Women’s Day 2015 Guest Blogger – Ms. Anita Ahuja, Creative Director, Conserve India & Conserve HRP India!!!!!!!!!!!

Women behind this empire Conserve India & Conserve HRP.  A Multifaceted personality – writer, artist, designer, Social Entrepreneur.  Most of all warm and loving person!!

Thank you Ms. Ahuja for brushing your strokes in this space.

Over to Ms. Ahuja……

The words, “make it happen” make me believe that it should be more of a mission and vision for everyone. Being a professional I have several problems. What makes me get out of bed each morning is the thought that I have to make it happen. While taking a morning walk, I make small signs on the pavement my immediate target goals and keep looking at the distant trees as my midterm goals. It includes both personal as well as professional goals. I put all my energy, physical, spiritual and mental strength behind the thought that I have to make it happen. My eyes are always looking for some interesting waste, either in the municipal stream or industrial. My mind keeps pondering about different ways to transform waste into something sell-able. There are times; I receive waste which is smelly, rather obnoxious. But I do not reject it. I let it absorb within me. My mind is ticking away, how I can recreate, re-purpose it ? When I am working with the rag pickers, I think how I get them out of this stinking poverty. After all, this is man-made poverty!! There must be a way out. And my mind says, make it happen.

Things do happen, and you need to believe in it!!!!

 

Women’s Day 2015 Guest Blogger – Ms. Sunita Bhasin of Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute, India!!!!!!!!!!!

Ms. Sunita Bhasin is a committed educationist, environmentalist and trainer with proven community organizing and management skills with cross functional expertise. Since 2003 she has lead SSMI family of 286 employees 90% of them are women. She has a deep understanding of community issues and a motivation to resolve them through trainings, counseling and livelihood. In these years she has turned promoted around 200 cluster women to earn with dignity. She is the Director of Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute, (SSMI)

Thank you Ms. Bhasin for honouring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with this gesture

Over to Ms. Bhasin……

The crayons in their hand, a paper in front of them and a million ideas in their minds… what should we draw, a smile lights up the young faces . The excitement, oh I have an idea is well expressed on their faces. The idea transforms on the paper!!

An artisan toils away at the fine embroidery humming softly her favorite folk song.

Women chatting & toiling at the big vessels cooking nutritious meals for children help fight mal- nutrition.

I remember in my Non-formal education class for adult literacy I handed each woman a pack of color pencils to draw whatever they wanted. One of women with tears in her eyes came and hugged me saying that she could not believe that this was for her. She told us all how she would feel guilty of using her kids’ colors and that she was very fond of painting. She created some amazing pictures for greeting cards.

I experience such moment’s every day. Little moments and little happenings light up my day.

Innumerable experiences working with women and children have enriched my life and made me realize that it is people like you and me who can make things happen – bring in joy, bring in change through small efforts though I know at that moment they seem difficult and humungous.

But how do you make it happen – identify the problem, find the right source, connect ideas, collect resources and bingo it happens.

Help educate the young and train women for livelihoods.

Women’s Day 2015 Guest Blogger – Ms. Lori Dando, USA!!!!!!!!!!!

Lori Peterson Dando is a career Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, now serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Asmara, Eritrea.  In June 2013 she graduated from the Navy War College, earning a Master of National Defense and Strategic Studies.  From 2010-2012 she served as the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy to the Federated States of Micronesia, where she coordinated FSM’s participation in the 2011 Pacific Partnership and encouraged FSM to pass an anti-trafficking law.  Previous assignments include serving as the Deputy Head of the Community Affairs Unit of the International Civilian Office (ICO), an international organization created to supervise the Government of Kosovo as it transitioned to an independent nation.  At the ICO, she headed the office responsible for Decentralization, the core structure for integrating the Serb minority into Kosovo structures.  Other prior foreign assignments include Copenhagen, Denmark; New Delhi, India; Durban, South Africa; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  Within the Foreign Service, Lori has specialized in economic and environmental issues, including a tour in Washington D.C. in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

Prior to joining the Foreign Service Lori practiced law for more than a decade, primarily as an Assistant County Attorney in Minnesota, where she also taught and published articles and training materials on contact law, the law and policy of data collections, data privacy and information policy generally.  She served as Chair of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Geographic Information and also on the National Board of State Geographic Information Councils.

