Smiles and Serious Business
Written by Cora Xiao, Business Intern
Long overdue, but here it is: my first real official blog posting. I arrived at Shanti about a month and a half ago with little in the way of expectations save for the few pictures and descriptions I had seen and read on shantiuganda.org. The first time I took the scenic, hot walk to Shanti, I almost walked right past its unassuming gates into the cornfields. It blended so well into the local environment despite its rather singular mission in the local community.
The sunshine seemed to touch even the areas under the shade; it was a beautifully bright centre. You would think it would be hard for someone from the glass-and-metal, concrete-and-squares landscape of Toronto to find home in a place like Shanti, but without realizing it that’s exactly what has happened; when I walk past the last signpost towards Shanti now, I feel like one who has reached home.
In such a short timespan what could have brought me to feel this way? Well it helps that the staff- no matter what time of day- greet you with a smile and laugh good-naturedly at your attempts at Lugandan and that the WIGG women throw their arms wide open for a hug when you go in for a handshake. I’ve also really begun to settle into my work here at Shanti.
I am the first business intern that Shanti has ever had, so there was much “started from the bottom” kind of work to be done. I started with large sets of raw data the likes of which I’m used to seeing and analyzing at school, but I’ve never really had to learn the stories behind them. What may in an Excel spreadsheet say “3 banana bags sold” is just the final step in a story that started with the Women’s Income Generating Group members buying materials from the hectic sprawl of Kampala, taking a matatu (bus-like service) with materials in tow back to Luwero, cutting fabric/papers, sewing/rolling, seaming/gluing, and finally attaching tags and writing their names on the card. The product story reaches its denouement as they travel to Vancouver and wait to be sold to that girl that was looking for a beautiful new handmade accessory or for the perfect fair-trade gift.
What stuns me most is that such a small group of women (8 in textiles and 13 in beading) gather under that grass hut at Shanti to make products that then jet across the world to find their home elsewhere, somewhere where the story of where and who they came from is told. I can’t help but to notice the parallels between a Shanti interns’ journey and that product: flown across land and sea with its own story to become a part of another. Shanti has entered my story and heart in a way that I could have never imagined (serious business student that I am) and I’m sure I will carry its story all the way back to Canada with me.