Proud and a bit fearful

Niewsletter November 2010
Tuma Viela

Our workshop ‘Tuma Viela’ keeps me busy day and night, I am so proud yet a bit fearful about the continuation of this fantastic project...

Around August 1st, I deliberately took some distance from the workshop. The thought behind this is, is that I started the project for the people in this part of Tamale, not for myself. To provide those people with job opportunities and to teach them the responsibilities that come with running the workshop. I had come to understand that  whilst the capacity is definitely there for them to run it, as long as I am present, people quickly come to me for my opinion and advice, before trying to tackle the issues themselves or jumping in to solve daily hick-ups and taking matters into their own hands. This happens partially as a show of respect, but also due to the lack of self-confidence and belief in their abilities to solve problems. 
I only started to take a step back after I had handed over my duties as coordinator to sister Fawzia, a woman with good leadership skills, who works in the capacity of seamstress at the workshop. She is willing to accept this task, after the team fully agrees.
Being a leader isn’t always easy...It can be hard amongst people who are often jealous, suspicious and with whom team spirit takes a backseat to putting yourself first... Sister Fawzia has struggled and although it can still be a challenge for her, slowly but surely she is earning the respect of the rest of the team. She is dedicated to her job, and performs it with enthusiasm and seriousness.

At this time, I went out and about with the new brochure. I went everywhere I thought people might be interested. Everyone was extremely enthusiastic about the workshop and its goals, but until now, it has not raised a single Ghanaian Cedi here in Ghana....
Due to this, we shortened our work day during the Ramadan halfway through August. This means that we started work at 07.30 in the morning and finished at 12.30 in the afternoon. Instead of 5 Ghanaian Cedis, the employees now make 3 GC.c. This was discussed and okayed with the team.
There were two choices. Continuing to work full time with the risk of running out of money quickly if help doesn’t come in time. Or work at half capacity and extend our grace period, with the hope of our project finding the support it so desperately needs to make a break through.
Naturally everyone wanted to continue working full-time because they need the money and there is so much work to be done. But they also understood that in the long run cutting down our time would probably be more to our advantage. We work hard, because not only the children but also the adults keep handing in the sachets and we now have to fulfill the orders in less time..

Sometimes sister Fawzia visits a school when it seems we have time to do some extra work. She briefly talks to the pupils of schools far out of town. She explains what Tuma Viela does and how the children can help clean up Tamale and in return get a beautiful item from the workshop. A week later sister Fawzia returns to the school and the teachers have compiled a list of the children who have collected sachets, together with their orders. Returning to the workshop with bags full of sachets, we work to get the products back to that school a week later.
This way we know we will never be without work, because the eagerness of the children remains huge! Especially now our collection is expanding and there is such a selection of useful and pretty items.
On a rainy day, the rain coats have become part of the city landscape, so funny to see! Schoolbags are now also available in smaller sizes and in the cheerful colours of the ice cream sachets, which makes these bag a very popular item! Many men and woman come for the ‘raw’ material. The sachets stitched together which we ‘sell’ per yard in exchange for...250 sachets! These sheets of plastic are used for all kinds of purposes.
I’ve already seen it in a room as a carpet. It is used to create shade; to drape over firewood and coals against damp and rain; kiosks are covered with it when a tropical rainstorm passes through and recently a woman brought in 3000 sachets for 12 yards of plastic which she uses to dry the cornflour after it has been ground but before she can sell it as sun-dried cornflour or use herself. Hats, caps, mobile phone holders; shopping bags...they sell like hot cakes!

We are unsure whether Tuma Viela will make it through 2011 and that’s a scary thought for all of us! At the end of this year the assembly-men will have elections. These are the people who discuss the problems and needs for their districts and are paid by the municipality. We are hoping to reap the benefits and have invited several candidates to our workshop for a tour and an explanation of what we do and of course our concerns. The nominated assembly-men are extremely excited and one of the gentlemen is busy trying to get support for us through the City. We remain hopeful that Tuma Viela will be rescued in time!
Sister Fawzia and myself gave a speech at a conference about the greenhouse effect in Ghana. Organizations and other concerned parties from the Northern District with an environmental interest were present and we were received with huge enthusiasm. Partially due to our talk, we received an invitation to come and speak at a ‘plastic waste’ symposium at the end of the month. In honour of this day, we designed a type of garbage bin in which people can discard their water sachets. These bins resemble mailboxes which we would like to see attached to the chicken-wire cages around town, from which people sell water sachets in bulk.
A picture and a good catchphrase should move people to deposit the sachets in these bins  instead of onto the streets. Also, through this action, we hope to get more attention from prospective sponsors.
In addition, for this day, we made shopping bags  in three different sizes, that we wish to promote. Using and re-using these durable bags, should in the long run contribute to less waste of the single-use shopping bags!

The beauty of Tuma Viela is that the employees themselves show a lot of initiative. They have implemented the SUSU SYSTEM (especially effective when the workshop was still running full-time and everyone  got paid 5 Gh.c. a day).
The SUSU SYSTEM works as follows: everyday, one Ghanaian Cedi is  set aside by each employee and at the end of the week, someone receives the money. This meant a total of 78 Gh.c. for one of the employees each week to put toward whatever they like. One of the ladies now also has her own kiosk where she sells soap, buckets and other plastic wares. When we work half days, she spends the afternoons there to make some extra money. One of the other ladies invested in jewelry and perfumes and trades these in her spare time. Amazing to watch this all develop!

There is also a list of chores for keeping the workshop clean; strict rules are implemented, for instance about coming on time and the consequences of being late: all their initiative!
The cost of the water needed to wash the sachets has been lowered because the employees now fetch their own water instead of having it delivered by someone...which costs substantially more.

 Me, I am to be found daily in the workshop performing the most ‘meaningless’ task, cutting open the sachets. But I love doing this, it allows me to be there and watch the business being run, without being in charge. I can enjoy the production process, it keeps me busy and I can see and FEEL we have really accomplished something here!
To bring more publicity to our organization, we show ourselves around town at all kinds of manifestations. We wear identical outfits, made of cheerful African cloth, which makes us recognizable, and we all carry a large bag divided into two compartments: one for the water sachets, one for the colourful ice cream sachets. These bags we carry are our own creations of course!
We make our way through the gathering crowd,  picking the trash off the ground. People are also free to deposit them into our ‘walking trash bags’ themselves. In the meantime we educate them and we take a spot on the event grounds where we hand out brochures to those that show real interest. We continue to work whilst doing this, people curiously watching the process and the work that goes into the products we make. We hope to gain more recognition this way for Tuma Viela.

I find it important that  GHANA starts doing something..! I notice there is a certain laconic attitude: there’s a white person so she’ll arrange the money for the project... It is shifting away from responsibilities and I know that there are funds to support projects like ours. As a matter of fact, we should stop for a little while  to emphasize that we need the support of Ghana and Tamale, to make it clear that this is serious. On the other hand, it would be a disaster for us to be without a job! Such a dilemma!
To tell you the truth, I lie awake at night, thoughts of how to save the business running through my head... And then it comes back to looking for foreign assistance...since we can’t be sure of support from Ghana....It is all so double!