In addition to the Navy War College, she holds a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and a Juris Doctorate, cum laude, and Bachelor of Arts, Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Minnesota.  She is married and has two sons, one an engineer in Duluth, Minnesota and one a Foreign Service Officer in the Department of State, serving his first assignment in Abu Dhabi.

Thank you Ms. Dando for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with this gesture

Over to Ms. Dando……

I was deeply honored to be asked to blog on “Make it Happen” in celebration of International Women’s Day, but I don’t see myself as a Social Change-maker.  Most days I barely see myself as an adequate bureaucrat!  I seem to waffle between two worlds……

I seem to waffle between two worlds.  In one, I focus on the minute day to day tasks.  I write out my to-do list and find satisfaction in being able to cross things off.  Sometime I put things on the list that I have already done, just to be able to cross them off!  Then there is the other world.  The big one.  The one that is so large and so problematic and so full of selfishness and yes, sometimes evil, that I don’t know where to begin.  How can I stop the glaciers from melting?  What can I do to bring peace in the world?  Where would I even start to eradicate gun violence?

Take a breath.  What is it that I really want to “make happen?”  I’ve learned in life that people are motivated by different things.  Some seek glory and honor and recognition.  Others seek comfort, friendship and a feeling of belonging.  Others, like myself, are mostly task oriented.  We like to get things done.  The key to “make it happen” then, is understanding what the goal is, and, more importantly, how I can tie your motivation to my motivation, so that we can work together.  Maybe me recycling a bottle won’t change the world.  But, what if I make you feel good about recycling by calling out your efforts or by including you in the committee?  And what if you reach out and change someone else’s opinion?  I know it is a small thing, but big things are often made up of many small parts. 

What if someone had a great idea to help people and all they needed was a bit of encouragement to get over their hesitation?  I know a woman who wanted to help women entrapped in poverty.  She had a fantastically creative idea to create beautiful products made of the trash these women picked up every day.  I remember the day Anita sat in my living room and said she didn’t know how to build a business plan.  But she did!  All I did was listen, and the rest, as they say, is history.  I am so honored and humbled to think that I played even a minuscule part of “making Conserve happen” by just listening and giving encouragement.  Sometimes it might be that simple. Other times, some might be called to make a huge sacrifice.  I don’t have any advice to give because what works for me, might not make any sense to you.  I guess that’s the point.  We each have to find our own way to make it happen.  Find the thing that you can do at this moment that will make the biggest difference.   

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”  Arthur Ashe

 

 

Women’s Day 2015 Guest Blogger – Ms. Aparna Bhat of Ennovent, India!!!!!!!!!!!

Ms. Aparna Bhat learnt about the concept of Social Entrepreneurship during her Masters at IE University in Spain and has since been fascinated with the concept of ‘doing well by doing good’. She loves teaching and is passionate about the issue of the quality of education in India. She currently works at an innovation accelerator called Ennovent and hopes to use this experience to someday start an enterprise in the education space.

Thank you Ms. Bhat for honouring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with this gesture

Over to Ms. Bhat……

About 3 years ago, I started with some friends a skill development initiative called ‘Ansuya’ (learned women in Sanskrit) at a slum in Mumbai. The idea was to economically empower young women from low income backgrounds so that they may be able to take up certain skill based vocations, earn a living, and potentially escape the domestic violence that I know a lot of these women are victims of. We worked with these young women to enhance the skills that they already possess, helped them make products out of it, sold it for them and gave them the profit earned. This was a very rudimentary idea at that stage since I knew very little about setting up a social business, but broadly the mission was to help them become entrepreneurs. Thus, apart from teaching them vocational skills such as embroidery and fabric painting, we also taught basic spoken English, mathematics, basic costing, public speaking and other such supplementary skills. These classes allowed me to interact with these young women for long periods of time and understand deeply their lives, their thoughts, their observations and their opinions. Due to the faith they placed in me as a teacher, I was to some extent able to put them in a situation where they openly debate and question the context that they live in. While teaching them, I also started to question whether my short term goal of economically empowering them will lead to the ultimate goal of helping them question and potentially break out of the cage of patriarchy we all are bound by.

