A Fish and a Sewing Machine
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
This Chinese Proverb crossed my mind when I recently facilitated a ‘community conversation’ with a group of Afghan women in the southeast region of Melbourne. All arrived in Australia between 2005 and 2009 and all were refugees and had experienced loss of family, children, husbands and others in their lives.
They talked of racism, isolation, being prescribed anti-depressants, lots of time on their hands, barriers to employment and the desire they all had to use their time for productive purposes.
The conversation was spirited and the translator was working flat out when one woman asked me in English – “why do you buy clothes from China? We are all skilled seamstresses – we can make clothes and you can buy them from us instead of from China!”
The host agency that was supporting these women had been working with them for some time. They had a funding stream that determined the boundaries around what they could offer these women. It seemed unusual that they had no clear direction or solution to overcome the barriers for what was clearly an opportunity for these women to empower themselves by using their skills to generate an income and, as they said in their own language – “to stop our old women sitting at home with nothing to do”.
Solution? Obviously some small start-up funds and several industrial sewing machines immediately came to mind. And a space for the women to work and their own registered enterprise.
Was this an option for these women to take control over their own futures? Others had heard their story before. Yet nothing had been done. Why?
They identified their own potential and had a solution to their own challenges . . . yet agencies working with them appeared powerless to be able to proceed.
This appears to be where many agencies get stuck. This is where the process of challenging, imagining and transforming that we utilise at The Dragonfly Collective can have significant impact.
Give an Afghan woman a ‘charity’ handout, and she’ll eat for a week. Give her a sewing machine, and she’ll make a sustainable future for herself, her family and her local community.