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TEM Lab - Fall, 2017
Written by: Team Ubuntu (Fungai Mandanza, Rachel An, Craig Pearson)
When people talk about being female in Nigeria, discrimination and crushed ambitions tend to take the lime light. #BeingFemaleInNigeria is a social media campaign of women speaking out about the discrimination they face in their daily lives.
Despite these difficulties, however, we discovered a different side to being female in Nigeria.
Team Ubuntu, our TEM Lab group for Nigeria, was honored with the task of developing a strategy for a new business incubation center and providing relevant training to ensure its sustainability. The incubator will be for the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development and Vocational Studies (CEDVS) of The Federal Polytechnic at Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria and we are working with Winrock International under USAID's Farmer-to-Farmer Special Program Support Project program.
During our first week, we discovered the holy grail of what it means to be a female in Nigeria: passion and hard work mixed with the determination to obtain sustainable skills (to help improve their lives and those of their families as well).
When we first arrived, we took a tour of the CEDVS facilities both indoors and outdoors. The center has thirteen different industries for its Enterprise Village with areas for practical application of the theoretical concepts and procedures behind the skills taught there. We were even able to meet some of the students while their classes were in session.
One class quickly caught my attention: the design and textile class with 89 part-time students, mostly female, from all over Ekiti state in Western Nigeria. We arrived just in time for their "practicals".
The days' assignment was to make tie dye fabrics.
When people hear African fashion prints, patterns and blast of rich colors come to mind and unlike many myths about Africa, this one is true. The history of tie dye is deeply-rooted in African culture from the 1760’s and is a skill that has been passed down for generations. The locals have a name for it – adire. This process uses 100% cotton fabric to create uniquely patterned textile creations.
When the instructor told us about the challenges that the ladies face, what we enjoyed most about the conversation was how each issue had a solution mapped out by the ladies already. For example, plain 100% cotton is expensive and hard to come by. The students resolved this issue by figuring out how to make impressive designs using kente - a less expensive material pre-printed with patterns (yes, you can re-invent the wheel).
Another issue that the students had devised was an innovative solution for the market saturation of tie dye in the fashion industry. These ladies thought to expand their target market from fashion to interior design. They created beautifully patterned, one-of-a-kind fabrics that could serve as wall hangings and coverings, tablecloths and runners, curtains, etc. in addition to clothing.
From our discussions with the faculty and students, we realized that being female in Nigeria does not only mean oppression and struggle, but it means being innovative and fighting bravely against all odds.
As the weeks of our project go on, we look forward to discovering what other skills we can learn from the Federal Polytechnic and, really, what to do with the trendy yard of material we made. We will continue to keep a close eye out for what else women in Ado-Ekiti are doing to break the norm.