The situation of the woman who works at our house helped me realize that this ultimate goal will not be achieved through economic empowerment. Asha works as the help in a few houses and therefore has a much better and steadier income than her husband who is a contract based painter. She plans well, invests her money, and provides her children with a decent standard of living and education. She is economically empowered, just as I wanted my students from Ansuya to be. However, when her husband comes home drunk and beats her, she does not defend herself despite having the physical strength to do so. Not only does she meekly face the violence, she does not even question it. Asha, like the rest of our society, is bound by patriarchy. This has unfortunately become the way of life for all men and women in our society; it is the only way we know how to function and defines our roles and interpersonal interactions. It is therefore perpetrated by all of us from generation to generation as culture and tradition, along with the ideal of not questioning it. I realized from my experience at Ansuya that mere economic empowerment does not break these bounds, that a monumental eye opener is rather required. Just as Emma Watson highlighted in her speech at the UN, it is essential for both men and women to question and break this cage of patriarchy since men are also bound by the rules of our patriarchal society that requires them to be the provider, hide their emotions, take care of the family, face problems on their own to keep their wife happy, take up certain ‘manly’ professions, etc.

As I highlighted earlier, the cage of patriarchy limits us all, irrespective of the strata of society and the economic empowerment of women. As we are working on game changing ideas to deal with developmental issues, it is important that we work on better education and other such means to act as platforms for the necessary eye opener. On a personal front, I would like to go back to Ansuya, exactly identify how to discuss and bring out this issue so that we can collectively question and make it happen.

 

Women’s Day 2015 Guest Blogger – Ms. Kelly McJannett of Food Ladder, Australia!!!!!!!!!!!

Kelly McJannett, Director, Food Ladder, Australia is experienced in developing start up non-profit organizations and designing innovative and compelling communications and marketing strategies for same. Spanning the Indigenous Education and Employment sectors Kelly has held management roles and overseen important diversification, before pursuing her dream of addressing global food security challenges.

Kelly is passionate about creating sustainable solutions for pervasive social issues affecting communities across the globe. Kelly drives the international replication strategy for the business.

Thank you Ms. McJannett for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with this gesture!

Over to Ms. McJannett……

We need to make it happen

Climate change is the greatest threat facing our world. Whether you are a sceptic or not it is impossible to ignore the‘side effects’ of climate change;record breaking rainfall and monsoons, retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, warming sea temperatures, and how such factors are today(right now!) impacting the livelihoods of the majority of people on our planet; the poor.

As climate change finds its feet and shows us the true strength of its character the most vulnerable people are losing their homes, being forced to relocate, inadvertently creating geopolitical tensions, and they finding they have even less to eat.

The good news is, as human beings we have an extraordinary track recordof pulling off the unimaginable.When it comes to safeguarding our world and the people in it; we no longer have a choice.

I would like to introduce Aniti. She is refugee of the Scheduled Tribes of India, people from Bengal, Bangladesh andAssam who have fled their home in a desperate search in a changing world. Aniti and her three small children now live among the waste, mud and faeces of the Bahadurgarh slum neighbouring west Delhi. Aniti is often raped when she tries to leave the slum to go to the bathroom at night. Her children, as young as 8,have fallen victim also. She is too fearful to go out in search of work and leave her children alone in the slum incase they may be kidnapped while she is gone. The majority of young girls and boys who make up the sex trafficking industry in India, and neighbouring countries, will recount a similar initiation. There is no protection for Aniti nor her children whatsoever. In the Bahadurgarh Slum, malnutrition is at 100%.

It’s people such as Aniti and the millions just like her, for whom we had to make Food Ladder happen.

I am Director and co-founder of Food Ladder and we create social enterprises that empower people like Aniti to grow their own food using cheap,simple, hydroponic systems. I like to think of Food Ladder as a holistically sustainable organisation; environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

Food Ladder is a first. We do not hand out food, but empower the community to grow their own with a system that speaks to their needs and addresses their challenges. Placing responsibility on the community’s(largely female) leaders our social enterprise model hopes to improve nutrition, enables employment and provides a revenue stream ongoing, independent of our organisation.

Food Ladder systems require a relatively small space but can yield 5 times more produce per metre than traditional farming practice. A 60msq system, for example, can produce enough food to supplement the diets of 250 people.

Currently we are expanding our reach in the Bahadurgarh slum of west Delhi with a system adjoining the two room mud-brick school so Aniti and her fellow mothers can enjoy a much needed job and income stream, close to home, while their children are freelearn.

The system will grow high-nutrient food including spinach, tomatoes and bokchoy. Some of the food will be eaten by Anti and her children to address their malnutrition, the rest of it will be sold into the market to finance small salaries and cover the cost of purchasing seeds to replenish the system.

