I am a working mom.
This is something I never would have expected to say about myself 15 years ago.
And yet, here I am, happy and fulfilled (and often a little overwhelmed) by being a mom and a working woman.
I’ve been coming into this title, beginning to both admit and embrace it. It’s taken me a while, honestly. If you were to ask me last year what I do, my answer would always be “I’m a mom.” Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the truth is, I’m a mom and I run a business. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
I’m in Rwanda with a group of 11 other American women, all of whom work. They are smart and beautiful and talented beyond measure. Those who have kids, adore them. They are lovely moms and also do their work with excellence. It is so inspiring to be with these women.
I was lovingly scolded at dinner the other night because I was dismissing my business side. Not taking credit for the hard work I do. No more.
I am a working mom.
We spent our day yesterday visiting with a group of working moms at the Umucyo co-op. They started their business just over three years ago, going through sewing school to learn a trade and joining forces with one another to create jobs for themselves. They did not do this on their own; a profoundly compassionate and intelligent woman named Jennifer (an American living in Rwanda while her husband started a business here) lived in their poor neighborhood and became their friend. They began to trust her, she saw their great need and knew that while sharing her food and buying them eye glasses were necessary and important, these gestures were not sustainable. Someday she would move away and she would no longer be able to provide snacks and school tuition and wanted to offer them a way to provide for themselves. She met Jessica right at the beginning of Noonday, they dreamed together and empowered 11 women to start a company who created products that noonday could buy.
These women, who were sad and hopeless struggled to provide food for their families and could not send their children to school (p.s. the ability to send your child to school is the best indicator in a developing country that you are earning a living wage. If you can afford tuition – about $8 per semester – it means you can handle your basic needs.) So these original 11 women were in need of work, in need of purpose and most of all, in need of something sustainable to pull them out of their desperate situations.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from our visit. I hoped the shop was clean. I wanted to believe the hours and pay were generous. Mainly, I needed to know that the women were happy. But I wasn’t sure. You never really know what it’s like and I felt excited and nervous to see for myself.
My friends, it so much more beautiful than I could have imagined.
First of all, their studio space is wonderful. Light and open with fluttering curtains and old-fashion pedal sewing machines set around the perimeter of the room. If I could build a studio, it would be this one.
Because they collectively run their co-op, the work hours are decided as a group and they set wholesale prices based on cost of materials, labor requirements, shipping and taxes. These women, who once were jobless and hopeless, are not only seamstresses, they have become business women.
And it has changed their lives.
Just three years after their sewing co-op began, these women are thriving. They are able to send their children to school. One moved out of her one room home to one with three. New women have been interviewed and welcomed into the group. They have supported one another with loans when needed. They have purpose.
They still face challenges, of course. Challenges unlike anything I face as a working woman in America. They live in a country where there is little economic opportunity. They worry their children will finish school but will not be able to find work (a very real problem in Rwanda). Tariffs are high and so it is expensive for foreigners to do business here. Violence is common and an everyday worry. All have been impacted by the unthinkable genocide 20 years ago and many have taken in orphans to raise along with their own children. Life is not easy for these women, but it is no longer hopeless.
Our lives are very different, but our human spirit is the same: we are creative women who love our children, we find joy and purpose through our work, and we take pride in how we can use our talents to make our lives better.
We are working moms.
I have never been more proud to be in that group than now.