I’m off to Bangladesh
When I was 20 years old I spent a month in an orphanage in northern Sri Lanka. The whole time I was there I felt clumsy about my presence. There really wasn’t much I could do besides show the kids how to make friendship bracelets and teach them how to sing “The Hokey Pokey”. So yeah – not a massive contribution. I did however manage to take a portrait of each child before I left and for most of them, it was the first time they had seen themselves in a photo. It felt good to leave with something of value, but besides that the whole experience was pretty cringe-worthy. However, when I look back now though, I can see a bit of a puzzle piece being laid way back then which would only be activated almost two decades later.
The priest who ran the orphanage realised that once the kids turned 16 and finished their schooling most of them would end up in very dangerous jobs and never seen again. The girls would be used as “maids” in wealthier nations and the boys would become laborers doing back-breaking work. The priest’s solution was to build two additional buildings to the orphanage. These became the Vocational Training Centre and the boys would learn how to become mechanics and the girls seamstresses.
I remember thinking it was such a great idea and feeling relieved that the kids I had fallen in love would be looked after once they finished school.
Jump ahead 15 years and I was living in a Cambodian village and melting from the heat. I tried to find something suitable but everything seemed to have an acrylic blend and of course made for women a quarter of my size. One of my new friends told me to go to the local Vocational Training Centres and see if they would be able to sew a shirt for me. Of course memories of those Sri Lankan orphans rushed back as I stepped into the huge room filled with young women sewing away…and sure enough…through the windows I could see the young men tinkering away on the motorbikes. Clearly the Sri Lankan priest wasn’t alone in realising that creating jobs was the best option for vulnerable young people.
Funnily enough what started out as me wanting to get myself a shirt made almost 9 years ago has transformed into me creating a social enterprise where women are being trained and employed for ethical business.
This is why when I came across the woman carrying a huge bag on her head in Ubud, and I few days later seeing a young woman carrying cement bricks (!!!) on her head from a boat to the shore – my heart just cramped up. Am I doing enough? What more can be done? What’s holding me back from creating new products?
I know the answers to those questions. And to be honest it’s scary. I didn’t step into this as a business woman. I was wide eyed and naive and totally clueless about how it all works. In many ways it has been terrifying doing this on my own and somehow hoping that I’m heading in the right direction. My head often tells me that it’s all too risky and that the numbers will never add up. Maybe I should listen. Thing is, in my heart are all those young women needing employment. If I can come up with beautifully designed products and somehow get my head around this elusive thing called “distribution” – then so many more lives can be impacted for good. And that makes all the effort worth it.
And that is why I am now off to Bangladesh and India to meet with already established community projects. I want to see what their skills are and if I can help them create more products that I can sell over here in Australia. I’m taking yet another risk… and I would love for you to join me….because yes, in many ways I’m terrified…but knowing that there is a group of people who support what I do will definitely make my nerves relax somewhat.