I am traveling with Tamara Banda, a driven, talented and confident young business woman. With Dsenyo's support, Tamara has started KAFUTARO Import & Export. Dsenyo will contract with Tamara's business to provide services like coordinating between our different producer groups, managing quality control, delivering materials, collecting finished goods, and serving as translator during training sessions. In the past, Tamara was one of the leading female soccer referees in the Northern Region and a long distance runner for the Malawi Police College. She now has two children and hasn't been able to find work for several years...not uncommon in a country with an 80% unemployment rate. While working and traveling together this trip she said, “Marissa, it is good to be working. Better than sitting around waiting for the day to pass. When I'm working the day just passes!”
Our first stop on the training circuit was Kasungu, a small town about an hour and a half north of Lilongwe, Malawi's capitol city. Kasungu is headquarters for the MicroLoan Foundation (www.microloanfoundation.org.uk) a British charity focused on micro-credit lending. The organization noticed that their borrowers, mostly women, needed opportunities to develop marketable skills in order to diversify the type of businesses that they were starting with their loans. Therefore, over the past few years, MicroVentures was born and has taken shape as a sewing and knitting training center, an irrigation program, and traditional beekeeping classes. Dsenyo is teaming up with the MicroVetnures Women's Sewing Center, giving graduates of the program the opportunity to group together and produce for us!
Tamara and I started with the group at Kasungu introducing Dsenyo, the training schedule, and how the process of producing for us will work now and in the future. In total, the training only took a day and a half. Six women, with sewing experience ranging from 8 months to 3 years joined us, eager to get to work. They were a bit nervous at first, explaining that they had never had an order from a foreigner (mzungu) before. The group was trained on our new sisal tote bag style, a design that is manageable on the manual, foot-powered machines that they are using. We struggled a bit with the machines which say Singer but are knock-offs made in China (the stitching was really uneven). Eventually, we decided to continue the training on these machines, but that the women would bring their own machines when working on Dsenyo's order. After walking through the pattern step-by-step, the group produced four samples while I answered questions and corrected any mistakes along the way. At the end of our second day I used the best of the four samples to demonstrate a quality check. From there, I placed my order for 44 sisal tote bags, handed over the materials, had the group practice collective bargaining to agree upon a per piece price and signed a contract. I felt really good about how well this first stop went, PLUS we were a day ahead of schedule!