Seven.... tied with a fancy bow

Newsletter March 2011
Tuma Viela

The rain hammers down on the grass roof of my hut, even though the local roofing dampens the sound....The towel in front of our gap-filled door, gaps caused by the extreme drought of the last couple of months, is supposed to absorb the water that's entering now and as I sit on my mattress on the floor with my laptop in my lap, I smile to myself.... It's a shame it is night time, otherwise a lot of people would be out on the streets wearing their raincoats. Unbelievable how popular this item has become in such a short period of time! We collectively thought that we wouldn't have to make so many raincoats during the dry season, but nothing is less true and by now, the first quarter of 2011, we've made more than in the whole of 2010! And so far, during the day, not a drop of rain has fallen out of the sky. Just the occasional night shower and so hundreds of raincoats are waiting, dry, waiting until the day they can be worn. Sumaya, the recycler of the recyclers, makes lots of hats and caps from the little pieces left over from making coats, bags etc. and with the hat made from those leftover bits, in combination with the raincoats, the kids look picture perfect! You do sweat in those things, and movement is a bit stiff, after all, it isn't "Gore-Tex" but nobody here has even heard of that so everyone is satisfied with this almost watertight coat.

Due to the fact that we've been on TV, have been announced over the radio and have been published in the National Ghanaian Newspaper, a lot more people are finding their way to our workshop. Already we've collected hundreds of thousands of sachets and the employees of the workshop are working night and day to ensure a timely delivery of our products. It is such a good feeling that we can work full time again thanks to all the support we have received, otherwise we would never be able to meet the deadlines! As a result of this huge demand, we've needed to minimize the selection, because producing every item is proving too much.

Saturdays is a pleasure to the eye, when we see the parade of boisterous children making their way to our workshop with 'the goods'. When one child comes to hand in their sachets, they are usually accompanied by curious siblings and so the human snake of waiting line can be rather long...long and lively! The 'hand-out' desk is now in the small alley behind the workshop, bordered by the compound house behind us, where a slight strip of shade offers some cool relief and from where it is easier to oversee. There's a table holding our products, large grain bags to deposit the sachets in, a large garbage can for trash and the many raincoats hung in a row from nails we've hammered into the roofing. Sadik sits at the 'entrance' and helps the kids one by one: checks if the sachets have been properly cleaned, that the right amount is being handed in and helps make things right if a problem occurs. Once the kids have passed this check point, they can finally sit down on the new benches we've purchased and this way their little bums inch forward slowly, closer to me...At times I feel like a doctor with a waiting room full of patients waiting for me to call out: "Who's next?"

We've had too many funny experiences to mention here, but to give you some kind of impression, here a few examples:
A little boy comes in pulling forward the bottom section of a broken vacuum cleaner, dragging his bag with sachets forward with it. Whilst sighing heavily another child puts down a large container with 1000 sachets in front of us, wanting some sailcloth for her mother. Sadik passed a toddler who fit none of the criteria, but how can you send away a child who, in the feather light bag offers exactly 7 sachets, each wrapped individually with a beautiful bow of colourful left over cloth...! She heard a rumour... I tell her kindly what she should have done and with her huge eyes observes me without understanding...I ask her softly to do her best next time and with a big smile she glides past me holding a pencil case. Another one of those items that has become surprisingly popular (see results).
Two senior men, regular customers, arrive every week with 500 neatly washed and tied sachets. Every week they order a rain coat for one of their family members, who live spread around the country. They are having fun, collect their 'raincoat of the week' and, with the raincoat tucked away under their arms, say their goodbyes with a 'see you next week!". A teacher comes for the second time in one week, on behalf of a few of his students who have collected sachets in exchange for school bags. The teacher lives in Tamale but the school is about 15 kilometers away in a tiny village. He informed the children how they can obtain a product from our workshop and that way encouraged the children to clean up the trash in their village. He has offered himself as 'the middleman' to help these children..what a great teacher!!!
A teenager comes to show off her wallet. "I made this myself!" she says proudly! It wasn't easy to get the zipper sewn into the plastic, she tells us, but she is very pleased with the result and wanted to share it with us!
Another teacher arrives with two of his students. He tells us that his students have collected sachets for a raincoat for him, but that he has to promise them that from now on he will come to school to teach..even if it rains...