At Food Ladder we are gaining momentum to rollout our social enterprise solutions throughout India and then the world.

Providing appropriate opportunities for the poor is something that we must make happen. If not because it is simplythe right thing to do, then because it makes good economic and environmental sense!

Education and employment of impoverished women equates to smaller families (population control), higher earning potential (stronger economies), improved health (reduced malnutrition and spread of infectious disease) and cohesive communities (less migration). The list of supplementary outcomes is long.

While it would be nice to think that the powers of Government and big corporations might have the silver bullet solution to make these issues simply disappear, we can not wait idly be to see if it will happen. We must make it happen ourselves.

I believe we need to see these challenges as problems to be solved with innovation, intellect and collective action. Human progress.

We no longer have a choice.

Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Anita Ahuja, Creative Director of Conserve India & Conserve HRP, New Delhi, India

Women behind this empire Conserve India & Conserve HRP.  A Multifaceted personality – writer, artist, designer, Social Entrepreneur.  Most of all warm and loving person!!

Thank you Ms. Ahuja for brushing your strokes in this space.

Over to Ms. Ahuja…..

“Inspiring Change” – Well, where do I start? I see so many of them around me everyday.

Early 2007

Geeta – A Rag-picker

A Rape victim abandoned by her parents and lived on streets. She earned her bread and butter collecting trash from streets of Delhi. Her street living and her dependence on contractor made her vulnerable to all kinds of abuse.

Mid 2007

She started working as an employee of our company.  We trained her in quality control.

Personality – A calm and aloof person! Yes, you heard it right. It’s been many years, she has stopped speaking.

March 2014

Geeta – A Responsible Factory Worker, Happy Wife and Doting Mother

Today she is a responsible factory worker in our factory. She is married and very happy with her husband. Job and Kids are her another set of joy. And, her children go to school.

Personality – She speaks fluent Hindi and has cultivated a sense of humor.

Women are more challenged because of their circumstances – patriarchal society , male child syndrome , physical stamina, societal pressures etc. All this boils down to low opportunities and lower self esteem  

It’s time to get them out of the vicious cycle. Education, be it any kind – soft skills, technical skills and financial literacy can do wonders and create new age leaders, who are hard to defeat

Yes, every woman can become a leader and model for other women. Every Woman is an Inspiring Change for someone out there!

Happy Women’s Day

-Anita Ahuja

 

Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Mandy Richards of Global Sisters, Sydney, Australia

Impressive women with so many passions but freedom and human rights of women are particularly strong for her and continuing to grow. Lady behind Global Sisters! You can read more about her – http://www.gdstudios.com/~dev/global_sisters/advisors/mandy-richards/

Thank you Ms. Richards for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with your this gesture.

Over to Ms. Richards………

I had to think about what inspires me to do the work I do, and to try to create real social change.

It varies somewhat in subject and place, but the ever-present theme is creating social change. For some reason I am one of these people who has a need to save the world or at least attempt to in order to make my life seem worthwhile. I am an animal lover, I love the great outdoors and I am particularly passionate about human rights & empowering vulnerable women.

Someone once asked me to fast forward to the day I am lying on my deathbed, and what was it I would want to see looking back on my life. For me it is simple; to love, be loved and to have made a difference. My friends and family are more important than anything else to me and a need to help those having a hard time in life is what makes me tick. Sometimes I fail miserably but these goals are always at the back of my mind, and every day I try to reach them.

I’m not sure what the catalyst was for this drive to make a difference in the world.  I suspect spending my primary school years living in Indonesia, while my father worked on a foreign aid project, may have planted a seed somewhere in my heart. I will never forget walking by myself as a 9 year old through flower markets and passing one person after another cruelly disfigured with Leprosy.

I’ve traveled a lot and generally in developing countries. I always marvel at the ingenuity and skill of so many people who have so little but can create something beautiful or clever out of virtually nothing. A few years ago I started wondering about helping to connect women artisans in developing countries with markets i.e. women in developed countries, who had the money to buy the goods. Around the same time I spent some time working in Botswana and with the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals in Ethiopia. My father made a comment just before I went to Botswana that stuck with me – he said he couldn’t understand why so many people go overseas to help others when there is so much need on our own doorstep. All of this and three years helping to set up a wide variety of social enterprises in Australia lead to ideas starting to fall into place in my head of how I could perhaps make a positive impact.

