We started leather working today with our now most popular project- sandals! Alberto, the leather teacher, met me at the prison this morning at 9am on the dot and we breezed through security thanks to our permission papers. Finally, no pleading and negotiating with the guards.
The women are enamored with sandals. They have requested this project in the past, but the old leather worker who used to teach our classes was not an expert in sandal making. Fortunately, Alberto is and the women finally get to do this long awaited project.
We bought materials for 10 women and, of course, more wanted to join. In total we have 12 with two women agreeing to provide their own foot bases since we don’t have enough. Half of the women in the class are new to Ruraq Maki’s programs. Two of them are interested in making shoes so they were thrilled to learn how to make leather sandals.
Sandal making began with each woman tracing the base pattern on leather and then carefully cutting out the leather. Alberto scolded a few women about their cutting technique, which he told them was dangerous and put them at risk for losing control of the knife and slicing into their belly. I agreed that we should try to avoid blood in the prison!
After the bases were cut the women stamped designs on the base and made the holes for the straps. Then they cut out long strips of soft leather and created an intricate knot-braid design and hammered the design to keep it in place. Next, they pulled the straps through the holes and glued the straps to the base of the sandal.
It doesn’t sound like a lot of steps, but cutting and stamping leather is slow going because you have to be careful and detailed. Tomorrow the women will finish their sandals with two base layers.
On the bus ride home, Alberto told me that the prison contacted him last year to teach and class to the men and he turned them down. He told me he will only teach classes in the prison through Ruraq Maki because the experience is better.
I’m really pleased to hear that he thinks this highly of us. Our values are based on fair wages and ethical work conditions and while we obviously promote this with the women, we also promote this in all aspects of the organization. Hearing that our trainers are also enjoying working with us and that we are fostering a positive work experience with them means that we are aligned with our core values beyond the work we do with the women.