Sunday, August 10, 2008

Web of Mutual Assistance

Lots has been happening in Rwanda, but I wanted to be sure Laura's comments from her experiences working with the knitters were posted. And I bet you've never seen yarn being used in this way!

So, starting from the first training day, here's Laura Hanson:

The Nyagatare workshop went far better than I ever could have hoped for. Many of the activities I wasn't sure about went over really well, such as the "web of mutual assistance," using Fanta bottles to illustrate the differences between co-ops, associations, and private enterprises, and creating a mission statement, roughly: The members of Nyagatare Women Co-op use knitting machines to create crafts (sweaters, scarves, skirts, etc.) for the local and export market. They work together from the Nyagatare Women's Center to solve the problems of poverty and coldness.

Participation and attendance were high. The members asked lots of good questions and almost all 26 members attended all four days. The group dynamic was good (lots of dancing and singing led by our "morale directors" Teddy and Betty), and I was impressed by how well organized and eager to learn the members are. Sifa is really on top of her presidential responsibilities and there are several other strong leaders in the group. Our last activity was putting into practice one of the practical skills we discussed: an election of 4 representatives and an alternate to represent the group at the Iwacu workshop. I'm pleased to announce that Sifa, Odette, Molly, Joy, and (alternate) Betty will attend.

The DCO, Bonny, and I bonded. He had lots of other work to do, but came for several hours each day Monday-Wednesday. We traded off teaching certain subjects and collaborated on others, and his participation was a big element of the workshop's success, both in terms of translation and sharing facilitation techniques. We exchanged a lot of ideas and discussed how grateful we each were to the other for putting the cooperative spirit of "mutual assistance" into practice. Unfortunately he was very sick on Thursday so was unable to give his microfinance talk, but I trust him when he says he'll follow up with the group to help them access those resources in Nyagatare. He has a great rapport with the women, who teased him that he should marry me so I would stay in Nyagatare indefinitely…unlikely, but we all got a laugh out of the prospect. If possible, he'll join us for the Iwacu workshop for a day or two, and I think he'll be a great ally in getting the secondary co-op registered.

Logistically, things went smoothly as well. The group set the schedule (I always begin by having them decide by a vote, to illustrate the principle of democracy), so we generally began and ended on time. Members also organized snacks themselves and seemed very happy to receive 500 FR for "living arrangements" rather than lunch. Bonny, Ines, and Geofrey translated, so the only unforeseen budget items were for soda transport, napkins, straws, and bus station-center transport in Nyagatare (5,300 extra)...... We came in $26.41 under the projected budget.

My favorite feature of the week was my stay with Marian, who was exceptionally kind and hospitable. In Geofrey's words, I "lived like a queen" and was spoiled to sample her cooking, see her cows, listen to her stories, and meet her 103-year-old mother. I even taught her some yoga moves!

Marian, Laura's host, in front of her house and some of the cooperative members on their way home from a day of workshop training.

That's it for today from Laura - but she's done two more similar workshops and coordinated the Secondary Cooperative workshop, held by IWACU, a Rwanda-based cooperative training organization.