Why We’re Building A Women’s Center

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I've been talking, thinking, and dreaming about building a women's center for years now.  With all of the growth and development going on in our city, the entrepreneur in me could not stop thinking about different ways that we could create more of a local market, employ more women, and start some income generation in our community.  As a grassroots organization we really try to focus on supporting our local economy as much as possible and as a result, nearly 99% of everything we buy and consume, is sourced within a 2 mile radius of our home.  Usually I have to turn down really generous offers from amazingly kind people who offer to ship clothing and other in kind donations. A, because shipping is so expensive and unreliable and B, because if it can be bought or made locally, I think it should be.  I am a firm believer in positive ethical clean sustainable development as a way to combat poverty.  

At Kopila Valley, the kids' school backpacks are hand made and tailored from canvas by a local women's group, our school sweaters are made and embroidered by a little shop about a 3 minute walk from our house.  Our school shoes are made by local cobblers in the market.  We buy most of our fabric from the Muna shop (can't help but throw a little advertisement in here because I love Muna) And the vegetables we don't grow ourselves come from all our local women neighbors.  The shopkeepers in our town have been really good to us, offering everything we buy at discount or at cost and genuinely caring and investing in our success.

But most of the women in Surkhet really struggle to make a living and feed and school their children.  They do intense physical labor, farm, break stones, and walk miles to the jungle for fire wood to cook their food.  It hits me the hardest during admissions time, doing the interviews and the home visits and talking to mothers face to face.  I've talked to hundreds of women who have faced forms of severe abuse and deprivation and it never gets easier or affects me any less as the times goes by.  These women don't complain about their circumstances.  There's no complaining at all.  It's just so clear that their greatest wish in the world to be able to feed and educate their children and keep them healthy.  

I've had all these ideas about things we could learn, create, make, sell, to take all the energy and drive and passion and creativity from the women who I see struggle on a daily basis and try to channel it into something positive.  I've also seen the amazing things that happen when women come together in a space and how much support they give each other.  So I started looking at physical spaces.  I envisioned a large hall where I could put our sewing machines.  I looked into renting a few different halls and rooms so we could begin to conduct trainings, but as a result of the real estate boom in Surkhet, post civil war, everything was out of our price range or too far from our home base.  

Tope and Maggie, co-founders extraordinaire.

A few weeks back Tope, Daju, and I were talking by the fire about this jewelry making class, we've been wanting to send some women to and the conversation again, fell on this vision we've had.  Tope pointed to the top of the kitchen and said, "Maggie, why don't we just build it ourselves, right here?"  We did the math.  The foundation was already there.  The iron pillars were already there.  The space was there.  We just needed to order bricks, cement, sand, and wood for windows and find the right person to build it.  Then just after Christmas, my favorite mason in the world stopped by for a cup of tea.  He told us he was off for two weeks and asked if we had any work for him?  Tope and I looked at each other and smiled.  Minutes later, Daju got on the phone to see if we could get some bricks, we walked up to the roof top to check out the space, and the project began.  A few days later on a Saturday the kids, volunteers, staff and I were all carrying the loads of construction materials up to the roof.  The mason, and our staff were pouring water and mixing cement and the first wall was going up.  I love a good physical work day with the kiddos.  Within 3 hours we brought 3,500 bricks and 300 bags of sand and cement.  We built it together.

Little Y is eager to help!

Our center is a simple, large open room with big arched windows that our carpenters made for us.  The door opens out to a nice open veranda.  There will be shelving and a table for sewing machines.  I found some big gorgeous wool woven carpets to go on the floor.  Today our construction team set the roof and in just two weeks time, our project will be complete. I'm also excited that this new space is going to double as a big open space for all the kids to dance and do yoga, and for us to all hang on the roof top, which has the most beautiful view of Surkhet Valley.

Beautiful arched windows!

I'm excited to finally have this room for women to convene, learn, share and create.  I'm excited to have a space for us to make the school bags, pajamas, school uniforms, and everything we need to sustain ourselves.  I figure we'll start with the basics, see where it goes, and take it from there.  This was a spontaneous move.  Literally just bought bricks and went for it.  It feels right.  I really want the women to take all this on themselves with a little bit of a start and some basic training.  I want to put a white board up and put some books in their to have it be a place where women can learn to read and write.  We're so excited to be partnering with Mia Amicas Globally with this undertaking!  Cara has been such a huge support to us. These bracelets are one of the first thing our women are learning to make!  

Introducing the beginnings of Kopila's First Women's Center!  More photos to come :)

The view facing north!

The view facing south!

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