About a week into our fall line launch, I am so excited to start sharing some stories about the hands and hearts behind each product! Meet Polycarp, Marceline, and Mercedes!!
These three artisans make up one of the artisan businesses behind part of our Moshi Collection. Mercedes and Marceline are twins, Polycarp is Mercedes's husband, and the three of them are deaf. Meeting them was totally by chance (aka God's providence), and immediately I knew I wanted Zuri to work with them. Ali, the man on the right in the photo, is a manager of a hotel, and allows them to rent a space in his building to run their business. He also serves as their translator, as he is fluent in sign language. I was so blown away by this whole situation. The loving kindness of Ali and the patience and gratitude from Polycarp, Mercedes, and Marceline as I tried to explain through gestures and broken Swahili/English design ideas left me speechless. Hilary and I would go home at night and just gush over how thankful we were to meet these three beautiful souls! I began to dream of what we could accomplish together - of what opening up a global marketplace could do for the three of them and their families and community.
But I quickly learned that I wasn't the only one who was dreaming. After talking more with Polycarp, the leader of the group, I learned that he has big goals for the group as well! "My future desire is to expand our office and to increase our orders so that I can pay office rent, buy needed modern machines to increase production. I would like also to train and employ younger deaf girls and boys just to create more job opportunities so that more deaf people realize their dreams and live a happy life."
Polycarp is the oldest of nine siblings in his family, however he told me that only five of them are still alive. Although he wasn't born deaf, he became deaf because of an infection he contracted when he was very young. His parents were farmers, but were not able to maintain a steady income, and coupled with how many siblings his parents had to provide for, they could not afford to put him through secondary school. Polycarp persevered and found a different path in going to vocational training center to learn about tailoring. After three years, he graduated from his course in 2015, and along with his wife and her twin, he founded their business.
When asked him what he likes most about his work, this is how he responded, "Through this work I am able to raise my family and help my parents and siblings. I also help train other deaf men and women so that they can have tailoring skills and perhaps can employ themselves. Most of the education institutions here don’t employ many people who know sign language, making it impossible for many deaf people to access education. This in turn produces a large number of deaf people who are unskilled and unable to be self-reliant. I want to help change that. My family is very proud of me, and now trusts me that I can work and manage my life and support my siblings. Before they thought that because I am deaf I would be helpless, but it is the opposite now."
Friends - this is what empowerment looks like. Polycarp has had to overcome so much. In Tanzania there are many false beliefs about disabilities, making it very common for stigmas to lead to discrimination. He has managed to overcome this social stigma, made it through tailoring school even though not many people at his school knew sign language, and is now supporting his own family in addition to his parents and siblings through his work as a tailor.
Polycarp asked me to tell all of you that he is very proud of his work and his wish is for customers to help him reach more markets. Your purchases are supporting Polycarp, Mercedes, and Marceline, their families, and their dreams!