From helplessness to confidence: Day 2 of ASSET program
Tuesday was a solid day. Day 1 is colour theory and it’s consistently a winner. I’ve seen almost nothing get artisans as excited and confident as learning a few things about colours—it’s like a world of possibility suddenly opens up for them.
On Day 2, we get them started thinking about markets, identifying trends, product development to meet the needs and wants of a particular market segment. It’s not as fun as colours but it’s critical that they understand: for things to sell, someone has to want to buy them. They all know that just existing isn’t enough (they’ve all got bags full of things they’ve made that haven’t sold) so it’s worth giving some thought to who you sell to, who buys, and what they like. Later in the week, we’ll get to the revolutionary idea that it’s best to just ask them.
But for now, this is enough—because they’re stunned. “Now I understand,” Francisca declares enthusiastically. “I never thought of it before. I used to make these beautiful things and wonder why no one bought them. I’d just wait and hope that someone would buy them. Now I see that I need to think about things and plan what I make.”
The shift from helplessness and feeling dumbfounded to discovery and feeling confidence was palpable in Francisca, a 42-year-old mother of one who describes herself as “a woman of few words.” It’s only Day 2, but Francisca’s inspiring journey is of the type which I’m almost getting used to as part of this program. When we met in April, the soft-spoken woman shared maté and machun (the Mapuche word for a traditional bread still made daily in most homes) with me in her modest home in the hills of Llangui, where she lives on her family farm. She’d moved back to her parents home a few years ago to help on the farm after her father died. In addition to working the land, she is reclaiming her ancestral textile skills and was curious about the entrepreneurship program we were offering. She surprised everyone—including herself, I suspect—when she raised her hand
in a room full of people and volunteered to be a team leader in Artistri Sud’s year-long coaching program. I certainly didn’t have her pegged as a leader of any kind, but one of the things I’ve learned doing this work is that people are amazing–often, if you expect them to, they simply rise to the occasion.
This morning on the walk in pitch darkness from our cabins to the site where we’re doing the training, Silvia (the second ringleader of this group) tells me about a conversation she had with Francisca months before. It was her first meeting with Francisca, and she’d gone to talk to her about the capacity-building program that’s now underway, and the opportunities that might open up for her as a result. Francisca cried. “She told me that she has so much she wants to say, so much to express,” says Silvia, “but she doesn’t know how, and it makes her sad.” Silvia’s shaking her head at the irony–she’d actually started our conversation this morning smilingly lamenting how little she’d slept the night before—her bunkmates, it seems, are pretty chatty. I ’m astonished to learn that one of them is
Francisca. Silvia tells me that Francisca’s like a new person–happy, talkative and expressive—after two days in the program. I have goosebumps at this news, because I’ve come to recognize the beginning of a transformation—Francisca is stepping into what’s possible for herself and her future, and it starts with expressing who she is. I tell this to Silvia–that there is power in being able to express yourself, your experience, your dreams; it reflects a confidence which is a game-changer. Silvia agrees completely. We walk the rest of the way in silent reflection.
Day 3 dawns. As I walk around the space today—the training room, the dining hall—I sometimes catch Francisca watching me. On the nature walk (we teach them to look to nature to find inspiration for new designs), I’m snapping photos, and she smiles at me. These smiles were rare in April when we interviewed her, but today, on Day 3, they’re coming a mile a minute. I hug her and she beams. And then she smiles some more. She’s still not saying much to me, but somehow everything is different.
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