Feb

07

Hyderabad : MyChoices, empowering peacemakers

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Empowerment means taking risks, giving up comfort and stepping out in boldness to do something that matters.

Over the past few months I’ve gotten to know Elca Grobling, the founder of MyChoices a former Aussie finance manager who decided to move her entire family of 5 to Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh to make a difference for women that have suffered from domestic violence. Elca’s passion for this cause is inherent in her zeal as she shares about the issues here in India that women face.

In Andra Pradesh alone 30% of the violence enacted is against a woman. Most domestic violence cases are attributed to alcohol, especially in poorer families. Dowry, lack of education and child marriages also contribute to this. Her vision has been to train local women with counseling skills to go back into their own communities to be the “peacemakers”. The hope is that these peacemakers can be safe points of contact for abused women so that they have an outlet to share the issues that they are facing. The peacemakers also provide access to onsite professional counselors at MyChoices.

MyChoices also started a sewing unit recently in efforts to support the cause and provide good work to women within the communities they’re reaching. We’re excited about the development and may consider partnering with them in the coming year to produce new products.

In light of this, we conducted a basic skills assessment in order to assess the readiness of the sewing unit. Calvina helped us conduct a simple eye-exam (while trying the encourage the women NOT to help each other was another battle.) We also gave the women some test samples to produce. Our hope is that we can see improvement over time and that they would be in position to produce export-ready product in the near future. I’m excited again to see the possibilities!

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Jun

10

Moving Forward

It’s been a few months since we’ve updated and certainly a lot has happened. When we last updated we were in the midst of training the first class of women that Stitching Sparrow would hire. The women were extraordinary. They were excited about the opportunity to work; it wasn’t just about the income but the sense of identity and dignity in being able to contribute something beautiful to the world.

However during that month, we realized that there are some very critical missing pieces in the operations. When we began all our planning, we had one solid premise – the sewing center needs to be a for-profit business. It’s not so much about making tons of money – it never has. It’s about running the sewing center with the heart and hustle to produce on-time, on-budget and at a remarkable level of quality. 

This is critical for two reasons. First, quality, cost and reliability are of utmost importance when producing a product for the western market. The second reason, being just as important, is that when we value the product, we value the women who make it. Pursuing excellence in production means we believe they are capable and recognize the work they put into it. This is why we were very adamant about running the sewing center as a business.

However as the training came to an end, we realized our partners would not (at the present time) be able to run the sewing center the way we heartily believed it needed to be run. It was a mixture of not being able to commit the kind of time/resources we expected and the conflicting mentality of wanting to run a business like a non-profit. I want to say here that our partners, who we love as family, are people of utmost integrity. We are always encouraged by their sacrificial and servant’s heart and have learned an enormous amount from them. 

Unfortunately in the end, we needed to pull out of working with Stitching Sparrow. It’s heartbreaking for both for us. There is a lot of potential. But it’s critical that we be on the same page as to how the sewing center would be run. We may consider working together again and will likely revisit the idea in the future. For now however it is better we part ways. 

Fortunately, the old motto as one door closes another opens is very true. We were extremely fortunate to connect with other established sewing centers in other parts of India and we are presently seeing whether we can have them make our blankies. They’ve already produced export quality product and are committed to working with poor and marginalized communities. We’re excited about the opportunities to partner and shooting to have a new product line in the fall. We’re in heavy design mode right now and look forward to having something out to you as soon as possible!

As we reflect on the past few months, we’ve grieved not seeing our plans with Stitching Sparrow come to fruition. But we’ve also learned a ton and will be better people for it. Without waver, we’re still committed to two things: making beautiful products and empowering under-resourced people. We’re excited about the future of Ellie Fun Day and look out for new and exciting things in the coming year! 

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Feb

21

Week 1 of Training Done!

It’s pretty amazing to see where we’ve come in just one week. We know that it takes time to develop new habits and proper procedures in order to run a sewing center. This week we wanted to gauge their knowledge and their abilities. We are trying some really different techniques that most Indians don’t  teach. First is the “WHY”. In typical Indian culture, schools rely on repetition and rote memory. Children are not encouraged to ask why. If they do, teachers see it as a form of disobedience. With our partnership with Stitching Sparrow, we want to teach “why” so that the things that our women learn are internalized and they will hopefully be more motivated to do it the correct way. One of the very first activities we had them do was to observe their surroundings for inspiration of shapes. This is a new concept for many Indians to be inspired and think differently. It was really fun to see them walking around and finding inspiration.

This is what we do on a daily basis:

  • Pray and read a passage from the Bible
  • Take Attendance
  • Take out Tools
  • Clean and Oil Machines
  • Practice Yesterday’s Lesson
  • Instruction
  • Tea Time
  • Design Lessons
  • Lunch
  • Embroidery Lessons
  • Clean Up

We also had the women draft up their policies and procedures. In the end we want this sewing center to be theirs. Not what something a foreigner built and made them do, but a partnership where we empower them according to their skills and talents.

Cleanliness seems to be relative here in India. Our hope is to set an example of cleanliness so that we can help them improve their own family’s health and also eventually pass inspections for the certifications that we will need. I take for granted our standards of clean in the West. The idea of cleaning a bathroom in India is to take some water and pour it all over the toilet and splash it on the walls. That’s how most cleaning is done in India. As the women saw how I took a brush to the tiled walls and scrubbed them, they were astounded by how “new” everything started to look. After 1 hour and three of us scrubbing down our bathroom, it was near sparkling clean. They got the picture.

At the end of class we also asked the women what their hopes and prayer requests were. A couple of them needed a new house because their roofs were leaking. Some have debt that needs to be paid due to emergency health related bills. Many also had sick children or husbands since the weather has changed. Our hope is that our women will be able to learn how to manage their financial needs and use their form of employment as a means to help their families out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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