It is amazing how one conversation can set you on a journey into a land that you’ve never explored before. Actually since having a conversation last week with one of the women in the project I am finding myself a bit obsessed in trying to get as much information as I can. It was a conversation that went totally a different way than I expected, yet by the end of it I felt compelled to see something change.
The conversation began by me asking one of the mothers (whose child is in the project) what she was
sewing. We have 3 moms in the project who sew at every opportunity. They are never idle when they come to pick up their children, but rather they sit and sew while they wait. In very choppy Amharic, I remarked about how beautiful the cross and cuff stitching was on a traditional Ethiopian shirt and pants that she was sewing on. You see, she (and the other 2 moms) spend their days doing hand stitching of these designs on shirts and pants that will easily sell for $13 USD or more in the local shops. It is beautiful, detailed work…stitch by stitch completed by hand.
As our conversation continued, I asked her “How long does it take you to stitch the designs on a shirt and pair of pants?” She replied “One full day.” That’s a lot of labor, love & sweat in each of those shirts.
But, then the shocker answer came when I asked her, “How much do you get paid for each shirt and pair of pants you stitch the designs on?” Her reply, “2.5 Ethiopian Birr.” In US Dollars that is 15 cents! She spends a full day hand stitching designs on a shirt and at the end of the day she makes 15 cents? That’s merely enough to buy 2 1/2 small loaves of bread locally. That’s an injustice that got me burning on the inside.
You see, these women are provided shirts and pants that are already sewn together by someone else, then they become the stitchers along the way who then pass the shirts on to the sellers – who make the real profit. This got me started wondering, “What can we do to help these women actually make a profit for the job they do?” This isn’t about getting women employed, but rather this is about women being employed with sustainable incomes. By the way, this woman could make 10 times more if she chose to beg along the road with her children than what she is being paid to do this work. It is a huge blessing that she, and others like her have this great desire in them to work and use the gifts that God has placed within them. Now, what will we do with this work ethic and skill set that God has deposited in them? That’s the question that’s been nagging me for a week now.
As I’ve been reflecting this week on various micro-enterprises and potential jobs and handicraft job creation, I was struck by God’s heart when it comes to wages. I started reading James 5, where James writes,
“1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.“James 5:1-5 (NIV)
If we ever wondered what God thinks about justice and the need for ensuring that the poor are provided for in a just way, I think James makes it pretty clear what His heart is. And, it’s refreshing to me to think that these women who work their days away with nothing but 15 cents to show are very close to God’s heart. He rises up to their cause and their cries reach the ears of the Lord Almighty. But, as the rich…what is our response going to be?
Please join me in praying for these dear women who work so hard for so little. And also join me in prayer and action in seeing a more just and sustainable solution provided for them and their children.