  • Teaching myself and then creating the Gifts for Confidence Website
  • Registering my nonprofit with the state
  • Writing a 21 lesson sewing curriculum from scratch and then translating it into Amharic and teaching it to Friwot, the sewing teacher.
  • Sourcing fabric locally from Ethiopia to use for our program’s future products and projects
  • Learning about future tangible job opportunities for the girls that graduate from my sewing program.

All of these milestones lead to one thing, Sustainability for the future of the sewing program and my nonprofit. I’m actually really sad this is my last post, I’ve really enjoyed writing and sharing my experiences, challenges, and my voice.

-Jessica Bachansingh

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Finishing up the curriculum with Friwot
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Exploring Opportunities in Ethiopia

I finished up my time in Ethiopia on July 3rd and boy was it an amazing trip. I learned so much and put myself in a better position for pursuing my nonprofit as a career. I began to reflect on some amazing final encounters…

One day I sat down with Efrem, the school teacher and Friwot, the sewing teacher and we had an hour conversation about job opportunities for the girls after the Gifts for Confidence sewing program. Possible opportunities included going onto University or Technical School and pursuing a further sewing education. Pursuing higher education could earn the girls a training position at a factory or other supervisor roles. Other opportunities included working for local sewing shops which are scattered all over the city or even working on the side of the street as a clothes mender. At the end of this discussion I began asking about Ethiopian garment factories. One of my goals this summer was to tour one of the new factories in the area and see if there was a possibility for a future partnership where my girls could be hired at higher salaries because of my training program. After speaking with several locals I learned that factory owners choose to build and employ in Ethiopia because they know they can pay their workers low wages because of the economic state. I began to learn that the factory works their women overtime and sometimes they don’t get released until 11pm. Also they don’t pay for overtime. Friwot told me that they specifically look for young girls to train and they only get paid 1,200 birr/month ($52). However they also provide required housing (4 girls/room), breakfast, and lunch. So really the additional money received is 600 birr/month ($26). I began asking questions about the living wage in Ethiopia which I learned is about 2000 birr/month ($87) which covers rent, food, transportation, phone, fixing clothing. So basically, these women are paid low wages, they can’t live with their families, and they are worked overtime with no pay. Also I learned that all the clothing is then exported to other countries. I really hate the whole concept of sweat shopping and I aim to have socially responsible and ethical values, so this is not an opportunity I want to lead my girls toward. This information was helpful but I have to be careful not to generalize that every factory in Ethiopia is like this…

Lesson 19 teaches the girls how to create a reusable pad. It is made out of polyurethane fabric, fleece for absorbency, and dri fit materia. It simply snaps onto a girl’s underwear and can be rinsed out and used multiple times. While this exists in other developing worlds, I was more or less introducing it in Awassa. I learned that 8-12 pads cost about 20 birr ($1) which women try to make last throughout their whole period. This reusable pad would provide a better alternative that would last longer. The female principal of the school, Meaza, and Friwot, the teacher, were very excited about this project. To test the market, Friwot and I premade 22 pads to be sold the following week at parent’s day. Following parents day, I had received notice from one of the school teachers that all the pads were purchased and completely sold out! This was wonderful news because it ensures the customer for when it comes time for the girls to make the pads and sell them. Not only does Lesson 19 have the girls make the pads, but they also get to practice entrepreneurship skills by selling what they make, and then they get to keep the profit. This provides them incentive to make quality products and then make an effort to actually find their customer and sell them.

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Me introducing the pads to the girls

Another day we went fabric shopping in the local markets but I stumbled upon so much more. I began searching for fabric amongst many other male shop owners in Ethiopia in this tiny store. Fabric shopping went really well and we were able to find new material for scarves for next year! Then I got into a conversation with some boys working in a nearby shop. They were 15 and 17 years old and doing night school. They learned how to sew from the shop owner. This is a common job in Ethiopia as there are many made-to-order shops. Next we went to a store that sold cultural fabric (this fabric is indigenous to the 80 ethnic groups that exist in Ethiopia). Initially I was only shown the storefront where I could purchase the fabric but then the merchant opened the back door to their actually workshop. There were people sewing garments, over edging and finishing off items, and weaving the cultural fabric. This was my favorite part because it truly was the heart of the operation. One thing I concluded from my excursions today is that sewing is a male dominated career in Ethiopia. This solidified the reason WHY I started my nonprofit, To Empower GIRLS globally by teaching them a marketable skill. My hope is that my program will change the game and more women will be employed in these workshops and storefronts.

Like I said earlier I finished up in Ethiopia at the beginning of July and the past month I have been studying abroad in London with the FSU International Merchandising Program. This too has been an amazing adventure but a complete 180 in regards to culture, food, and people. It has honestly been a hard emotional switch. I look forward to returning to the states and getting back to work on furthering my new nonprofit.

