This week I have been looking at the notion of money and poverty in Africa. The question I get asked often and one I would like to try and answer in this thread is How do things work on the ground?.
I will approach it from the point of view of the women I work with and draw from my visit to Tanzania and Uganda in 2008.
Having left Omari I was collected from my hotel by Flotea one of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers. She was two hours late and I was unhappy about this until I heard her reasons.
Flotea is an amazing woman who left school at a very young age with no qualification to speak of this meant that she was excluded from formal employment and the only skills she had were embroidery skills. she started out by making table linen and curtains for her own home, when her neighbours saw the quality of her work they asked if she could make home furnishings for them too and soon word had got out and she had a list of customers. She soon outgrew the space in her two room house, and had to extend it, as well as widening her range to include African tote bags Flotea’s idea has grown beyond her imagination and today she employees 30 women from the slums of Dar es Salaam. She shares what skills she has with women less fortunate than she is through workshops on textile production and design
After the initial pleasantries I asked her about her morning and it transpired that she wanted to expand her business so that she can take on more staff. In order to do so she wanted to move to larger premises built from scratch and for two years she had been trying to buy a piece of land for the new premises without much luck.
She had therefore decided to hand over the whole matter to a Solicitor and that meeting had over run and therefore she couldn’t get to me on time. I was truly shocked by what Flotea had just told me which seemed to validate part of what Omari had told me earlier that morning.
I could see clearly why it was important to have commercial systems streamlined and made more efficient to enable businesses to function more effectively. How on earth do you expand a business when acquiring a piece of land for the new premises is a two year process and that is before the construction process begins? I told Flotea about my meeting with Omari and the general points we had covered especially the MONEY!
Flotea looked me in the eye and said “I pity any African who believes that some external person/outsider will come and resolve our problems, because I tell you what they will be waiting for a long time”
This is a strong statement and it raised another question in my mind. African women like Flotea are not expecting handouts and expect to work hard in order to get ahead all things being equal, so why do we in the West have this notion of giving more money?
As we continue the conversation about my morning Flotea is not very keen to be drawn on the issues of what happens to the AID money. She insists that the politicians have the answers to this question. She felt that institutions do not appear to have any interest in the small man on the street therefore she just minds her own business!
Flotea argued that the government merely plays lip service to women’s issues and that in fact unless women work together to share skills and resources they are unlikely to succeed. She told me that there are large numbers of women in Tanzania involved in textile production however there is no institution where these women can go and learn about textile and design. They instead rely on skills sharing where those who know teach those that do not. In her mind this is the one thing that would change life for most women especially the slum dwellers.
Other challenges included
- Lack of IT and communication skills
- Access to markets the lack of information means they don’t always know what market demands are
I spent the rest of the afternoon and the best part of the evening with Flotea and her team and I taught them how to use email and PICASA Google’s photographs programme. this would enable them to share photos of their products with folk all over the world. Flotea appreciated this and as I left her she told me this is what we need people to come in and share what they know with us!
So there you have it folk, for women like Flotea, it really isn’t about the money! In the enxt post I will introduce another of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers whose view is somewaht different from that of Flotea. In the mean time if you have a view either way on any of the issues raised here please share it