A late fall afternoon. In a room filled with humming, two hands are working assiduously on a colorful package. They keep encouraging one another, running over, fixing, folding and caressing the package, trying to tame it… In vain – the stubborn material refuses to take the shape the hands are trying to give it. But wait, two other hands – the neighbor’s – come to help. Finally, the package gives in, folds the way it should, and is quietly put down beside other packages that all share the same fate. On the table, in front of the two hands, there are many multicolored packages folded in various shapes, all to become clutches in the end.
The hands and their owners – 15 of them – are participating in a training, learning to make bags and clutches out of recycled materials, such as plastic bags and food packages. The idea to use these materials and create unique items belongs to Tara Hopkins, a woman from Ayvalik, Turkey, who has her own workshop there and an outlet market to sell the things she makes. The shop, called Copmadam, is dedicated to providing jobs for women to help prevent discrimination. Copmadam is very popular among Turkish women.
“The idea for our program in Turkey was born out of my frustration. I was frustrated with my job in civil society and at the university. And I thought there should be a way for me to do what I like. I started a job which led to another and then another one…and that’s how I ended up here”, says Tara. “We hope enough people learn to make things the right way so we can sell them here, in Turkey, as we promised. We also hope the women will have their own unique ideas for children and the people in their communities and make many original things we have never thought of before”, she adds.
At the beginning of September, Keystone Moldova supported three women from Moldova to visit Turkey to learn the art of making eco-friendly bags, so they could later pass their knowledge on to others. The goal is to create a social enterprise selling handmade bags and clutches. This social enterprise would create new jobs for vulnerable people in Moldova so they can be successful and become more independent.
Mrs. Liliana Celcinschi, coordinator of Vis Community Center in Bacioi, is impressed with their Turkish experience: “Women working in Copmadam transform materials into valuable things”. She knows how she is going to use the experience she acquired at the workshop and has already started to do it. “I shared this idea with the beneficiaries of the Community Center and also with lyceum students. I was happen to find out that young people are willing to learn to make things with their own hands”.
Another participant in the Turkish training, Mrs. Nina Niculcea, says she has expanded her experience in Chisinau, where she taught other people the techniques she learned. “Besides learning to make bags, we also learn life experiences from each other. I learned a lot from this training, and now I want to pass it on to the centers in Balti, which provide support for children with disabilities. I have already spoken to the director and shown her what I have made. She said she could provide us with materials. And I will come and teach the children, working together with them”.
Parents and social workers caring for persons with disabilities attended the training. It is much harder for them to find a job, and even if they do, it is often underpaid. Now, however, they have big plans for the future. Each of them has already thought of a ways they will use their training experience. “At first, the task seemed impossible to accomplish”, says Mrs. Rodica, a mother. “But now we are beginning to acquire some skills working with these materials. We have realized how useful and interesting this technique is. And it generates income, too. As a teacher, I will pass this idea and knowledge on to children, and I am sure it will spark their interest”.
As for social workers, there are ways for them to apply their knowledge, too. Two women working in Supported Living are planning to teach the young men living there to make eco-friendly bags – slowly, starting simple, to gradually come to the end product.
Among the many women participating in the training is a man who also grasped the bag-making technique and proudly shows off his achievement. “My fingers hurt”, he says. His name is Jens Trummer, and he’s a Program Officer for a poverty reduction program implemented by Open Society Mental Health Initiative. “We try to support Keystone in assisting beneficiaries and their families and laying the foundation of a social enterprise where people can make bags”, he says.
The training was held by Keystone Moldova within the Community for All-Moldova Program with the financial support of the Open Society Mental Health Initiative, as part of the Micro Enterprise Incubator Project. This project is designed to create jobs for persons with disabilities and their families.