3 October 2019
After three years I’ve finally made it back to the project in Malawi – I hadn’t been there for way too long. With every Skype call with the Malawian team and every report from our volunteers the feeling grew that the project is ever developing and is not the small sewing workshop it once was, but a sizeable training facility. However, the image in my head still was the one of the small workshop. This was to be updated by my visit to the project.
The challenges and affairs we discuss in our Skype meetings, as well as the network that has developed in Malawi over the years made me curious about working on site again. Especially Alex, co-founder and project leader on the Malawian side, wanted to meet in person in Lilongwe and work on our organisational structure with our women for a long time. The structures that worked for a small project with five women now had to be updated to meet the requirements that twenty people, linked with the project as employees or trainees, brought with them.
I arrived in Lilongwe after my seventeen-hour flight. One step out of the aircraft and I smelled Malawi. It’s an exciting scent that I breathe in each time I open a new delivery of wonderful garments at home in Germany. It’s a mix of sun, nature and dust that tints the whole country in a beautiful red in the dry season.
Alex picked me up at the airport and we went to the project location directly. I couldn’t have waited another day either. I wanted to see what I had been thinking of for so long, and meet the people again I had been working with closely for years.
I was surprised that a lot of people still remembered me and that everyone was happy to see each other again. We exchanged hugs and I was updated about family members, children and the women themselves. A great feeling to sit together again and have a chat.
The last time I visited the project, we had just employed Lexa, our project manager. Back then it was very apparent that she was new to the project, she seemed very reserved and insecure. When I met her again this time I was impressed: She illustrates our goals as an organisation perfectly. Fostering talents and developing female role models.
This is because she is an excellent manager: She knows her employees, her supervisors, and our students very well – with their respective strengths and weaknesses. She is in control of day-to-day business and brings order to the workshop. The insecure woman is gone and I’m amazed by the manager I’ve met this time. I’m very happy about this development, especially in retrospect. It convinces me that we are not only on the right path with our project as a whole, but have the right people in leading positions, too.
The two months I was able to spend in the project were very important: To simply be present and to be able to talk to the people in the project, exchange ideas and opinions about their needs and where our journey should go. Of course, there’s a lot of talking going on between the European team and the Malawian team leads. However, it is almost impossible for us to have the same kind of digital dialogue with our students. Plus, only personal interaction can bring together an international team and strengthen the feeling of togetherness. You could never achieve this only through emails and Skype calls. That’s why regular visits to the project are so important. Unfortunately, they always have to be paid from private budgets as there is no institutional support for this.
I’d like to end my report with a quote from an evaluation interview with one of our students: „We see the hard work you invest in Europe in order to make this training facility the best one possible. That’s why we work just as hard, we are one team after all!“
In this sense, I’m looking forward to the things to come and feel honoured to be allowed to work with these impressive women!