Friday, June 1, 2007

Keeping it Stitched Together

I poked my head in the Almond Tree showroom and found Esther doing a little dance of joy. As she danced, she squealed excitedly. I had just told her she’d sold thirteen more hand bags and that they were en route to Canada.

Esther is one of the Almond Tree group members living with HIV. She is in the sewing group and has been working day and night for the last two months to produce and sell. Yesterday she came to work exhausted. I could see black lines under her eyes. I asked her if she was feeling well. She told me she’d been working.

“I worked until 1 a.m.” she said “And then I got up at 4 a.m. and worked again.”

Esther and her business partner Rebecca are driven to make their business succeed. They have dreams for their future – Esther wants to have a child with her partner, Ahmed, and Rebecca wants to send her five year old twins to a good school.

More immediately though, they both have rent to pay - two years worth upfront.

In Ghana landlords ask for rent months in advance. For many people living on $2/day, the sum is a small fortune. Rebecca has to pay about $300 and Esther’s payment will be close to $250. They’re both worried they won’t be able to come up with this money.

“Rebecca was in tears yesterday,” Esther told me quietly. “She has no idea how she’ll pay. She’s worried the landlord will tell her to leave.”

Esther’s landlord is a bit more understanding and has given her an extension. But his goodwill will only last so long. Her rent was due at the end of March.

In a life of uncertainty, the one thing Esther and Rebecca can control is how much they produce every day. And watching their work ethic, I think they’re constantly trying to beat their own record.

Fortunately one of their products, hand-made batik bags, are selling well. They’ve sold close to 50 bags in two months. Early on in May, a group of American Mormons arrived at the West Africa AIDS Foundation for a tour which ended at the Almond Tree Showroom. They swooped in and bought every bag the women had produced.

Other sales come from local volunteers heading back to Europe, the US or Canada and from visitors like my mom who bought clothing for my niece’s entire kindergarten class. The 13 bags sent to Canada were shipped for mom to sell at a church function on June 3rd, providing they arrive on time.

Yesterday I helped Esther and Rebecca figure out their profits for the month. They had sold just over $300 worth of products, and their material expenses came to $200. This left $100 to split between the two for June wages. Their profit will go along way to covering food and transportation, but is still far off the amount they need to pay their advanced rent.

Despite their challenges, I am confident that, with support, these strong, determined women will find a way to succeed.

I’m also sure, that as I write this, somewhere in the dark, Esther’s steady hand is turning a wheel on a manual sewing machine. And as the wheel turns, another bag is stitched together.

I just hope we can keep her dancing.

- Janet

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a sensitive story about Rebecca and Ester. You write so well about how these people keep working so hard for their survival. I am sure they are so happy to have such wonderful support from you Janet. The care and understanding that you and Mark have for these people is remarkable.
Love Prissy and Frank