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,