Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Livable Wage

Speaking of "rethinking things," I had another humbling experience the other day, this time relating to money. You'd think after living in Tanzania almost 3 years that I'd be fully aware of the (sub)standard of living in which most people here live. But no, I can still be struck dumb by small conversations that just hit me over the head by surprise.

Last week, while we were waiting for more girls to show up to group, I was talking with Violet, one of our Lulu facilitators-in-training. Violet, a young mother of 2, was keeping herself busy by crocheting while we were waiting for other girls to show up, so I asked her what she was sewing. "A baby hat," she replied. One of the skills the Lulu girls are taught is how to crochet hats, blankets, baby sweaters, purses, and other items, all of which can be highly sought after in their communities. "Are you selling them to people in your neighborhood?" I asked her. She replied affirmatively, so then I asked her how much she can sell a hat for. She said it depending on if the buyer supplied their own yarn. She said it's hard to make a lot of money because people want to reduce the price. They purchase their own yarn and just pay Violet for the work.

"So," I responded. "If someone supplies their own yarn, how much can you sell it for?" She said about 2,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about $1.25 US). "And how long does it take you to make one hat?" "About 2 days," she said. At this point I was going to affirm her earlier comment about not making a lot of money and talk more with her about how to make ends meet. "So, 2000 Shillings for 2 days of work," I said. "Yeah, that's..." She interrupted me and said, "Yeah, so that's not too bad. Two days' work for 2000 Shillings."!

What do we do with $1.25? I will spend more than that on a beer when I go out to dinner. I can't imagine trying to live on that for 2 days. Granted, this girl will take that money and contribute it to the larger household income earned from other members so it'll be stretched further. But still, it ain't much.

Now, I don't expect any of us, myself included, to reduce our expenses and only live in $.75/day. It's not an ideal way to live and I wouldn't want it for myself, just as I don't want it for Violet and her family. Instead, I wish there were an easier way to increase her salary. To give her what she deserves and to have it be enough to raise her children within a solid home and with a good education. I hope that'll come with time. At least this is a start. Because the money she's getting now and the skills she's gained is more than she had before. But still, I don't think I'll look at 2000 Shillings the same way again.

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