Welcome To 2016

Welcome to 2016!
It has been a while since I last wrote, and I have lots of new stories to share. December was a month of continued learning and planning. I am continuing to learn the culture of There Is Hope, as well as the culture of Malawians, and refugees. I have also continued to learn about all of the different facets of the organization, and it is exciting to see the ways that each part compliments and relies on the others.
Much of my learning has come as I have asked questions in order to further define my role, and set goals for the future. I now feel like I have a pretty clear picture of the things that I will be spending my time working towards. One of those big things will be the soap business! I am proud to say that after a few weeks, and several batches, I can personally make soap in a multitude of scents and shapes. In the near future I will be taking full responsibility for this business, which currently does very well selling high-end soaps to the expatriate community here in Malawi, as well as to various hotels and lodges in the city of Lilongwe.
Another cool thing that I was able to participate in was the graduation ceremony for our first ever, vocational carpentry training class. On December 22nd about 200 people gathered at our center outside the refugee camp to celebrate the graduation of 15 students from a 6-month basic carpentry training course. There were speeches from government officials, a slideshow looking back on the year, and certificates and tools awarded to the graduates. There was a palpable sense of energy in the room. The graduates were genuinely proud of their accomplishments, and the audience was excited to see the work that had been completed.
I was excited to see it all because, I have been able to purchase some of the things they have made, and because I saw a picture of transformation. Two pictures of people are starkly contrasted in mind. First, in the camp, it is obvious that something is broken. Men sit around waiting for something to do, children's first inclination is to say “hello” and then hold out their hand for some money, and women do their best to earn some money by selling various items at the market. Compare that to the individuals at our center, where the carpentry glass takes place. They are men and women who are busy, building beds and tables and chairs, or making blankets, Christmas stockings, and Christmas cards. These people have a changed mindset because of the work that they are doing. The real transformation is the sense of dignity that comes when one has a purpose, and is able to return to living a normal life, without being dependent on the charity of another person. Instead, they live in community, where they are able to support each other, and beyond that, reach out to others to share how they have been changed.
Stories like this are what motivated me to come, and make me excited about the future!