Each afternoon, we meet with groups in Walukuba and Danida. We’re so lucky that our dear friend, Rachel, comes along with her camera to capture the magic.
The artisans ask many questions about what we’re doing in the US and our plans for the future. We have great discussions about small business development in Uganda, classes we’ll be offering over the next few months, and our shared vision for the future.
I reassure the groups that Andrea and I are selling and promoting their bags, bracelets, headbands, and other accessories every day and travelling to markets on the weekends.
I emphasize that creating beautiful accessories from recycled materials is important and valuable, but its not the only reason we are working together. It is not the answer to all of our questions, but only one piece of financial health and long-term success. I try to strike a delicate balance by reiterating our shared responsibilities and possible outcomes. I want to motivate artisans to work together and build strong group relationships that go beyond distributing supplies and sharing small profits.
We discuss each artisans’ goals for the future and how we can collaborate to create specific goals and objectives. The artisans have mixed feelings about their businesses and sources of income in Uganda. Some are raising animals and buying and selling fabric and crafts in local markets. Others keep asking why A. Bernadette can’t buy more products and “support their families.”
Each artisan is unique. Some have husbands who contribute money to the family, others are single parents. Some are employed by NGOs or work with local craft groups, others don’t have consistent sources of income and frequently borrow money to meet their basic needs.
I’ve known these artisans for 7 years and our relationship has changed over time. They met me as a young, excited volunteer who played with their children, bought snacks for English class, and listened to their personal histories. They got to know me as a serious, decisive boss who problem-solved, paid them for their work, and pushed them to build strong relationships through open communication. Now, I am more a resource than a leader. I am asking them to manage their groups on their own terms and “drive the bus” toward their vision of success.
As much as I want to, I try not to present myself as the person who can “fix things,” because I can’t. I am very careful to talk about our relationships in real terms. When I say, “We are in this together,” the reality is that I live in America and am able to pursue higher education, find a well-paying job and live with basic material comforts. I don’t measure hope and reality as two sides of a scale, because we need equal amounts of each. I present a balance of collaboration and personal responsibility. What are the specific things we do to bring real, mutual benefits to each other and what do we need to manage as individuals?