Mid March we had a 'top Saturday' with more than 300 kids coming by to either drop stuff off or pick things up and I can tell you that I am beat after a day like that!
But beat in a very satisfying way! The teachers here were on strike for higher wages so the children made the best of the situation and had all the time during these weeks without school to gather sachets in the streets. That was the weekend that Daan Vermeer, one of the board members of our foundation, came to have a look and it was great to show him what we are doing, where the problems lie and to brainstorm about possible solutions. Storing the huge amount of sachets for example, is now becoming a problem. The patio where we have to work when rainy season starts, is now filled to the brim with sachets and we need a solution. We have consulted with the assembly man from our area and he told us he would like to come round with someone from the district who deals with environmental issues, to see what we can do about this.

There is a large water shortage in Tamale at the moment and this also affects us. Every day we need water to clean the sachets. The central water pump is broken and appears not to be reparable so everyone is lugging containers and jerry-cans across incredible distances to try and get to some water. Dirty, open sources of water are emptied out to the last drop and hundreds of people stand in line daily waiting for a pump which releases nothing but a meagre drip...
On top of all this, they now want to increase the price of the water sachets from 5 pesewa's to 10 pesewa's...this is a disaster to many people! With such a bad economy, pure drinking water is now becoming unavailable to many. What effect is this going to have on us? Less sachets in the streets would of course be a positive result, but more than likely people will switch to drinking the local water which is packaged in such flimsy plastic, like sandwich bags, we can't do anything with it. We shall see the coming months. It does lead to new ideas however and we are trying to figure out how to make a bottle bag for the children so they can take it to school and refill it. This will hopefully diminish the pile of 'sandwich bags'...

The Tuma Viela employees are one by one, extremely hard workers, yet, it isn't always easy to work as one cohesive team. Fawzia and Latif focus on making the schoolbags and the storage bags, Hamdia and Rahinatu are in charge of the rain coats and Sumaya makes the hats, caps and pencil cases. Those who sew together the strips of material guarantee the quality of the sailcloth and supply others with material. Sometimes someone is so focussed on their own product and aren't satisfied until their orders are finished. It remains difficult for many to look at the big picture. If for instance, only the schoolbags are done, it is worth half a compliment for those producing them because now there aren't enough raincoats and vice-versa. But they still see it as 'working for someone else' if we all have to put our backs into it to make, for example, some more sailcloth. I keep finding hidden bags of sachets and rolls of completed strips for 'own use' and I try to point out that they should keep an eye open to see if someone else might need a hand and that only then it is considered a successful week, when ALL items can be delivered!
I've come to understand that certain organizational skills are hard to teach and so I try to show them over and over again, leading by example, explaining what I'm doing and for what purpose. It is good to know I'll be in Holland soon for a month, so they can experience and resolve things themselves. I need to let go and the team needs to pick it up!

The education I wish to provide to the children is not yet to my satisfaction. Of course our activities teach the children a lot about littering but if they don't understand the consequences and are so used to the sight of litter on the streets, it is hard to change that 'throw away' mentality... We try to point out the effects of litter as much as we can when they come to the workshop, but with some many people on a Saturday filling up the street, we can't really get into education in the heat of the day!
We have to find a way and make time to do this properly, but we can't do everything! Sometimes I dream about a larger space where we can both work and educate; one with a classroom where we can not only receive groups of school children but where we can also accommodate the women's club, the Moslim Council, local clubs etc. To be able to educate and inform on how to be kinder to the environment. To show them the various possibilities of what can be done in the workshop with the sachets collected by them, and to this way not make the children but also the adults more aware of what we can do to make Tamale a healthier and cleaner and more livable home!

In the workshop we have a great plan for shopping bags lying on the shelves..but once again, we can't get round to it...As soon as it quietens down, we want to seriously start working on that, we shall keep you informed! It looks great! "Di Viela Pam" as they say here!

I could go on and on, there is so much to tell! But I'm going to make and end to this for now. I'm going to squeeze the water out of my towel, throw open the door, drag my mattress outside and sleep under the stars...It is dry again..shame!


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