Global Sisters is my current project and designed to assist women who are economically disadvantaged to develop an online micro business. I like to work smart not long, so rather than reinventing the wheel my aim with is to fill in gaps and help to join the dots so that real change can be created a the grass roots. A one stop shop sales and marketing platform, Global Sisters will provide a space where women who want to provide support, and women in need of support can find each other in our online village. A business directory and e-marketplace will support women and social enterprises in Australia and overseas and our micro loans fund will be the first of its kind for women in Australia.

So now I reach the answer to my question of what inspires me….The women I am working with inspire me every day, whether I am reading a woman’s story, or experiencing it first hand. The strength and consistent desire to create a better future for her children against all adversity, and the passion, bravery and determination of those both supporting and being supported…this is what makes my fire burn.

– Mandy Richards

Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Fiona Wright of The Stitiching Project, Rajasthan, India

Based in rural Rajasthan, India! She and her husband share their farm house with a camel and assorted menagerie. Their day job is “The Stitching Project” dedicated to ethically creating textiles and women’s work locally. In their spare time they share their love for textiles through their small travel company Creative Arts Safaris.

Thank you Ms. Wright for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with your this gesture.

Over to Ms. Wright…………….

A great honor being asked to be a quest blogger at Conserve India. Inspiring change is a topic to enjoy contemplating and then the reality hits …what do I say???
Inspiring Change is a vast picture in my mind…do I talk about India?
I was a yoyo visitor for many years and ever few months since when I arrived I saw so much had changed, somethings admittedly you would grumble about and yet even the slow wheels of Government here do so much more in the way of changing than I was witnessing in my home place of Australia. Now I have settled with my husband in rural Rajasthan and watch out the window the workings of village life.
Do I still think there is change ? Yes, perhaps, maybe but so slow.
The feeling – so much that needs to be done, who will do it, why not government, why not locals …why not me?
Being exposed to India I have come across so many inspiring stories- top of the list is Gandhi as a role model for modern India, what more do I really need to say than to quote him “BE the change you want to see in the world’
Modern day ventures like Barefoot College, Sadhna, Gramshree, Udayancare, Conserve India has an abundance of those who have been inspired to create change in their part of the big picture and worked diligently to bring it about.
how did any of these start? Someone was inspired to bring about a small change and they kept working and working at it.
Living in rural Rajasthan, finding myself and my husband embarking on a similar path…..don’t worry we are very small babies compared to the endeavors of these giants. I look and wonder on hard days how do they do it?
And need to remind myself of the saying [ cover your ears if your are vegetarian or think of a really big coconut??]
“How do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time!! Dahdah”
All any of us can do is be inspired to change, start with ourselves, personally, what can we do better, more of, improve?
How can we spread that out a little further in our interactions with those around us, what choices can we make to ensure a positive impact on others. Think of how the food you eat is produced, the clothes you wear are produced, where do the by-products of these things go?
You don’t need to fix the world, just work on your small corner and let the effect ripple out from there.
Do what you do and enjoy, do it in a way that is fair and equitable to others, no need to pontificate over it simply let it happen and others will follow you example along.
Inspiring change is a small thing each of us can personally address in small ways in our daily life each and every day.
Get on with it and enjoy
-Fiona Wright

Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Marguerite-Marie Mitterlehner, Independent Consultant to Social Entrepreneurs, Europe

One of the successful alumni of HEC, CEMS & London School of Economics! She donned the consultant hat for 5 pivotal Social Enterprises in Africa & Asia and is now an International Advisor for Conserve India.. You can read more about her – http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/marguerite-marie-mitterlehner/22/6a4/b0b

Thank you Ms.Mitterlehner for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with your this gesture.

Over to Ms. Mitterlehner………………….

I recently read about Mrs. Damenech[1], who is a radiant example of how women motivate and participate in change. After 33 years in secretarial and administrative roles, Mrs. Damenech has opened her own business and is selling and delivering injera, a large pancake which is the base of almost every Ethiopian meal, in her neighborhood. A recently started UNDP training program collaborating with the Ethiopian government has provided her with entrepreneurial skills and will continue to provide advice when needed.

The reach of Mrs. Damenech’s venture is broader than just economical: she is an inspiring example. Not just in Ethiopia, but worldwide. In one of the poorest countries in the world[2] and herself being aged over 50, she has left a stable career to start a new business. Few women in developed countries achieve this. This strong, shining woman is grabbing opportunities, facing risks and challenging the status-quo in her neighborhood, and probably in her society.

