It only takes one drop of water to start a waterfall. -- Erin BrockovichIn 1999, I moved away from my family to start working in London, England. I was recruited as a teacher and was going to work in inner city London, in some of the toughest, most economically-deprived neighbourhoods in the country. This did not daunt me: I grew up in inner city Winnipeg around children who may or may not have had full meals in their bellies every night. It felt right. It was a job I could do.
What I was not prepared for was the unbelievable homesickness that hit me in the first few weeks. I had arrived just before the school summer holidays, and I had many idle days of waiting for work to come. I would wake up and despair... Where was everyone I knew and loved? Where did I go for comfort? Who could I talk to? It would hit me first thing in the morning like an anvil in the face, and it would knock me back into a dark, dark, scary part of my brain.
What I learned was that I needed to find a purpose in each day. I made plans, things to do, places to see, chores to perform. When I awoke in the morning, before the sadness hit, I would draw up the "to-do list" in my brain, and off I went. And, obviously, I survived. I fought despair, one little chore at a time.
Homesickness is not the ultimate difficulty we could face in life. Some have faced miles worse than that: unemployment, loneliness, being ostracized from a community, being treated like a sub-human... the list is long and depressingly real.
Perhaps it is because of the holiday season, but a lot of feel-good stories have landed in my lap over the past few weeks. The ones below are all about people finding ways to give a sense of purpose and self-worth to people who have experienced difficulties far beyond my own comprehension. And while each of these businesses will not be the kinds that the millionaires in Dragon's Den or Shark Tank will be investing in ("How am I gonna make mun-neeeee?"), they are what I refer to as social economies: sustainable businesses that build society and community, one person at a time. I'll warn you now: the last one is a good-er. I'm waiting for payday for that one...
Yarn Alive - This is an initiative based in Japan that brings tsunami-affected women together to learn how to knit and crochet and support each other during recovery.
Sistering.org - I learned about this from a recent Knitty blogpost. They have several fibre-related employment programs that help to promote their mission: “Sistering is a women’s agency serving homeless, marginalized and low-income women in Toronto. Our programs and services help women gain greater control over their life circumstances. Our advocacy focuses on changing the social conditions that put women at risk. And our service philosophy is to ensure that women’s dignity is not eroded by poverty and homelessness.”
The International Princess Project - This organization advocates for women who have been enslaved in prostitution in India. Through their online shop Punjammies.com, they help these women to provide for themselves through the beautiful clothing they handprint and sew themselves. "In providing for her basic need to support herself, she sees that she has value far beyond what the lies have told her. She begins to see her rightful place of value - a princess."
Perhaps you know of initiatives within your own community that are to finding ways to give people a sense of real worth. And I hope that you start to work the term "social economy" into your own vocabulary. It ain't capitalism, nobody is going to get rich... not monetarily. But maybe we will make our own communities richer if we all gave each of these projects just a tiny push, a tiny drop of our own human effort...
Imagine the waterfall you might create...