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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Giant steps

Today, Anna, Haiffa, and Khadija met with marketing students from a local university. The students have been tasked with creating a marketing plan related to microbusiness development. Our project was a good match, so it looks like we're homework.

You would think that given the circumstances, these women would be nervous speaking in front of a group, but they weren't. Anna said they both did a great job of explaining what the project is and what makes it special and important to all of the women involved.

Haiffaa and Khadija did such a great job, in fact, that the students are under the impression that our project is much farther along than it actually is.

It's been less than three months, and two of our participants already had their first speaking engagement. If this doesn't speak of empowerment, what does?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aha! We've found the source!

In our last post, we mentioned that we wanted to find out where Htee gets the fabric for her beautiful cloth bags. Well, Anna stopped by Htee's house to find out more information and made a startling and wonderful discovery. See for yourself! Htee's body actually functions as the "frame" and tensioner for her makeshift loom. Wow.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Energy Flow

Anna was the teacher of the day on Saturday, as teacher Sharon had to facilitate a marathon new-tutor training across town.

It looks like we need to have a lesson to review technical skills and quality control. That's OK and a normal part of the learning process. Practice and patience make perfect.

There's still lots of enthusiasm, and it's spreading. Also, we've had a plan all along to expand the project to include crafts that the women enjoy, beyond making jewelry. Our group is starting to include quite a few Burmese Karen women and that should add a whole new element to the energy of our group. All of our Burmese students carry a lightweight, brightly colored, woven shoulder bag when they leave the house. I received one of these bags as a gift from a student, and the workmanship is lovely. We need to find out where the fabric is coming from. The blue bag pictured here was made by Htee Ku Paw and is modeled by teacher Melissa.

There are so many exciting--almost overwhelming--developments coming to our project, it's hard to take it all in. We've only been at this about ten weeks (!!), although it seems like so much longer. We're on a really sharp learning curve as organizers, as teachers, as mentors, and as business women. Is this very different from how the refugee women feel when they arrive in this country and need to function here almost immediately? The American Bead Women have the advantage of language, but that doesn't mean we always know what we're doing. Everyone working on this project is growing in totally unanticipated ways. What a gift.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Because you asked

We've received a few requests to explain what, exactly, a refugee is. To help our visitors understand this complex and often misunderstood issue, the definition is posted in the sidebar to the right. Just scroll down to learn the most important details. For a more in-depth look at the issue, click here to visit the UNHCR Website.

Approximately 80% of the world's refugees are women and children. Currently, the largest populations arriving in the US are coming from Burma, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Congo, and Iran (religious minorities). Refugees from Nepal (Bhutanese), Iraq, and possibly Darfur, Sudan are expected to start arriving soon.

There are many ways to assist with refugee resettlement in your area. Many religious or community-based organizations see the care of resettling refugees as part of their core mandate. To find a list of US resettlement agencies and their Websites, click on this link for the US Department of Health and Human Services Website.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Girls

This is Tukano Salat. She is the second daughter of her Bantu mother Fatuma Ali. Her family has been in the United States for 3 years now. She is a 6th grader at a middle school here in Denver. She, like many of the other young girls, is very interested in creating jewelry.

At first I was afraid that the girls would all want to keep what they made, but most of them were eager to see which pieces would sell. They constantly asked, "How much do you think this one will go for? Let's sell it for $10." These girls have great ideas and talent.

They all need more individual attention. Today I felt like I was being stretched in all directions, much like the bracelets we made today.

To the right are three more girls whose families are from Somalia, Momina, Khadiga, and Batula. Within the next few weeks, we are hoping we can bring more of the older teenagers into this project. The interest is definitely there. It is just hard for the girls to all gather in the same place when they all live in different areas of town. They all did wonderful and will be a great addition to the group.

Challenges and a little success

Today was a big day--we presented the women with their envelopes of cash for the items they've sold so far. The envelopes were fancy and personalized to make the moment a bit more special. Applause and pride all around. Haiffaa suggested that the women should be giving Anna and I a cut of the profits for the work we do. The day will come when a percentage of sales goes back into the "business," but not yet and certainly never to us.

We made stretch bracelets today. I thought it would be a good confidence booster, especially for those who've struggled with crimps and findings. Who doesn't appreciate instant gratification? The students were prolific in their bracelet production, especially Anna's teen group (which may have skewed a little pre-teen today). Those of us doing the teaching are trying very hard to convey the concept of "This is just practice--you can do it over."

Today was also "critique and quality control day." This was a tough thing because anyone who makes jewelry will tell you how personal the process is. Overall, I would say that the discussion went well and the women clearly understood what kind of changes they need to make--as well as design tweaks--in the future. Actually, the women were very eager to know how to make their work better, and I don't know that all artists would have been so open minded in that situation.

No class next week as it will be Eid al Fitr, the end of Ramadan. This is a huge holiday for the Muslim women in our group. We hope that the students will be more focused after Ramadan wraps up--this holy time has had its own demands that have kept many of our students busy with other things. Can you imagine taking jewelry classes in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day?

We hope to scope out some pre-holiday craft fair possibilities this week so we know how much jewelry we need to plan for in the immediate future. So much to do, and only 24 hours in a day...less if we sleep.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Spreading the love

It looks like we may have enough interest to start a second jewelry-making group. This "part 2" will be for teen girls. We haven't worked out any actual details, yet, but it looks like this is going to happen. Of course, eventually it would be best to integrate the groups and a have an intergenerational project.

There are not enough hours in the day for anyone working on this project.