By Jan Stoner
There are two kinds of people in our world. The folks who have been to Africa and those who have not. As I've prepared for this trip, I've observed how the people who have been there take the whole thing in stride. And those of us who haven't are filled with questions, concerns and free-floating images. So here I am, a first timer in Africa, meeting a Global Fund grantee organization in action. I couldn't have imagined a better experience.
We visited a combination boarding school and church where girls who had no chance of receiving any education at all, I mean none, were plucked from the slums and given a home. Home is a tidy dirt floor room where the girls sleep two to a single bed, 24 to a room. The kitchen consists of two big pots set over a wood fire. The beans and corn lunch smelled as good as the vegetarian dishes I cook back home.
Global Fund grantee, Project Baobab, teaches 25 of these teenagers who are interested in starting a business the entrepreneurial and life skills they will need to succeed. At first, we didn't know exactly what to say to one another. And then it came out that I had run a business for 20 years and the ball started to roll. They wanted to know how to deal with employers or customers who had a better education than they, how to develop a bio-fuel business, how to come up with a business concept that had the best chance for success, and what were the key strategies that made a business grow.
They shared concerns that older folks might not appreciate their level of confidence and skills, and might not support their business.
When I told them that owning a business is hard work and long hours, I saw that I was reinforcing their teacher's lessons. When I said that paying your taxes will make you a better business in the end, I could tell the teacher had taught the same thing. And when I said, "don't spend all your newfound money on goodies," but rather reinvest it into your business, they had already made up their minds to do so.
When they complete their program, they will enter their business plans into a competition sponsored by Project Baobab, and some will win $100 grants - seed money to start a business. Past successful businesses include cattle feed, milk production, bull raising and tea shops. After our visit to the school, we drove to another neighborhood to meet a young woman who'd started a successful business with her sister, using the $100 she'd won from Project Baobab. Her market research, a skill learned through Project Baobab, had shown her that hat the area needed a tailor shop. So now she makes African-style clothing for leisure and holiday wear. A new outfit takes just two days to make. She travels to Uganda to get fabric at the lowest price. It was clear that she a fine saleswoman and one spunky gal.
How's that for a great initiation to Africa? When I used to read about dirt floors and 24 kids to a room, my heart would break. Now that I see the whole picture, I don't get stuck on just the heart tugging facts. I can feel a sense of hope and inspiration, because there are local folks who are doing something about it, and I can assist by supporting the Global Fund for Women.
Jan Stoner is a retired chiropractor who lives in California. She has been a donor to the Global Fund since 1995.