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Monday, December 31, 2007

Growing into the New Year

The year is coming to an end, but for A Little Something, the last day of the year brought us more new beginnings.

A few weeks ago, Sharon and Anna met Mama Moumina, the undisputed doyenne of the Bantu community. Mama M is a force to be reckoned with. In a community where major decisions are made among the council of elders, it is Mama who often determines the outcome of those decisions. And she is wonderful. Her commanding presence is softened by her mischievous sense of humor and her theatrical expression. Mama M is a comedian, a diva, and a little bit intimidating.
And so it was we were honored and maybe a little bit nervous when Mama M said she wanted to join the crafts group and try her hand at making jewelry.

Today was Mama M's first lesson. When I arrived, I walked into a curtained off bedroom where Anna, Bakhara, and Moumina were seated on the floor, a pile of beads and jewelry-making supplies spread on the floor between them. Bakhara's two-year-old daughter was peeking around the curtain, trying to decide whether or not to come in or just launch an ambush on Anna from behind the curtain (it was the latter). The heat was cranked up high and the windows had long since steamed over.

I settled in to watch the lesson. Bakhara was patiently showing Mama M how to make earrings. Bakhara went through the first steps again and again, demonstrating the procedures and then assisting Mama M. The language was Mai-Mai, but the tone was that of an encouraging teacher. Mama M was a serious pupil but relaxed enough to shrug off her mistakes and move on. She really wanted to get it right, though--no false praise would do. I wondered: Would I risk learning something so unfamiliar (so publicly) at her age and station in life?

I looked at these women and thought about how it had been only a few weeks ago that Anna took a picture of Haiffaa teaching Bakhara, and as has been the way of things in this project, the newly-acquired knowledge was passed on to another woman almost immediately. I was struck by how Mama M, this respected woman of status in her community, patiently took instruction from a 20-year-old.

When Mama finished her first earring, she modeled it with more than a bit of sass. I took her picture, but it didn't really capture the playful showing off, the raised eyebrow, the hand on hip, the tilted chin and the flair that came with the pride one can only feel after finally figuring out how to do something that has been a challenge. When I thought about it, I realized that although Mama is known for her fiery personality, on this afternoon she was actually somewhat reserved and totally absorbed with the intricacies of turning a headpin.

The afternoon drew to a close after what seemed like just minutes. As we prepared to leave, Mama M asked for our phone numbers--in case she were to need further consultations. She smiled and in eloquent Mai-Mai, thanked us for our help. Anna responded quite competently in Mai-Mai. As we stepped past the curtain, I glanced back and saw Mama was still busily sorting beads. The curtain fell back into place, and Anna, Bakhara, her girls and I bundled ourselves up, said our goodbyes, and trundled out into the cold, snowy twilight.

It was a fine finish to a pretty good year.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Out and about with the Bead Women

After a brief break in the action, it was a good day to be out and about with the Bead Women to see what they've been up to.

Jaime and Sharon started the day with a visit to Sharifo to drop off supplies. Sharifo had six necklace and earring sets ready to go. She was happy to receive a new batch of beads--probably enough to last her at least a month. She needed a brief refresher lesson on using the crimp tool and attaching the dangle on to an earring. Sharon was happy to oblige.

Next, Jaime and Sharon met up with Anna over at Bakhara's apartment across town. Bakhara continues to be adamant about making her jewelry from seed beads in traditional African colors. She has started to integrate some more "western" beads into her designs which may increase their saleability among American buyers. Actually, her jewelry has a unique and original flair. In addition to helping Bakhara with her jewelery, Anna also stepped in to diaper Bakhara's daughter who had pretty happily started running around mid-change.

Next it was off to see Htee Ku Paw to deliver the money she earned from her most recent work. What a lovely reason to visit! Htee was busy weaving some beautiful fabric for a traditional Karen school bag. Two of her children were eager to meet the visitors and pose (and pose and pose) for pictures. Who knew the little screen on a digital camera could be so entertaining?

The final stop was a surprise visit to Haiffaa who was busy...relaxing. She was luxuriating in having the time to just hang out and do nothing on a Sunday. We dropped off a New Year gift for her: A wonderful
Bead-Project-A-Day calendar. Haiffaa is always eager to learn new jewelry techniques and to get creative inspiration, so this seemed like a very appropriate gift.

Jaime is somewhat new to A Little Something, but not to working in the world of refugee resettlement. She will be working on details related to nonprofit business development and getting us connected and networked with similar programs around the U.S. Of course, Jaime will be involved with some jewelry making, too! This was her first opportunity to do the rounds and meet some of the women in the project--you know, the fun part of getting a program like this off the ground (although we may already be hovering).

