Woman of the Week—Sister Neera

“We had a great desire to learn and got the chance to learn. Ahsante.” —Sister Neera

On Tuesday, Julie and I held a graduation ceremony for the BUWEA women, signifying the women’s successful completion of TWB training – a 2.5 month training. We recognized the women’s success by awarding training certificates and aprons. These items, while seemingly small, meant the world to these women: The certificates serve as physical proof, like a diploma, of their theoretical and technical training, while the aprons symbolize tangible (and current) opportunity for gainful employment. Both are outward symbols of the irrevocable skills TWB strives to impart. What’s more, these skills can and will be applied vocationally, that is as income-earning. Like any good education, these women are now equipped with the capacities necessary to create, manage and operate a successful bakery. It’s a defining moment for them, one as anticipatorily frightening as it is promising as much of their success will now be self-dictated. TWB considers this empowered autonomy – these women have everything they need to succeed (yes, even down to food code and taxes), now it’s up to them to apply their education to build their bakeries. TWB’s role henceforth is support and growth-based. TWB will provide on-going support and education, but the responsibility of day-to-day operations for a new bakery is entirely the women’s. That’s powerful.

Of the 18 women graduating from TWB’s training, one left a particular impression. The women were collectively impressive; each woman was engaged, motivated and dedicated. Most of the women were starting on the same page, seeking training for independent gain. Sister Neera, however, sought TWB training on behalf of a group of women whom she serves at her convent. Originally from India, Sr. Neera has been in Kanobe, Tanzania (40 minutes outside of Bukoba) for seven years, living into a passion for helping women. She came to TWB’s training to absorb the information, then reteach it.

In the beginning, Sr. Neera struggled with simple calculations. Inventory math proved especially difficult for her. Inventory math, the breaking down of bulk ingredient costs to find single loaf costs, is hard as it is, especially factoring in US-to-Metric conversions and decimals. Still, Sr. Neera maintained a steadfast resolve to understand. Then, after a day of training dedicated to simple mathematical calculations, Sr. Neera got it. She got it! She took a moment to rejoice in her newfound comprehension then immediately turned to assist the women next to her.

We consider Sr. Neera a transformation case. She came to us lacking confidence and knowhow, but possessing an eagerness and openness to learn. It wasn’t until one of our last training sessions, “Training in Review”, that Sr. Neera rose to inform us:

“I was teaching women to run a business, but I was failing. Now, I have learned how to become a successful business woman. I have learned how to keep all the reports, we have learned how much we are using, how much we started with, how much is left over. These are very important things. I will never forget these things I have learned from you … I will start teaching women in small groups to bake the bread, and then they will start selling. We had a great desire to learn and got the chance to learn. Ahsante.”

Julie and I visited Sr. Neera this weekend and were again struck by her spirit. She is the embodiment of empowerment and serves as confirmation education’s unmistakable power, and therefore of TWB’s work. TWB exists to empower and equip women like Sr. Neera, women who may have the vision and the drive to improve their lives through business, but lack the technical skills or knowhow. Thank you, Sr. Neera, our Woman of the Week, for your hard work.