Choosing Mrs. Damenech’s example to illustrate his article, and not one of her male colleagues, the journalist was aware it would be more striking. Why is that?

Because women are crucially inspiring!  The beauty in women has the power to inspire.

A teacher in a slum in Cambodia once explained to me why he insisted on having the school freshly painted, and a fountain and flowers in the courtyard: “Because these children need to be inspired, they need to know that life can be better”. Every experience of beauty speaks of the universal and opens a window of new possibilities. The beauty and the strength of a woman like Mrs. Damenech tell other men and women: we can make it, positive change is possible. On the contrary, when a woman is struggling or ill-treated, we instinctively know something is wrong. Beauty is powerful and inspiring, and because women are inherently beautiful, they are exceptional conveyors of inspiration.

The way women inspire change is also crucial because they do so in another way than men.

The Western corporate world is already aware of that[3]. Out of 9 leadership behaviors that positively affect a company, women tend to use 5 more frequently than men: “People development”, “Expectation and reward”, “Role model”, “Inspiration”, and “Participative decision making”. I believe this is applicable in other contexts and that more than men; women prize the opportunity to pour their energies into making a difference and working closely with others. Through their unique leadership style, or simply through their distinctive way of relating to others, women inspire change.

In their beauty and their way of relating to others, women are crucial to inspire change. But how can we fully benefit from women’ potential when almost two-thirds of the world’s 792 million illiterate adults are women[4]? Their potential can only be released when the society recognizes their inspiring power. The rest of the world, we, should create such favorable environments where women can become the agents of inspiring change they inherently are.


[1]Jeffrey, J. (2014, January 2). Ethiopia aims to create new generation of entrepreneurs. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk

[2]Ethiopia ranks 173 on 187 countries. “The 2013 Human Development Report – “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World””. Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme. pp. 144–147.

[3]Women matter 2: Female leadership, a competitive edge for the future, McKinsey & company, 2008.

[4]UNESCO. 2011a. p. 12

Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Amy Stretmater of Koru Street, Colorado, USA

An American, living in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she runs Koru Street, which was launched after coming across fashionable products made from recycled materials in India. A natural progression of a life and career focused on learning more about different countries and cultures! Prior to her trip, she worked in Chicago in advertising and Cologne, Germany in international relations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in German from Colorado College in the US and an MBA from University College Dublin, Ireland.

Thank you Ms. Stretmater for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with your this gesture.

Over to Ms. Stretmater…………

What inspired me to change my life and start my business importing products from all kinds of recycled materials? It all stemmed from the decision to leave my job in pursuit of a four month trip through New Zealand, Australia and Asia (which eventually turned in to a six month excursion!) Near the end of my trip I reflected on what I had learned so far, as a 35 year old woman traveling on my own. Below is the blog post I wrote for my friends and family six years ago. Looking back now, I can see the seeds that would eventually blossom in to an entirely new career and way of life.

—-

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Surely there’s more to this trip than just “I did this and then this, oh and then this funny thing happened.” So here in a nutshell are some of my observations from my experience thus far:

