North American society has given us a blueprint for what success looks like. But it’s a false picture, it has us chained to desks, working only to buy the next big thing that will make us temporarily happy. The sneaky sad thing is that buying too many things can actually rob us of fulfilling the dreams we have that could make us permanently happy. Each big thing you add to your life will weigh you down. It will require upkeep, payments, usage, cleaning, storing, repair. Caring for things uses up time that you won’t have for more important pursuits. Time that you won’t have for your passions, for developing your vision of success, for following your dreams.
Following an Old Vision of Success
Two years ago my husband and I decided to follow one of our old dreams, developed when we were new parents. We wanted to live in another country with our children and expose them to a radically different culture, language and experience. We investigated a large number of countries and decided on Ecuador, a developing country where people speak Spanish.
We quit our nice jobs, sold our big house in the ideal suburban community, we sold our nice new cars, all our lovely tasteful furniture and most of our household goods. We moved to Ecuador in the few suitcases of stuff that was left. I never felt so free and so terrified. Those first few months in Ecuador were an emotional roller coaster for me as we struggled to fit in and even to understand the ramifications of our choices.
A Wild Dreamer?
In case you think I am some wild dreamer, let me say that I am a Canadian Chartered Accountant, with all of the character traits that define accountants. I weigh my options, make lists of pros and cons, value the outward signs of success like designer homes and vacations in Italy. I have only had 2 jobs in my adult life. I worked at one of the big 4 accounting companies for 20 years.
But within my heart was a big dream, suppressed for many years, to help women in poverty to develop their own business. As I saw the rise of handmade and microfinance, I was wildly interested, but there was little I could do living in Canada in my safe life where my family, job and things required 110% of my energy. Moving to Ecuador released me from a vast amount of responsibilities that didn’t contribute to my overall happiness.
Living Life Within a Vision
Tomorrow I will be meeting with the local artisans that I am starting to know. I am shocked at the levels of poverty in the villages. Some of the artisans I know are regularly deciding between food for themselves and school supplies for their kids. They sell their handmade goods in local markets for the very smallest of mark ups, barely covering their input costs. With extremely low education amongst the village poor, they are ignorant of profit margins, happy with a few dollars in their pocket for their month of work.
When I speak with my artisans, I find out their costs and the time that it takes to make their creations. Their access to markets is limited to the middlemen in the larger market towns. Entrance to these markets is tightly controlled. The middlemen are ruthless in keeping the artisan’s profit margins very low. These limits ensure that artisans stay in poverty; they have no control over the pricing, and hardly understand the model that makes things so difficult for them.
Women in Poverty
Many of the artisans I work with are women. The men empty out of the nearby villages to go to construction and gardening jobs in the bigger cities where they are paid less than minimum wage, and under the table too. They have no security net, so if they are hurt on the job, they are out of a job and the family is left without money. The women are left at home to do all the subsistence farming, homecare, childcare and make crafts for sale in their spare time. They grew up learning to knit, weave, embroider, sew and many other handicraft skills that have been passed along for many generations.
These women live in circumstances that North Americans would have a hard time visualizing. I was in one home recently that was one room with a fire pit outside for cooking. In this room were two large looms for weaving, 2 beds, 2 chairs and a small plastic table. In this family with 6 kids under the age of 13, there was no toys, no stove, no washing machine, no indoor plumbing. I know some North Americans are in similar situations, but this is a permanent life situation going back generations. They are trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Freedom to Reimagine
I have been set free to reimagine my life and my purpose. I had some clues that I wanted to help women in poverty. With my business background and strong grasp of profit margins, I can help in a few different ways and I have jumped in with a whole heart. I have set up an online store ArtisansintheAndes.com, selling items from the various artisans that I am meeting. I am also working towards helping the women with some basic costing and marketing principles if they are interested in moving their goods towards to a real business.
Tell me about your dream, your vision, your passion!