Friday, March 19, 2010

Make a Difference And Make Yourself Happy

A Peace Corps Volunteer's job description is not quite like any other. The more I examine the realities of my job, I see myself as a behavior change agent. I can't give them the magic formula to running a successful craft business. I don't have the foresight of which retailers will continue a steady, if not growing, business relationship with them. However, I can teach them some basic business skills and knowledge. I can impart some advice on colors, styles and customer tastes. I can teach them new crochet techniques. I can lead them through trial and error. And I can model good behavior. All of this is done in hopes that one day my counterparts see the value in changing their current habits.

I'm finding that two years service is not enough time for dramatic behavior changes. The challenge is that they need to decide to change. This goes back to the constant nagging question of motivation. How badly do they want this small business to succeed? I wonder.

Filling and shipping orders in a timely fashion is a key component for business success. An RPCV had placed an order of bracelets back in late October. The ladies did not finish the bracelets before she left Morocco in November. When I left for vacation in Spain, I gave them an envelope with her address.

Before I left, I told them, "Whenever bracelets are done, send it in the mail."

In hindsight, I should have said "Next week, when you finish six bracelets..." Then again, maybe not. I'm not the boss. Time passes. It doesn't occur to me to follow-up. Until February, when I realize no one has made the bracelets. Why? I don't understand. In the meantime, they made plenty of tea kettle holders and lace doilies. (Note: none of those items are for sale.) Time doesn't seem to be the limiting factor. Hmm. Lucky for them, the RPCV is forgiving and still wants her order. I personally mailed the bracelets. It's almost five months since the secretary recorded the order in the Association notebook. I wonder.

I face the same confusion when trying to understand why ladies refuse to buy their own crochet hook. There's one extended family that share one crochet hook between three ladies. To me, sharing one crochet hook is an unnecessary hassle. Some ladies have their own hooks but only have one. I repeatedly talk about the importance of gauge and needing various crochet hooks for different threads. For the new line of headbands, I want a loose crochet for a softer feel. Ladies need to work with a number 5 crochet hook. I reiterate this concept during the product critics. Hooks sell for 2dhs. Why do some ladies still refuse to make this investment? Why do they come everyday to the nedi and pester others (myself included) to borrow a crochet hook? They just spent 3 dhs on half a sardine sandwich the other day. See why I wonder about their motivation?

The issue of motivation makes me question my purpose here. If they can't pay 2 dhs for a crochet hook, why am I trying to teach them new crochet techniques? Why am I attempting product development? Why am I working harder than them when this isn't my life?!

Thankfully, at the end of the day, I find this in more ways fulfilling than frustrating. You might argue that I'm wearing rose-colored glasses. I delight in small successes as if they were huge milestones. And maybe they are.

The Association still haven't started construction with the approved grant money. The legal paperwork to start construction have been stalled at the local municipality level. Yesterday, I ran into the President and Secretary after they had a meeting with the qiad. They were pressuring him to expedite the paperwork process. Sweet! Look at them take initiative and responsibility!

We recently had great success with a new line of headbands. In January and February, the ladies learned and perfected these new headbands. At the American Club Bazaar, these headbands sold like hot cakes. However, the production process has several holes. The thread is purchased unwound. Currently, a local tailor, Robio, winds the thread for us at 2 dhs a spool. Two spools produce one headband. With approximately 20 ladies, needing two spools of wound thread each, in addition to wooden beads and elastic bands, raw material cost adds up fast. Additionally, Robio misunderstood the proper thickness for the thread. On two occasions, we sent a bag full of thread to be rewound. Amina, who helped me send and collect the thread, was well aware of these costs. About two weeks ago, she bought her own thread-winding machine for 150 dhs. What great foresight! Go Amina! She's learning how to wind the thread for future headband orders at 1.5 dhs a piece. What a good personal investment!

**Photo: spring collection of headbands

These little victories are my reasons for continuing my service. I'm happy knowing that my time here has, in many small regards, made a positive impact. Apparently researchers Malte Klar and Tim Kasser also agree. In their study, activism revealed a positive association with increased social well-being. Read the recent Guardian article for more information:

Brain Food: Does activism make you happy?
By: Aditya Chakrabortty (Guardian, 2 March 2010)

Who'd have thought it? New research shows there is a link between being politically active and wellbeing.

Marching in the drizzle against wars in far-off countries, writing letters protesting the government's latest reactionary policy, sitting through interminable meetings that keep sprouting Any Other Business. It may be noble, but political activism is hardly a barrel of laughs. And yet it makes you happier.

So find two university psychologists in new research that looks for the first time at the link between political activity and wellbeing. Malte Klar and Tim Kasser started by interviewing two sets of around 350 college students, both about their degree of political engagement and their levels of happiness and optimism. Both times, they found that those most inclined to go on a demo were also the cheeriest.

So there's a link – but can politics actually make a person happier? In the third study, the academics took a bunch of students and divided them up into groups. The first were encouraged to write to the management of the college cafeteria asking for tastier food. The next lot wrote asking the cafe to source local or Fairtrade products. They were then tested on their wellbeing, and the group who had involved themselves in the political debate were far and away the strongest on the "vitality" scale: they felt more alive and enriched than those who merely complained about the menu.

There are many fascinating aspects to this . First, the activist-students didn't necessarily care about food ethics, but just taking action made them feel better. Second, sending a memo is hardly the most engaging political action – and yet it had a big impact on those taking it. Third, the study flies in the face of the popular wisdom that happiness resides in creature comforts and relative affluence. Perhaps activism gives people a sense of purpose, or of agency or just a chance to hang out with other people. Most likely it does all of the above.

"I will fight for what I believe in until I drop dead," Barbara Castle told this paper in 1998. "And that's what keeps you alive." Maybe the Red Queen was on to something.


faye cassell said...


I'm totally digging the headbands! One of these days I'm make it over to your site to stock up on your ladies' work!

B said...

I'm glad Canada wasn't so boring/tedious! Looking forward to getting some Joy time this coming week ...