Photo: Marion in Rwanda, volunteering with women’s co-ops, who sent two representatives to the Fall 2016 SBS training
For more than a decade, Marion Taylor has shared her innate passion for making a difference through her involvement with BeadforLife. She was one of the first volunteers at BeadforLife’s initial office location, has supported the growth of Friendship Village, and has served as a long-term sponsor in our Girl’s Education Program. As we continue developing Street Business School, Marion is right there along with us!
Marion was greatly impacted by her community development work as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years in Senegal in the early 1980’s. This has carried over to her volunteer work with the Colorado African Organization in Denver, and with women’s co-ops in Rwanda and Tanzania last fall. She’s worked for more than 35 years in the field of Social Work with non-profit organizations and foundations focused on families, women and children. She explained that her true passion is working with women, which clearly indicates why the Street Business School program strikes a chord with her, so much so, that in November, she was compelled to visit Street Business School on the ground in Uganda.
While in Kampala, Marion participated in a Street Business School training session and recruitment efforts in three different slums, visited several SBS graduates’ businesses, revisited Friendship Village after 9 years and reunited with Maria, whose education she has sponsored since 2006.
We sat down with Marion recently to gain more perspective and insight, and hear more about her experience. After seeing firsthand how effective the SBS grassroots model is, she strongly believes that this strategy will make a difference, woman-by-woman, training-by-training, each slum, city, and country at a time.
Marion reminds us that BeadforLife has created a reputation around empowerment…it’s always been built upon the Chinese adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” she says. This could not be more true as a core value for Street Business School, as the women do not receive a handout or a loan. SBS is a training model and an educational investment in themselves, where they can realize their own talent, ability and resilience. In order to ignite that special spark within these women, it begins with a robust recruitment process.
Marion joined a day of SBS recruiting in a swampy heat-filled slum, meeting three different women in their tin-shack homes with minimal ventilation. “We conducted hour-long interviews, requiring some challenging responses,” she explains, “Can the woman endure hardship? Does she need to ask for her husband’s permission to run a business? We determined that two of the three women would likely be accepted into the program, as the third simply did not have the will or determination to stick with it. Street Business School looks for women poised for empowerment rather than those who feel victimized,” Marion explains. This unique attribute is what BeadforLife, in more than a decade of recruiting and training women, has been able to identify and help women discover in themselves.
Marion was able to witness this spark being cultivated during a Street Business School bookkeeping training session, which she describes as “appropriately tailored to meet the women where they are.” She also describes interaction and how the coaches work hard to help the women feel esteemed, treating them with respect. “As we neared the training area in the Kosovo District with free-flowing sewage, litter and pungent smells in the air, we approached a larger tin building with a rickety scaffold frame, from which we could hear energetic singing and dancing. Inside, rows of rented plastic chairs lined the structure, and the SBS trainers coached, engaging the women by name, calling them each C-O-A-C-H, and spelling the word with their body, bringing on good laughter.” Marion says that with the curriculum, they taught practical ways to keep track of one’s money…in a multi-pocketed apron, in labeled tin cups, or in baggies. She says the training was filled with enthusiasm, professionalism and charisma, with exercises she found to be “effective and simple.” Marion feels that part of what made this so special was the trainers themselves, “they are personable with an attitude that ‘I can learn as much from you as you can learn from me,’ giving the women the feeling they are involved with something very special,” she says.
Marion saw firsthand how this training impacted SBS business owners today. One woman she visited, Christine, had gone through the training one year ago. “We visited Christine’s little room which was clean and tidy. We washed our hands to help her cut fruit (mango, jackfruit, watermelon, orange), placing small pieces in little tupperware containers with a carrot slice and toothpick atop…it was as beautifully arranged as you’d find in a nice restaurant here in the US,” she says. Christine would eventually carry these fruit arrangements on her head to sell in her community. She also owns three pigs and uses the rinds and leftover fruit peels to feed them. With her savings, she’s purchased a plot of land to build a home and plant fruit trees, so she can grow her own fruit vs. purchasing it at the market. She also runs businesses doing laundry and making tea and porridge to sell at night. Like most of these hard-working women, she has no husband and is raising her two kids alone, who do attend school. Christine is one of the 46,000 lives impacted by BeadforLife and Street Business School business training programs.
“To get into the depth of a community is what makes this program so different,” Marion says. “I just love the grassroots approach as it’s deliberate and purposeful, empowering people with skills so they can choose the business they want to have to lift their families up,” she adds. “Street Business School understands they are dealing with peoples’ lives and is not trying to put a band-aid on the issue of poverty, but dive in woman-to-woman, human-to-human and slum-by-slum. “The Street Business School model will make a difference and this type of work is more important now than ever,” Marion says.
We could not be more grateful for Marion’s involvement and will continue to share parts and pieces of her experience, as she has generously shared many stories from our journey together.