Free shoes at a cost.

Would you want free shoes or would you rather pay for them?  Who wouldn’t want free shoes right, but when we take a deeper look free stuff it’s always best.
Over the past few months, we have had a constant challenge in discerning the best way to address the bombardment of poverty we face living here.  Not a day goes by without someone asking us for money or food.  Our hearts are constantly burdened to do something, but our conclusion is that there is no such thing as a quick fix.  We might think that handing out a few birr or some bread will fix the issue, but it’s clear that in most cases this is actually hurting more than helping.
Today we had a great opportunity to address this in the context of Africa.  At FashionABLE, we are working with some of the hardest people I have ever met.  The woman are motivated and empowered by their employment opportunity, yet it’s still not simple.  We are often having discussions of how to motivate them based on incentives while keeping things fair for everyone.  Outside of their day-to-day job, we often have visitors who want to help.  At times we have received clothing for kids, or some practical needs like lotions, nail polish, etc… and we would say in most cases that these are small gifts that have been encouraging to the women.  Today, we had over 20 pairs of nice shoes show up.  Rather than handing them out, we took a different approach.
After meeting with the two managers at the office, we decided that these “free” shoes shouldn’t be just given out to the women.  Knowing that shoes like this in Addis would go for between 1000-2000 Birr ($50-$100USD), this would have been a huge gift for these women.  We imagined how thankful they would be to be given them, but we also want what’s absolutely best for each one of these women.  With this in mind it has always encouraged us to put more thought into everything and not just take the most obvious or easiest solution.  Today, we decided to not hand the shoes out for free but charge a nominal price for the shoes.  Since the shoes were donated, we wanted to use the funds from the sale of the shoes in the best way.  So we decided to take the fund and donate it to Woman at Risk (WAR), the rehabilitation program that most of the woman currently working at FashionABLE came from.
So let me explain how incredible this worked out.  We told the women that we had some beautiful new shoes that they could purchase in our stock room.  At first they looked at us with a bit of confusion, because they might have expected us to just give them away but then we continued.  We told them that we were selling them for about 100-200 birr ($5-$10USD) and that rather than keeping the money we would be donating it to help other women struggling in prostitution.  So not only are the women at FashionABLE able to purchase there own shoes, but they are able to help other women who are in the position they once were in.  We also gave them an opportunity to pay off the shoes over four months so that it’s would allow them to pay for it without as much of an up front cost.
It’s hard to articulate in writing, but every woman left today with a new pair of shoes that they were ABLE to pay for out of their own hard work while knowing that they were ABLE to help the other women through the same rehabilitation program they were helped through.  This is sustainable development, and it’s allowing women to have the dignity and confidence that God has designed us to have no matter what culture of continent we come from or live on.

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