Guest Post by Kristy Marlin
Kristy Marlin spent several years pouring into the women of the More Than Sparrows co-op in Kigali, Rwanda. We're thrilled to share this insight into a typical work day for them with you!
At the More Than Sparrows co-op in Kigali, Rwanda, the women work hard many days, but somehow Tuesdays became a mandatory day. A typical Tuesday, for me, meant walking down the hill just before 8 am. If I was lucky, I'd meet one of the ladies in the street and we'd banter one-on-one about family, weather, current projects- anything I could produce in the local language as we walked together to the co-op.
When I arrived, there was always a greeting of laughter heard, even at the gate, from the handful of women already there and hard at work= some on goods and some on the housekeeping. Everyone greets everyone, so I'd make my rounds hugging each lady on the right, the left and then the right side again, checking in with "what's the news?" and "I'm so happy to see you." Some lingered in the hug, and I knew not to pull away. This one action of a hug spoke so many words to them. Love. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Joy. Peace.
With pride, one by one, they hold up their work, seeking either affirmation they're doing it right or tips for changes so it will 'make the cut' later that day.
After all the greetings, I'd head to the rear of the building to the stock room and begin going through their finished products. They liked when I came early, because It often meant they could make changes before the day officially began. This is the time I would select the majority of the items we would purchase that day- for The Sparrow Studio orders or for our little shop there in Rwanda.
I still remember my first day visiting the co-op, how kind yet nervous they were with me, and how much the struggles to produce anything. After some time, it was not like that anymore! I don't think a Tuesday passed that I didn't have to pause in awe of the skills they were learning!
After some time, we would start the day. Those women know how to sing and they LOVED to dance- giving all the praises and glory to God! We'd spend a good amount of time doing this before we settled in for a study. Studies varied week to week as we tried to leave them with practical things to take home to implement into their lives. My favorite part was when we shared praises and requests. There is a saying that Rwandans have 1,000 faces and they let you see the one you want, meaning they are rarely open and honest with others. This, sharing, is very unusual in the Rwandan context, and yet these women were willing to lean on each other as they drew closer to God! We'd spend time listening to each who wanted to share. We'd take as long as they needed. "My children are all in school! Hallelujah!!!" "I was in the hospital visiting m neighbors second cousins nephew when..." "Sales are steady! Hallelujah!!" "Rent is due." "I was witched this week because my neighbor is jealous of the co-op." Then we'd pray and praise God together. In the beginning it was hard not to be surprised by the things they shared. In my time with them, I'm sure I went through several phases of feelings- pity, empathy, numbness, doubt. Towards the end of my time with them, it was more personal though. I knew each of them by name and had sat in many of the their homes. I'd seen the faces of the families...their neighbors... I'd been asked to be a stand in mom or grandmother for several who had none. If you asked, I could tell you specific things about what they were going through and how you could pray for them. I miss that!
For a while, the women were cooking together to ensure each was getting at least one good meal that day. They would tally up who wanted to eat and each chip in a bit. For most, I believe that was the best meal they ate all week! On days they didn't cook, they always seemed to muster up a friend of friend of a friend who sold potatoes on a stick (delish!) or sambuza (a fried dough with potato and sometimes other vegetables inside).
We'd "talk shop" each week, to see how they were doing with orders and new ideas- if they had questions or needed more explanation on anything, often having to make adjustments on colors or supplies according to what Africa could produce that week. We like to have new ideas for them each week too! The women are visual learners, so we often had spent time during the previous week preparing samples of new products for them to feel, measure and grasp the foreign concepts we were teaching them.
I was usually in charge of the books and making sure we agreed on what we owed for that day. I wish I could say this was an easy task, but when you're buying in large quantities and across languages, there are bound to be some hiccups! We always agreed eventually.
On a smooth day, one we agreed quickly on the above and the translations were smooth, and there are not tons of life problems to help solve, we'd wrap up around 4-5 pm.
Just as you greet everyone when you arrive, you say farewell to each as you leave. I'd make the same rounds as before, only this time to all 34 women. I'm not going to lie, in ninety degree weather (hotter under the tin roof of the house), with 34+ women crammed into every nook and cranny of this little house, after a full day of working and my brain being on overdrive from hearing and trying to understand the language, I was always exhausted by the end of the day, but my cup ran over!