At TKS have known for a long time that we wanted to offer the ladies we work with additional training to develop their skill-set and personal capital. Beyond the training in embroidery, knitting and crocheting they get from working with us, we wanted to focus on providing them with useful skills that will increase their self-sufficiency as individual artisans, but also as a collective. In the spring of 2018, we therefore decided to raise funds to launch a computer literacy course and – thanks to the amazing Thaki organization which donated five laptops, and the many kind donors who made financial resources available – we conducted the first six-week pilot course last fall!
Why the program?
The ladies in the TKS collective are by no means unaware of modern technology. All of them have a Smartphone, which is a crucial tool to stay in touch with family and friends who have been scattered by the civil war, and it is not unusual to see one of the ladies chatting on FaceTime to her mother in Aleppo (or Turkey, or Sweden) while embroidering. We noticed, however, that there are specific aspects of modern technology that could help the ladies with their work, but of which they were still unaware. One case in point: e-mail. Currently, the ladies send each other photographs of embroidery patterns or colour combinations via WhatsAppp messages – meaning that just a week later, they already have to scroll two miles up to find the information again. The same information, if sent in a clearly named e-mail or – even better – added to a Google document every lady could access, could easily be retrieved whenever needed. Another example: the ladies currently keep track of orders by writing them down in a notebook. While this eventually always works out – also thanks to the uncanny memory of field manager Malak – it involves a lot of flipping through the notebook to piece all the information together and deciphering information that has been scratched out and corrected in the course of the several weeks – or even months – during which we work on an assignment. In an Excel sheet, of course, all the information could be added on a single page that never runs out of space, and information could easily be corrected or adapted.
When brainstorming what skills to include in the course during one of the first preparatory meetings, held with Dana, Alex and Malak from the TKS team, Jehane from ioi designs and computer literacy teacher Sula, these were therefore some of the main priorities we identified. Not only were these going to be useful for the ladies’ work with TKS, but we also hope that this investment in the ladies’ skillset will become long-term personal capital that they can also use for themselves, or future jobs they take on, be it in Lebanon, or Syria, or anywhere else.
How did it go?
Educational programs stand or fall by the grace of the teachers who lead them, and we were very lucky in that regard to find an amazing teacher. Malak had already heard of a Syrian refugee woman called Sula, who lived close to Shatila, had been a computer literacy teacher before the war and was trying to continue her work in exile. Sula is a dedicated, intelligent woman who is very driven to educate other women where she can, and was unfazed by the fact that the program would take place in an atypical setting.
Without the resources for a formal classroom, the classes took place around Malak’s kitchen table, moved for the occasion to the largest room in her house, equipped with a new whiteboard and the laptops donated by Thaki. There was a lot of interest in the program, but because we had only five laptops available it was decided to limit participation to ten ladies for now, who would work on each laptop in pairs. These ten women started, under Sula’s guidance, at a very basic level; most of them had never really worked with a laptop before, so explanations on how to connect the mouse and use the keyboard took up most of the first class (the fact that most laptops don’t have a touch-screen also took some getting used to, as evidenced by a lot of vigorous screen-poking that first day). Over the next five weeks, the ladies set up G-mail accounts (the TKS team received a lot of test-emails) and started to delve into the first basics of Excel.
To allow the ladies to focus on their studies, the TKS team had set up a mini-daycare in another room in the apartment for the roughly ten children whose mothers couldn’t arrange for another place to leave them. We had bought colouring books and colouring pencils, and on the laptop of one of the TKS team members we screened movies (popcorn was, of course, provided) so that we could introduce these young minds to some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of the 21st century, including – but not limited to – Finding Nemo, Despiccable Me, and Shrek.
So what’s next?
Although the pilot went very well, six weeks was not enough to make the women – some of whom had never used a laptop before – proficient enough to integrate it into every-day TKS activities. We did, however, lay a good base and gained a lot of useful information to continue the second – and improved! – phase of the program in 2019. We are preparing for this now, and are excited to keep you posted about all the developments…!