The first week was really about getting my hands around Mission Lazarus, all of the initiatives and operations, how it works. This week is about getting my hands around my job, what I am here to accomplish for the organization. My gears are rolling, my many questions are seeking their answers, and I am gaining traction towards the goals we’ve outlined. In my time here, my goal is to establish processes for the leather vocational school to communicate with the store in the US which sells their project. Two weeks in, I’m only ankle deep and still have a lot of learning before me.
One of the many initiatives at Mission Lazarus is to offer vocational training to young people who are seeking to improve their life conditions. We have a sewing school for young girls, a metal workshop, a carpentry school and a leather school for young men. These students range in age from 9 to 19, and they come from all over to learn here. When the program first began in 2012, there were a few in each program. After the first graduating class in 2015, the interest in the program rose drastically. Most students walk 1-2 hours in the morning and again at night to get to our school from their homes. We have a student in the leather school who walks 3 hours each direction; he leaves his house at 5am and doesn’t get home until 7pm, which is past dark here. He spends 6 hours walking so he can spend 8 hours learning a skill, receiving an education, and earning a paycheck to feed his family.
These are the stories of our students.
The products made by students and graduates of the program are sold in the United States. These sales fund the initiatives operations (the paychecks for the boys in the program) as well as the Mission Lazarus Refuge for children. With the heightened demand of students wanting to join our program, Mission Lazarus has installed new mechanisms to ensure that their students are really in need. Our teachers visit the applicants home to see what their living conditions are like, making sure we are serving people who are really in need. The students that are admitted typically live in poverty and have been taken out of school to work and earn another income for their household. These are the kids we want, so they can earn money, removing that financial barrier to education and vocational training.
I’ve spent a few days with them at the workshop, learning how to brand leather, cut and sew, watching them craft bags that I own and have carried for months. It is an art. I left the workshop Monday with bruised and burnt hands. These boys are disciplined, devoted to their craft.
While I prefer sitting around the workshop with the boys and learning how to work with leather, a lot of my work is analytical. This week has been a lot of research, going through old records, asking question after question, thinking through ways to make things more efficient, dreaming. I’ve got so many things running through my mind, I’m thrilled to be ankle deep in this river of potential, wading deeper as we move towards the other side. Really productive meetings have happened, and we have gears turning regarding our production calendar, quality control measures, organization. It just still feels like a lot to me. I am really fortunate to have the guidance of experienced co-workers who can guide this process along. There is always strength in numbers.
I am most excited for the potential new products that we are working on. It’s a process that allows me to be involved directly, working side by side with Ernesto. On Thursday, he took me in to San Marcos de Colon, the nearest town, to look at potential leather options for new products. Then Friday, we began organizing the leather closet and working on two new designs. This is the fun stuff. There is still so much to be done, but we have good goals outlined for the next four weeks and I am ready for Monday to come, to charge in head first.