Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Shoba - Galle Fort
16th August 2010
Today was the first day of our opportunity to work within the Sri Lankan garment industry. While the other girls have gone to fancy corporate factories, I have requested to go to Shoba – which is a small co-operative of women in Galle Fort. I asked Anusha, the woman who runs Shoba if I could come on the 12th when we first visited and it was all arranged.
So I set off this morning at 6.30 (AM!) from the flat and made my way to the bus stop around the corner from our apartment. We have been catching public buses since we got here so I didn’t think it would be a problem, but when the first bus to Galle (the number 02 for future reference) drove past without slowing I enlisted the help of the old man standing next to me, so when the next bus came we were ready to frantically flag it down, but it didn’t stop – I was holding a water bottle which I almost threw, but refrained because that would have been rude. Luckily, a small AC bus stopped for me not too much past 7, it only cost a little more so I was able to sit in a fridge all the way to Galle.
As we headed further south, it became apparent that the crap weather in Colombo yesterday was nothing compared to the stormy weather in Galle. Wind and rain lashed the coast and umbrellas flew into the ocean. I did manage to make it safely to Shoba gallery by 10am after a long wet walk from the busstop outside the fort walls. They were not quite ready after a slow start to the morning so I waited across the road at the Pedlar Inn café drinking a not half bad latte – first in well over a month! I headed back at 11, where I was immediately put to work designing a bag. Not really my forte, but I gave it a shot. I then dragged Anusha to Barefoot and the other touristy shops in the area to do some comp shopping, something she apparently hadn’t thought to do as she had not set foot in half of them. It was great to show her what else sells and also to point out what the tourists were picking up but putting back.
Back at the gallery I continued my task of bag design trying to get it done before the trainees arrived at 2pm for the workshop which I was apparently going to teach… But we breaked for lunch for over an hour and by the time we had got back most of the women had arrived for the workshop. Anusha took over and taught a different design while I sat a treadle sewing machine and tried to figure out how to work it – not easy, you have to spin the wheel towards you and use your feet to treadle at the right rhythm which I would quickly use and it would start to go backwards instead. Anusha let me use an old singer which had been hooked up to power instead – still not easy. It took me about an hour to figure out how to sew the bag neatly without the need for an overlocker so all the seams were on the inside, but I did it and was feeling very proud of myself. The women in the group and Anusha were all amazed at my neat zip and pocket bag, not something which my sewing tutor at university ever felt, and insisted I teach them. Who would have thought I would ever teach sewing… It was decided that all the women would come back again tomorrow so that I can teach them my bag, I think I will make them all choose their own fabric and motifs – they do not seem to be given any autonomy in design.
I then spoke with Anusha for about an hour after the women had left about Shoba and its aims. I was really interested to hear that the Export Development Board had not given Shoba the opportunity to take part in the Fair Trade course which Shermila Batik had done. Anusha would like to become Fair Trade but doesn’t know how to go about it. It seems that the charity that Shoba work with, Transrural Trust which is based in the UK, have already begun the process of making their supply chain and accountancy more transparent. It seems unfair that the groups which would benefit the most from a Fair Trade mark find it difficult to even acquire information on how to become Fair Trade.
I had decided not to stay in a hotel outside the fort so I braved the driving rain and walked two minutes down the road to a guest house run by a lovely old man – my room was lime green. The geckos blended into the walls.