It looks like the New Year will be off to an enthusiastic and productive start for the A Little Something gang. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It's Christmas!

On behalf of the entire community of Bead Women, we'd like to wish all of you a beautiful and Merry Christmas on this very snowy day!

The best gift we received this year came early. It was the tremendous generosity, encouragement, and support we received from so many people around the world. We feel very blessed this holiday season!

Best wishes for day that surrounds you with love and abundance.

Sharon & Anna
and all of the women who are creating A Little Something

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Little Pause

Sorry we haven't posted for a little while. The Bead Women are busy celebrating Eid-ul-Adha or are getting ready to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Anna's in California for the holidays, but Sharon and Jaime are in town and off from work until the New Year, so they'll do their darndest to fill Anna's shoes doing home visits for the next couple of weeks.

We'll keep you posted just as soon as we finish our holiday preparations!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Doing our thing

I missed posting pictures from the long-postponed class we had on December 1. It was a little hectic due to a lack of teachers, but our first-time students had a proper introduction to the joy of jewelry making. A few photos:
Anna explains, "You start over here at zero, then count, one right, one left..."

Sharon helps Madina with some design encouragement.

It was an effort of epic proportions, but in the end, we had a bracelet--crimps and all!

Look what my mom made for me!

Putting a face on the work

In anticipation of our holiday craft sales participation, Anna created little price tags to go with each piece of jewelry. Each tag shows the name, country, and photo of the woman who crafted the piece. The price goes on the back. This picture is a little less than ideal, but it will still give you the idea of what Anna created. These tags were a highlight of the sales display and of the day in general. Good job, Bead Woman Anna--the only person I know who does graphic design in Excel!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's all about the picture

When Anna sent me the pictures from the Regis University visit, there was one that really caught my attention. I have no idea what the story is, but because it's such a fabulously funny picture, I thought I'd share. Does this mean we have a mascot? --Sharon

A Little Something Goes to School

Update on the project with the marketing class students at Regis University

Our project has been the case study for some wonderfully creative and business-minded college students. Today Haiffaa, Khadiga and I went to Regis University to see the research presentation the marketing class put together for A Little Something. It was fantastic. The students did a great job of explaining the basic elements of building a business while being sure to keep the integrity of the women intact. I was very proud of the students.

Here is a picture of the class with Haiffaa and Khadiga. I just want to thank them all for their hard work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Take a deep breath and go for it...

The Bead Women have had what can surely be described as a whirlwind first few months. We didn't know if this project would actually work, and we had no idea what to expect as we went along.

The project has been a challenge for every woman involved. We are all learning--and there is a lot to learn. Sometimes that presents huge obstacles, and sometimes it's fascinating. It has been a blessing to know that we have a lot supporters, some far away, some here at home, but all are enthusiastic.

Today we held our first big crafts sale. It was at Opportunity School, where some of the refugee women attend English classes or have in the past. Doing an event like this is sort of like throwing a party when you don't really know if anyone will show up. Well, our party was well attended. Sales were excellent, and although the financial end of things was exciting, there was something else about today that will be memorable far longer than the excitement of healthy sales.

Our room was busy almost nonstop for the four hours of the sale. Not everyone who came was a customer. We saw a lot of people from the school, students and staff alike. Quite a few people from the refugee network here took time from their busy day (and they are busy) to visit, as did other people from the larger community who have heard about this project. Haiffaa and Khadiga were on hand to meet their public, and they were fine ambassadors for their project.

Over and over we were praised for our hard work. Plenty of folks asked, "How can I help?" Words of encouragement surrounded us all day. The money was a very good thing, but we can never assign a value to the outpouring of support and kind words we received today.

All of us who work on this project have been working very, very hard. Sometimes our efforts are rewarding, and sometimes we come away from the day very frustrated. After months of pouring most of our energy and all of our spare time into trying to get the crafts project off the ground, it looks like we're really on our way. Up until now, these blog posts have been a reflection of our focus: How is this working for the refugee women involved? Today I stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by colleagues, students, and visitors and watched their smiles and facial expressions of curiosity and delight. I listened to a shower of kind words full of enthusiasm and encouragement. I watched people marvel over Anna's fabulous product tags that put the women's faces and names with the things they had made. "This is great" was something we heard over and over.

Personally, I've been exhausted lately, but today was a very good day and energizing in its own way. When I realized just how much community support we have, it was like having a refreshing glass of water on a hot day. I think that all of us who have been putting our hearts into this project forget to take time to appreciate all we've accomplished. It's nice that others are taking the time to remind us that our time has been well spent. We're not in this for the "thank you," but standing in a room full of happy people who are excited about what we're trying to do, seeing that they are filled with enthusiasm and encouragement, felt like a big hug and an A+ rolled up in one.

It was a good day.