Friday, June 6, 2008

It's amazing what you can do in a single day

Wednesday, June 4th

I don’t think I could be any more exhausted today, but boy do I feel accomplished! Yesterday Faustina gave me the names and phone numbers of the three wheelchair users who want to participate in my trial of the small-business wheelchair: Peter, Richard, and Hilda. I met up with Samson, who I luckily had tracked down the night before, to see when he would be available to visit these people. We need to start building each of their wheelchairs but we need to take individual measurements so each one fits correctly, which is why I needed Samson to come along.

I expected him to say that he would be free sometime next week but when I showed up at the hospital he was all ready to go, tape measure and notebook in hand! Joseph called Peter, Richard, and Hilda and all of them said they were around, so off we went. Moshi itself is a really small town, but these three people probably live in three completely opposite corners, each one off a crazy dirt road with potholes the size of bathtubs!

We went to see Peter first and at several points I thought I might be pitched from the car because it was so bumpy. I met Peter last year when I was working on the folding three-wheeler and it was so great to see him again! We caught up with Peter pushing himself up an especially steep part of the road to his house. It’s amazing to think that Peter pushes himself up and down that same road with the crazy potholes several times a week. I touched him on the arm when I said hi (well really when I said jambo) and he’s certainly got the muscles to prove it!

Peter gets by day to day by repairing radios and umbrellas. He’s really good at making simple repairs, but he just doesn’t get enough business right now. When I asked him why he said it was because he can’t go very far from home with his tools because he has nowhere to put them, and also because people don’t take him seriously because he doesn’t look like a real business. This made me even more excited to be working with Peter because I really believe that with a small-business wheelchair and some capital to purchase the necessary tools, he will really be able to boost his business. He already has the skills and the determination, he just needs a little help getting a jumpstart.

With the measurements to start making Peter’s new wheelchair and lots of details about his business, we set back down the crazy dirt road and went off in search of Richard. I had also met Richard last year and while I remember how much fun he was to work with, I definitely did not remember the ridiculous road to his house! I swear at one point we crossed a river (okay so it was really just a huge pothole that was filled with water, but still). I ran through the same questions with Richard as I had with Peter. Richard also has been trying to start a small business but has been frustrated that he does not have all the tools he needs and does not get recognized as a real business. He is really good at making and repairing shoes, and just needs a little help to get his business going. He has a partner that he plans to work with and he thinks this will help him cover more ground and attract more business.

While I was chatting with Richard a crowd of people in the village had gathered around to see what was going on. Joseph was translating everything because Richard doesn’t really speak English, and I think my new audience really enjoyed that! I wish I could have stayed and talked to Richard longer but there were still miles to go before I could sleep. He was sooooo excited about the project. In fact, I later found out that he had called KASI that morning to find out when I was coming to see him!

Next we went to find Hilda, and after fording the pothole river and cutting across town to another crazy dirt road, there she was. KASI was anxious to include at least one woman in this project and of course I had no objections to that! Hilda recently learned how to make batik fabric at a training session that KASI ran. She also does amazing embroidery and has her own sewing machine already. The problem is that she doesn’t have the capital to really start her business (familiar theme, huh?) Hilda will also be working with a partner, who can help her by going to town and collecting the different materials like cloth and dye. Then Hilda can take some samples and go around to people’s houses to see if they want to buy something. I talked to Faustina about this when I saw her later today, and she was really supportive. Apparently Hilda has a lot of friends who will definitely buy from her! She’ll need a lot more capital than Richard or Peter to get started, but the return should be much greater.

With measurements for the three wheelchairs and tons of notes about each business scribbled in my notebook we finally headed back to town. I stopped by KASI to apologize for being gone all day, and they couldn’t believe how much I had done! I had planned to cook dinner in my apartment tonight but my stove seems to have a short circuit. So I went out and got some milk at the shop across the street and enjoyed my off-brand corn flakes.

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