Hello from Ethiopia

Hello from Ethiopia! The global world we live in is truly amazing. I currently sit in my hotel room with my Ethiopian friend/translator, Hawi, and we are watching an Ethiopian Soap Opera with Latin actors who are living in Europe. On our way up to the room I saw several Chinese people who are here on business. I am for globalization because it allows for cultures to intermingle and interact. I have enjoyed the past week in Ethiopia learning more (I have been here twice before) about the culture and more of the language (Amharic). I find myself comparing and contrasting many things between Ethiopia and the USA. For example, I found it interesting that in Ethiopia parents must pay for their kids to go to school for Kindergarten-12th grade. After 12th grade the kids take a difficult exam that determines whether they go to college or not. If they pass, they are assigned to a Government University and given a college education for free. Oppositely, the government funds public school from Kindergarten-12th grade in the USA, but then we pay out of pocket for college. I find this switch interesting along with all the other cultural differences.

So I am now in my seventh week of pursuing social entrepreneurship via my “non-traditional” internship. It has been such a focused and hardworking summer thus far. The last week I was in the United States, I successfully launched the website for my nonprofit, Gifts for Confidence. Please check it out at giftsforconfidence.org! I am so very proud of how it came out and I received amazing feedback from friends, family, and others on social media. I have received a few donations and scarf purchases using the new website. I also finished creating the yearlong sewing curriculum when I was still in the states. The business registration with the IRS is still in progress but should be completed by the end of the summer. This has probably been the hardest I’ve ever worked toward something. But hey, it’s my passion and my future.

Being in Ethiopia has had its ups and downs but I am learning more and more how to appropriately approach the social issues I’m trying to solve with my business. In order to ensure sustainability I operate on several values being, economic development, social responsibility, and environmentalism. With each of these values I am evaluating the problems in Ethiopia and crafting solutions. In doing this I hope to create a more holistic business model that will actually make an impact.

Environmentalism: There is no trash system in Ethiopia and the majority of trash ends up on the side of the road. The way they get rid of trash in Ethiopia is by burning it which can often release harsh chemicals into the atmosphere or by digging a large deep hole and burying it. In order to be more environmentally friendly, I have found an alternative sewing project that will help get rid of the trash fabric scraps or thread our sewing program produces. I have included a small pillow project into the curriculum. Each pillow will be stuffed with fabric scraps and thread that is leftover instead of ending up in the trash. This is one way to produce little to no waste within our program.

Social Responsibility: All of the girls in the program are paid for their work. They are paid when their scarves sell in the United States. This pay aims to encourage them in their work and their passion for sewing. I aim for them to love sewing and consider using this marketable skill for future job opportunities. Last week I completed the 2nd cycle of the Gifts for Confidence sewing program by having our Second payment ceremony. Each girl was recognized and paid for their work which is always a celebratory experience.  I hope to regulate this pay system in the future so they aren’t just getting paid once a year when I am able to come to Ethiopia.

Economic Development: In understanding the developing world that is Ethiopia, it is important to get a better understanding of the economic situation of many of my girls and their families. Also because some of them are not used to earning any money, it is important to educate them in how to use it. I have incorporated a lesson on financial literacy into the new curriculum which will begin come September. Parts of the lesson include how to set up a bank account, saving money in trusting ways, and lessons of stewardship. Christianity plays a huge role in the girls’ lives (it is a Christian school) and is important to teach lessons of using their money according to God’s plan. Also, I want the girls to practice selling sewn items in their local communities. These items will be the reusable pads and the pillows that they make in the curriculum. This will give them business and inventory skills which might be helpful if they choose to pursue entrepreneurial sewing opportunities.

I love riding around town and seeing women with their pedal sewing machines on the side of the street. They receive business by mending and fixing clothing for 1-5 birr (25 cents) per hole. While that amount sounds like very little, the business is pretty good since many people only have less than 5 outfits. It is a necessity to fix clothing when most people can’t afford to buy new clothing.  This is a stark contrast to our disposable fast-fashion mentality in America. One of my other objectives while here was to tour a local garment factory to see if there were job opportunities for my girls there. While speaking to a local I learned that the factory has foreign owners who set up in Ethiopia because they knew they could pay their workers low wages. This turns me off from pursuing jobs for my girls there because I want to make sure they are being paid and treated fairly or else my values of social responsibility get thrown out the window. However I still plan to try and tour/speak with the factory just to see about possibilities. Stay tuned.