  1. Sometimes I’m not as outgoing as I think I am. Many a time I’ve entered a packed common room in the hostel and taken the easy way out and just read a book or watched TV. Often it’s the overwhelming scariness of starting up a conversation with a random stranger but sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it to spend time getting to know someone when the next day they’ll be in a new city and you’ll likely never see them again. I would have guessed before leaving that I’d jump on any opportunity to chat with someone. Luckily, when I did reach out there have been exceptional outcomes, such as when I walked into the hostel in Dunedin, New Zealand at 5:30pm, was out with a group by 8pm and have remained in touch with one of the women ever since.
  2. A lot of casual friends is very different from just one good friend. There are times when I love having all these different, unusual people from all over the world around me. And there are times when I’d chuck them all in for one friend who actually knows me! But it can also be liberating to share your innermost feelings with someone who doesn’t know your history, who can listen intently without judging, who hasn’t heard the story a million times and isn’t going to be around to bring it up again. Not to mention the valuable insight from someone with a completely different background. During this trip I have had thousands of short conversations with different people which doesn’t nearly add up to the worth of one good friend. However, meeting these people, becoming their acquaintances and sometimes friends, having these conversations does change you in a way that’s hard to explain. I’ve learned so much about other ways to be happy and fulfilled.
  3. On that note, I feel like I’ve tried for a long time to be “normal” towards the goal of a good office job, settling down, getting married, having kids. (Going on this trip has certainly been in opposition to all that, however!) After meeting people with so many different ways of viewing and living life, I know that whether or not I do any or all of these things, I can still be “normal” and happy. It’s very liberating.
  4. I’m smarter than I thought, and not as smart. I’m braver and not nearly as brave as I believed. Your perceptions of yourself really change on this kind of trip. Sometimes I feel so incredibly smart (usually when surrounded by half-drunk 19 year olds) and sometimes I feel stupidly boring and uninteresting (usually in the same scenario). I know the decision to do this trip, especially on my own, is somewhat brave, but at the same time it’s nothing to the kinds of things the people around me are doing. There are 19 year old traveling throughout the world for a year or more, which I would never have had the guts to do. I went overseas at that age, but on a very planned, well-supported study abroad program in a country where I spoke the language. I’ve met entire families who have left jobs and homes to travel the world together. There are people who can talk to and befriend anyone. It’s all very humbling.
  5. In the same vein, there are so many fascinating people in this world. Which I already knew, but here it’s so in your face. Half the time it’s wonderful to be surrounded by this. The other half it’s tough because it makes you wonder, am I as fascinating to them as they are to me? You tend to do a lot of comparing to others and since you only know a small portion of them – usually just the really interesting part – it’s easy to find yourself lacking.
  6. One thing people tell you about this kind of trip is that you will realize people are the same at heart, once you strip away language, culture, age and experience. What they don’t tell you is that just as you start to see this (and I have on many occasions), something else happens to make you realize people are NOT all the same. There are some people who think and act so differently in this world. That’s perfectly fine and probably as it should be (and maybe completely obvious), but a revelation none the less.
  7. Material things have become much less important to me. I can’t think of any thing that I miss at home, besides the general notion of the comfiness and coziness of my condo. I don’t wish I had a particular shirt or skirt that I left behind (although I do often wish I had different clothes with me, just for variety’s sake). I don’t miss that poster I just had to have or the desk I agonized over selecting. This is something I’ve learned over and over, such as when I moved overseas with just a few suitcases, but this time it’s really powerful. I’m already looking forward to de-cluttering my life when I get home. What I do miss are dinners and games with my friends and family. It’s the experiences I treasure. Just like on this trip – I’ve bought a few souvenirs, but not many, as it’s the nights out, the skydiving, the scuba diving, the funny things that have happened that I’ll treasure. I just need to make sure I continue to remember that when I’m home.
  8. New has lost its fascination for me. This is probably the strangest one. Like anyone, I’ve loved buying a new CD, a new electronic gadget, new clothes. When I bought my condo, the vintage ones, albeit beautiful, held no interest for me. At some point halfway through Cambodia, while looking out at the ugly array of patched together electronics, houses and cars on the street I realized there it something to be said for not tossing something away just because it’s not the newest thing anymore. In India, I was told “anything can be fixed” and nothing gets thrown away. In the U.S. it was recommended I buy a new phone, even though only the volume button was not working as it would cost more to repair than replace. In Delhi, I had it repaired for a few dollars with everyone believing that was a perfectly normal thing to do. Yes, having a blue door on a red car may not look great, but it still runs great so why would anyone buy a new one? That would be a waste of money and resources. Certainly a different way of thinking. It’s along the same lines as the material things observation, but slightly different. Things no longer need to be useful AND beautiful for me. It’s ok if they’re just one or the other.

Wow, all this is a bit of a switch after my silly posts over the past few months. You do tend to get wrapped up in the “how to I get to that museum” and “how much money can I spend on dinner tonight” and don’t realize the things that are going on inside your own head. I do sometimes wonder how life will be at home. Will I just go back to my old life, with good memories? Will I radically change my life because of them? Or will I find a way to make small changes, incorporating what I’ve learned into what I had previously achieved? If so, what will that look like? I guess I’ll have to wait another month to find out…

Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Kerry Evans, Designer at SERRV, Wisconsin, USA

A multifaceted personality – self-taught weaver, textile artist, designer, teacher and author of 2 hand-woven clothing design books.  She has been involved with the product and economical development for the past 25 years and also a world traveler. She calls Madison, Wisconsin as her home.

Thank you Ms. Evans for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with your this gesture.

