by Kate von Achen
One thing I have noticed working in crafts here in Uganda for so long, is that often, artisans are not getting paid what they should for their work. In fact, I am convinced that many are likely paying to make their things, not making any profit after purchasing materials, much less adding in money for their labor. I have also noticed that they often have very little idea how much revenue they have brought in over a month or six months or a year from the work they have done. These issues, combined with a desire to foster friendships between the two women’s groups which Awava works with in Gulu, led me to want to work to fill all of these gaps. I decided to put together an entrepreneurship and business development curriculum which would be appropriate for the ladies given their education levels and the stages of their businesses. This project had been in the pipeline for some time and we finally were able to compile all of the resources (information, time, money, translator, etc.) and hold a three day training last week!
Hanna and I headed up to Gulu Tuesday morning with markers, charts and big sheets of paper, as well as hundreds of pounds of fabric to place a big new order with the tailors. We reached Gulu Town around 2pm, unpacked the car and headed out for a late lunch before going to greet the tailors. There is an amazing new coffee shop and café in Gulu called The Coffee Hut. It was delicious and their espresso was amazing! We took a lot of our meals from there over the next few days.
After getting some nourishment we walked to the market to see the tailors. Lucy was alone and hard at work, trying to complete a million orders before all of the summer volunteers for various organizations left to return to the US and Europe. I asked where Rosemary and Esther were and she told me that there were many patients.
Rosemary’s son was in the hospital with malaria and Esther’s niece was in another hospital with post labor complications. They were both off visiting the patients.
Over the next few days, Rosemary’s son was improving but Esther’s niece was not. She had had a caesarian section and there was an infection and the stitches had pulled apart. She was taken to Gulu Referral Hospital for treatment but seemed to be getting worse. The infection had gotten so bad that it had made her go “mad” and by Friday she had been taken to the psychiatric hospital. Esther assured me that she was getting proper medical treatment. Antibiotics were there, etc. She promised to keep us updated. This has been particularly frustrating because I am just finishing the book, “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which deals with women’s issues in developing countries around the globe. The statistics and stories about maternal mortality are horrifying, and now this issue is touching very close to home. Esther promised to keep us updated and let us know if the family needs any assistance.
Hanna and I returned to Bora Bora, the place we were staying (not beautiful but only $7.00/night and amazing owners!) to shower and organize for day one of the training. We talked with Osman, the owner, about holding our trainings there. They used to have a restaurant but when we arrived, I realized it was now being rented out as a plumbing shop. There were other rooms being renovated and Osman said it would be no problem to clean one up and put some tables and chairs so we could use the space. He also said that his wife Asha would be happy to prepare food for us each day. Excellent!
Wednesday morning Hanna and I got up early and went to The Coffee Hut for breakfast and coffee and some last-minute planning before the training began at 9am. Day one was relatively easy. We started with introductions (the two groups hadn’t met before) and some morning tea and chapatti. We then went through to talk about what we would be working on over the three days and why. I encouraged the women to discuss (typically education here is a system of wrote memorization, not one of discussion). I told them that we didn’t want to come in and tell them what to do, but rather sit together and think of various ideas for various topics and share experiences.
Over the three days we covered marketing, product costing, complete record keeping, savings (both personal and business), long term plans and partnerships. We were SERIOUSLY busy!
We started with brainstorming ideas of what made an entrepreneur and then shifted into the differences between an entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur. That led us to talking about marketing locally, how Awava markets internationally and then the eye opening discussion on how to cost products. We asked the women to list all of the things which they spend money on for their business. What key item were they leaving out the most? Labor. This was something that was overlooked, just as I suspected. All of these women are used to performing back breaking work day in and day out for no money (digging in the garden, cleaning the home, cooking, washing laundry by hand), and there is value in keeping busy, but you must also get money for your work!
At that point we went through a chart showing how to cost your products and then gave them a print out of one of Awava’s sheets showing how we cost our products. The one we used was the one for our tailored items. We went through and saw that though the task of costing products is tedious and requires a lot of measuring and counting and calculating, it would lead us to know exactly how much each product costs to produce in terms of materials, and then how to add money for labor. This will be a work in progress for this next month. We left all of the artisans with the assignment of measuring and counting everything that goes into each product, as well as calculating time spent on each product. We will sit down with each group in the first week of September to go through all of these calculations to see what we find.
Another somewhat overwhelming assignment we left each group with was record keeping. Almost all of these women have very limited formal education, so even basic addition and subtraction was somewhat new for some of them. It was incredibly humbling to be working on accounting with them, and we all had a good laugh every time I messed up (which let’s face it, math and I are mortal enemies so this was frequent).
Each group received 2 receipt books, a book to record every transaction (money coming in and going out), as well as a book to record daily, weekly, monthly and yearly revenues and envelopes to keep receipts for each month. We spent an entire day on record keeping. It was seriously exhausting for everyone, though Rosemary surprised us with her excitement! She really seemed to enjoy this part (I think she was the only one) and she might have a future in accounting! We’ll all have to stay tuned.
At the end of book keeping day, I told the artisans that they would in fact receive certificates for completing the training BUT they wouldn’t get those certificates until we come back and check their books in September. I know, I’m such a downer! But I told them that it didn’t necessarily have to be right, I just wanted to see that they tried. And if there are any errors, we will work with them on those. A wave of relief dissipated the previous wave of panic.
Friday, and the last day of the training, we discussed ways that the two groups could potentially work together. The tailors have a stall in the market, but Konye Keni (the women making paper beads) work from home and have not other outlet than Awava for their products. I was planning on talking with Lucy privately about maybe selling some of their necklaces from her stall, but she beat me to it! AND the two groups (and Awava) are working on some items which incorporate the work of each group. EXCELLENT! I sense new products coming soon….
At the end of each day, Asha cooked all of us a delicious lunch which we shared before the ladies headed back to work. Asha is seriously an amazing cook. On the last day she made a chicken stew and I had serious flashbacks to my many vegetarian years when I realized that I had seen the two chickens (Hanna pointed out that there were 4 legs in the stew) pre-death. Luckily I hadn’t named them as I often do so the bond hadn’t quite been cemented.
After lunch the tailors went to the market to finish some work and Konye Keni stayed around so we could purchase eleventy billion necklaces from them. We decided this would be the perfect time to give the bookkeeping materials a test drive! It took quite a while but we all remained patient and the artisans were actually somewhat excited to be putting these new skills into practice!
The Konye Keni ladies left us and Hanna and I walked to the market to count, pay for (including accounting) and say goodbye to the tailors. We picked up product in some awesome new prints and picked up 448 of the 2,400 draw string bags we’re making for Clinton Health Access Initiative (more on this coming soon) and helped Lucy pack up the shop for the day. Rosemary and Esther hugged us goodbye and went off to see their ailing family members and Hanna and I walked back to Bora Bora with our loot, completely exhausted and insanely happy.