While on past trips my main objective was working quickly and effectively with the girls to make product, this trip has mainly been working to empower our teacher Friwot by teaching her the new curriculum. Daily we have been meeting and going through each of the lessons and translating them into Amharic for her. It is important she understands and feels comfortable with each lesson because ultimately it is up to her to teach them or not. Each lesson has a corresponding activity to help the girls with their understanding. This trip’s objective has been not as fun or exciting because I truly love working with the girls. But, it is crucial to creating an educational sewing program for the upcoming year. My mission is to “empower girls globally by teaching them a marketable skill” and one of the keywords is “teaching”. The education is the most important part, creating product is a bonus, and I have to keep reminding myself that. This curriculum will set the stage for the program for many years to come and will help each of the girls to develop a better understanding of sewing throughout these lessons.

Until next time,

Jessica Bachansingh

“A non-traditional internship”

Hello friends of Social Entrepreneurship,

My name is Jessica Bachansingh, upcoming Junior, and I will be interning under Elpis International, an American/Ethiopian Nonprofit that services children in Ethiopia by providing them education, food, and medical services. I will be doing my internship both domestically at their home office in Jacksonville, FL and abroad in Awasa, Ethiopia at their feeding center and school. My internship is a “non-traditional” because I created it on my own. I will be furthering the sewing program that I developed 2 years ago in Ethiopia by creating a website, deepening and implementing the sewing curriculum, and registering the program itself as my very own 501c(3)! Through the sewing program the girls sew infinity scarves that are sold in the USA to earn a living wage with other funds being invested back into the development of the program.

Above is my scope of work, but since I’m writing this post mid-internship a lot of this work has been accomplished! Which is an amazing feeling.

In the past month I’ve been working 2 days a week at the Elpis office in Jacksonville. I’ve been working on improving their social media presence by creating an instagram and scheduling 4 months worth of posts, organizing their database of pictures and child interviews and I’ve been learning about nonprofit management. This work has been essential experience in learning how to run a nonprofit (which is hopefully what I will be doing the rest of my life).

The other 3 days a week I’ve been working on achieving 3 major goals (website, curriculum, and the nonprofit registration). My nonprofit, Gifts for Confidence is officially registered with the state and the next step is registering with the IRS. I have my Tax ID, articles of incorporation, and my board of directors. I’ve written my mission and vision statements, imperative when starting a company. I have been working on the sewing curriculum and I am about halfway done. Lastly, I’ve been working on my website! It is done, and now I am in the editing stages. I’ve been using the Squarespace platform to tell the full story of the girls and and sell the scarves. I’ve taught myself how to create a website and I’m pretty darn proud of it. The website will launch June 9th, so stay tuned. In the meantime, Follow us on Instagram @giftsforconfidence

So here is where it gets real, being an entrepreneur is consuming. It’s exciting. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my short life. Entrepreneurs don’t get enough credit. Why is that? It’s because the majority of society just doesn’t understand. This lack of understanding has been the source of all my frustration lately.

Why is it that I begin to tell a family friend about what I’ve been doing all summer and they respond with a blank stare…..”They just don’t understand”

Why is it that I try and tell a close friend how I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and they can’t find the words to make me feel better? …..”They just don’t understand”

Why is it people just nod and say “that sounds like a lot of work”?….”They just don’t understand”

So who understands? I guess other entrepreneurs and like minded driven people. People who take the time out of your day to read these blog posts. Thank you for reading. As a budding entrepreneur you fear failure. You fear it so much because if you fail, it’s all your fault. It’s all on you. 1 in 10 businesses make it. Not only am I trying to make it, I’m trying to make it as a nonprofit. Totally a million dollar idea right, ha! Trying to be a social entrepreneur is like putting all the odds against you. So why do it? I’m sure all the blank stares of those who don’t understand probably want to ask me, “Why are you wasting your time working so hard to secure a future that you probably won’t make that much money in?”

Because I’m trying to change the world.  I’m trying to contribute to a bigger movement of education in Ethiopia. My one overarching goal is to provide an opportunity for these middle-school aged girls to learn the marketable skill of sewing. Learning at this age is imperative because after 8th grade, the students take a national exam that if they don’t pass, they don’t move on to high school. Therefore they have to go into the “real world” and begin earning money for their families. My hope is that this versatile skill will help them earn money. They are being taught how to fish! I believe we are all called to serve in one way or another. This is how I want to serve. Changing the world is why I serve. A nonprofit wasn’t always the dream, but it’s surely my passion and I can’t just suppress it so that I can have a decent paying job that pays the bills.

I leave for Ethiopia, June 12th, and I will be there for 3 weeks. While there I will be implementing the new sewing curriculum. I will be evaluating the existing program and further developing it. I will be paying the girls for the scarves that have sold. My other main goal is to work on marketing. I want to take nice portraits of all the girls and the sewing teacher, Friwot. I also want to interview them so I could put together that information for the website and for the Product Packaging. It all ties together!

Next time I write, it’ll be from Ethiopia!

Jessica Bachansingh- Post 1

silly big group shot
My girls!—–2016