Over to Ms. Evans…………

INSPIRING CHANGE through education and creativity can bring forth a world of empowerment and dignity in women to achieve social, economic and political opportunities.  I applaud all the incredible work being done by so many organizations and communities to bring these basic fundamental rights into the lives of women of all nationalities across the globe.

In thinking about what I would write today in honor of International Women’s Day,with the theme of INSPIRING CHANGE, made me reflect back on all the women I have met who have inspired change not only within their lives,  families and communities but within me as well.  So many of the women mentioned have been instrumental in the direction I have taken with my life and work.   Some names I no longer remember but their actions on a grass root level are still inspiring and unforgettable.   For many,change was essential in order to survive. 

In 1990, Berta, a young single mother and farm union organizer from southwest Colombia, was killed at her farm in front of her young son by a group of masked men.  She was trying to bring the farmers together so they had a voice during a very violent period in Colombia’s history.  Her death inspired the community to unite and fight for their rights.

During the same time, I met another young Colombian woman horrified by the amount of plastic waste in her community.  She organized collections of the waste and with the help of her family, started a recycled plastic tubing company which eventually sold tubing throughout the State of Cauca.  She was one of the first entrepreneurial  women I met who successfully turned waste into a business which employed many in her community and helped the environment in which they lived.

I was fortunate to have been introduced to Hmong women refugees who had recently arrived in US.  Along with the Milwaukee Area Technical School, an English as a Second Language Program and the Lutheran Church who sponsored them, I taught these women to weave and sell liturgical products through an organization called Multiweave.  Later, many of these women continued to work with me in another organization I co-founded called Silk For Life Project.  Silk for Life was a not for profit organization which offered silk production as an alternative to cocaine in southwest Colombia.   Silk for Life organized and supported women cooperatives by processing and spinning cocoons into hand-spun and reeled silk.    The silk was imported to the US and woven into products at the Silk for Life Workshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Working with the Hmong women was truly an inspiring experience.   Forced to leave their lives in Laos and journey on to the US with nothing but a few belongings told a story of incredible strength and courage going against so many odds and unknowns. 

Having lived in Guatemala for seven years, I experienced again the strength of the indigenous rural women who had suffered through a long civil war and lived through one of the worst genocide atrocities in the history of Guatemala.  I worked for an alternative trade catalog company called Pueblo to People.  Many women were widows who worked and supported one another by organizing into handicraft cooperatives.  One of the basket groups I respected the most lived far up in the mountains and walked nearly five hours one way to bring me their basket order.   The group leader could write and would present me a list of the women’s’ names.  At the top of the page were drawings of the different baskets they had made.  I would check the number of each style and pay the weaver in cash.  This was their system.  This was the only cash they had which was not in their pocket long.  It was always market day when we met and off they would go to make their purchases.  Every three or four weeks we met under the big tree at the foot of the mountain.

For the past thirteen years, I have worked for SERRV International, a Fair Trade handicraft catalog. The number of countries I now work in has expanded as have the artisan groups but the story of each women’s cooperative remains the same – strength and unity to help provide for better lives for their families and communities.  And through this unity comes dignity and empowerment.   More children are going to school, more clinics are being built and more international projects are involved in aiding communities and countries who are in dire need of help in many areas. 

A few years ago, I was working with the soapstone carvers near Kisii, Kenya.  One of the leaders of the group told me that women and their daughters had to walk daily three hours down the mountain to get water and another three hours to carry the water back up.  He said if there was a well in a central location the women would not have to carry water that far each day.   David said “Kerry, can you help us to get funding to build a well?”  A sum of $350 financed three wells,each dug literally by hand with a motor pumping  water into the containers of waiting women.  That very small donation of money changed the lives of so many women who, for hundreds of years walked down that mountain with their water containers.

My last story is about a group of Rwandan women.  Many were widows, returning back to their homeland after spending years living in the Congo as refugees following the Rwanda Genocide in which 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed in a 100 day period in 1994.  SERRV was introduced to this group of basket weavers through Engineers Without Borders and in 2007. I and another staff person visited the women of JyambereMutegarugori and began our partnership with them.  One of my most joyous memories is when I saw how the women had in four short years transformed themselves from very poor, shy basket weavers into radiant, powerful women who can now support their families, put their children through school, build new roofs on their houses and have cows in their fields. 

With INSPIRING CHANGE on a grass roots level, the only direction is upwards. 

– Kerry Evans