Another powerful day in Tanzania! This time it was our return to visit the Amboni Women’s Group (Amboni is a small town outside of Tanga). When we met them in 2015 they were just learning skills to make items they could sell – soap, tie-dye, etc. At the time I thought everyone was very nice, but didn’t know if the group would make it. I’m here to say, four years later, they are a well-organized collective of dedicated ‘mamas’ trying to make a better future for themselves and their kids! The group’s members have changed a bit (“we only have the active mamas”), but the amount of work they are doing is staggering! It’s universal, mom’s want their kids to have the best chance possible.
When we first met the women in 2015, they were finishing a class in tie dye, called batik here in Tanga. We participated in the practicum and the end of class parade around town. Everyone was so proud and the entire village turned out to see what was going on.
Still, when we left that day it wasn’t lost on me that our donation to the ‘women’s group’ went to the preacher man and that he kept hitting us up for more money for the church itself. I was skeptical.
When David, our friend/guide, said we’d be going back to the church this week to meet with the ladies, we didn’t know what that might mean. Another class? Just saying hello? Who knows? Well, when we arrived, women poured out of the church and lined up to welcome us. I remembered quite a few of their faces and the hugs began quickly.
They led us inside and on display were oodles of handmande items they have in production. Aisha, the chairwoman, explained that they are now a group of 30 dedicated women working together and teaching each other. It’s very important to them that they all learn the different skills so they can ALL get ahead. They very much hope to get a more industrial sort of sewing machine to help them produce the shoes and bags they personally design. They also need capital for ‘raw materials’ which I think is mostly fabric.
Having done a TON of shopping in the past few weeks, I can attest that these items were well made and beautiful.
We all sat in a circle and asked each other questions, though the mamas were mostly shy. Mama Margaret stood up and said she really needs people to know about their products because they need a bigger market to sell too. All the mamas clapped and cheered. Right now it is mostly to fellow villagers, but I know they’d sell quickly if they could just get to a market with more tourists!
Then another, Hilda, stood up and said what she wants most is to exchange knowledge with artists from America. She’d like American artists to visit Amboni and share their skills with the group, and she’d like to go to America to visit our artists in person as well as promote their products.
So. There you go. The call to action. We have many artist friends, so if anyone feels they may have something to offer, the Amboni Women’s Group expects to have their official TZ business license in the next few weeks and an official email address. We can help you connect. For right now, you can email chairwoman Aisha at [email protected] – we’ll update with their official email once we get it. We also have her phone in TZ if you’d like it.
If you’re curious, kokoliko is how they describe the sound a rooster makes (cock-a-doodle-do in the US). Aisha says she wants to make fashion that wakes people up! Love that!
What I can say, is that I think the Amboni women are very serious. We saw two members at a community trade fair the next day, selling their wares. They produce items together, sell them, and share the proceeds. While they certainly don’t have the funds to come to the US or Europe, if there’s a group that would like to sponsor them, I know they’d make the most of the opportunity!
We were both blown away by the level of organization and production this group has attained over the past four years. It felt like they were speaking directly to me feeling I would relate to their challenges as women. My entire career I’ve worked with brilliant, hard-working women in strong leadership roles. I watch how the women I work with invest in their team and manage households at the same time. Mama Aisha was doing the same thing! Women everywhere tend to bring others along. So when the Amboni Women’s Group told me how they are teaching each other new skills and just want to send their kids to better schools, how could I not listen? I know I’ll get compliments when I use my new swanky purse and I’ll happily tell folks about the Amboni women who made it.
A few more interesting tidbits –
In 2015 we met a different David (not our friend-guide, David) at the class. We’re happy to see that he’s part of a second church group, this one of men and youth making sandals out of old tires. He doesn’t have use of his legs, but he’s got the best smile. He is also hoping to have use of an industrial sewing machine for sandal-making.
And the church…
In 2015 it was under construction. A dirt floor, some windows boarded up — just a shell of sorts. I kind of assumed that’s just how it would remain as there aren’t a lot of spare funds in Amboni, but today it’s beautifully finished on the inside and they are working on a fence and toilets outside — including one David can use. I don’t know exactly what that means, but the new preacher told us that. He also thanked us for visiting and arranged a ride for us back to our hotel, which is kind of a big deal in these parts. We appreciated that.