Monday, December 21, 2009

Bamoguli, keep time!

You can hear the frenzied hum from the banana plantation several hundred yards away. The whirling of the machines as bare feet pump the iron pedals rhythmically up and down. Radio Best F.M. cranking, the drone of morning chatter, and the occasional burst of laughter.

I check my watch. Ssawa satu. Translation: 9 A.M.

The girls are on time. More than that, they're early! This moment took 2 weeks in the making. I stop and relish it for a minute.

For nearly all the girls this is their first real job. And for those who have had the occasional odd job, it certainly wasn't the Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm variety. Afri-Pads may be a rural, un-electrified, 20 x 30 foot village workshop, but as the girls say, "Afri-Pads is serious". What they mean is, we mean business!

I'll go out on a limb here to say that, while I'm not a big proponent of stereotypes, the bad rap Africans have gotten about taking their sweet time and "No hurry in Africa" is not such a stretch from reality here in Uganda. In fact, they helpfully remind you - in case you could possibly forget! - "You know Ugandans, eh, we don't mind about time. But you Bazungu (white people), you really know how to keep time."

And so it came to be that teaching the girls to "keep time" became one of Afri-Pads' first challenges. The Afri-Pads girls have no problem working until 5 o'clock. In fact, most of them are inclined to work later and it usually takes me poking my head out of the office at 20 minutes past 5 p.m. and some prodding words ("Yamiria bannyabo!" - Translation: Stand up ladies!) to push them towards the door.

And now the "BUT" ...

While the departure time is all good, it's the arrival part that the girls struggle with. For better or worse, when I tell the girls that the workday starts at 9 a.m., my words are loosely interpreted as:

"How 'bout you aim to roll into the workshop sometime before 11 a.m., but if it's noon when you get here, no big deal. Pardon? What if it's raining? Who walks in the rain? That's ridiculous! If it's raining, just sit tight. You'll get here when you get here. Oh! And if you have something better to do today, no sweat. The work can wait 'til tomorrow."

Fun fact: there are a million and one reasons to be late. I've been busy proving that for 27 years. But while the excuses here are different (i.e. "My goat ate it's rope and ran away."), there is still no excuse to be late to work. Yes, Afri-Pads is a village workshop - and that's something I'm proud of - but we're also a business with big ideas and ambitious goals. After all, 60,000 menstrual kits aren't going to make themselves in 2010!

So at the end of the day, it's not a question of one culture "knowing" how to keep time better than another. Anyone can be punctual if they want to be. It simply boils down to wanting to be on time and making the effort to do so. And while it took a few weeks for the girls to understand why "keeping time" is so important at Afri-Pads, it's clear they've decided it's worth the effort.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Afri-Pads is buzzing again ...

Only 13 days in, and the workshop is buzzing with activity once again. Our return to Uganda was met with warm smiles and eager faces, all the girls anxious to return to work after 3 idle weeks since the materials ran out. It is a busy and exciting time for us.

Afri-Pads is growing. And we’ve set our sights high!

Our plan is to upscale the existing workshop operations from 5 girls to 25 girls in just 8 weeks. Come April, we aim to have a second branch of equal size up and running. Operating a full capacity, these two branches will enable us to manufacture 60,000 Afri-Pads Menstrual Kits in 2010. Ambitious, yes, but the cogs are already spinning.

Already last week we moved up the hill into our new space, the building previously occupied by the Kitengesa Community Library. Nearly 5 times bigger than our original workshop, the space feels expansive … almost empty, but come January we anticipate we’ll be bursting at the seams.

This week we leaked the word that Afri-Pads is hiring, and local girls started coming out of the word-work for interviews. Within three days, we’d hired seven girls with sufficient tailoring skills and filled two tailoring assistant positions. 10 single-stitch sewing machines and 5 over-locking machines are on the way, and 15 chairs have been commissioned from Steven, our local carpenter. Pauls is coming from Kampala today with a shipment of fabric. All that remains for training to begin is getting everyone and everything in the same place at the same time. Then the real fun begins! Stay tuned.