News for 13 June has been taken from Women’s Views on News.
Last year, Jennifer VanderGalien founded Shining A Light, a comprehensive project that empowers women in Tanzania through employment, training and education. Their workshop is based in Arusha in the north of the country.
VanderGalien arrived in Tanzania about four years ago to work with children. What she soon realised was that many of their mothers were vulnerable because they had no education or vocational training. If they are neglected, abused or abandoned by their husbands or families – for whatever reason – they have no way of providing for their family.
“That really touched my heart,” said VanderGalien. ”After a year here in Tanzania, I began to pray about what I could do to help these women.”
Jennifer realised she could provide a training ground to give these women employable skills. She had already been selling Masai-style sandals to family and friends back in the US as a fundraiser, but soon realised she could set up a company where the women could manufacture these beaded, leather sandals.
“I really didn’t want to set up a project to be a handout, I wanted to it to be a hand-up. I started to develop relationships with the women in this village, while trying to figure out who was going to be able to take advantage of this project.”
By creating a project which would set outcast women alongside eminent women of the community, VanderGalien would challenge social stigmas.
“I also wanted to work with women who were able to grasp the opportunities that they were being given,” she said.
VanderGalien found it hard to source someone in Arusha who had a good working knowledge of leather. She initially wanted to hire a woman.
“But no one would tell me who could make me these type of sandals – because everyone wants you to buy the sandals from them,” she said. ”We couldn’t find anyone; no women in this area know how to work with leather.”
Rather than be disheartened by this, she was encouraged.
“It’s amazing because we would be opening up a whole new industry to women in this area: leather,” she said. “How to work with it, how to treat it, finish it, sew it. They wouldn’t just know how to make sandals; they’d know how to make bags and furniture and all sorts of things.”
So how did VanderGalien eventually source someone to train the women in leather?
“I had been trying to find someone for just ages. Then one day I traveled to this restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It’s a bit of a Westerner’s oasis – where you can get a cheeseburger and milkshake and french fries. Tanzanians don’t go there but as I walked out of the bathroom, a Tanzanian guy was standing in front of me. I asked him, ‘Can I help you?’ And he said, ‘I’m looking for someone who wants to buy Masai sandals because I make them.’
“So last year we opened this workshop and started training the women to bead sandals. We soon realised that it wasn’t enough to just give them a salary. Most of them had not really had a paycheque before. Most of them didn’t have healthcare knowledge or money management skills.
“And so we came up with a four phase programme. The women would all start out in phase one where they’d bead the sandals while being paid a certain salary. We would then train them how to budget a salary and also introduce them to healthcare and disease prevention.”
Healthcare education may not be what we think of in the West.
“We have a doctor come and talk about a rape and abuse clinic that’s in town,” VanderGalien explained.
If the amount of chatting and laughter I heard from the women is anything to go by, VanderGalien has certainly created a safe environment.
“We also started a literacy programme, both for Swahili and English, which would no doubt educate and empower them further,” she said.
VanderGalien ‘s aim is twofold – that the women will be able to eventually run the shop themselves, and that the project becomes a sustainable business.
“We hope by phase three and four that we’ll see the real champions of the programme who will be able to take over the project,” VanderGalien said, ”and we’d be able to teach them business skills such as inventory and production.”
Last year, they sold around 1,100 pairs of sandals, and they hope to double that this year. Most of our donations are put towards the project’s growth and development,” she said, “but we’re looking for this workshop to run off the sale of the sandals.”
VanderGalien describes her inspiration as from God, and desires to share the peace she found with others who suffer from the same emptiness she once experienced.
If you would like to order some sandals or find out more about the project, please visit their website.