Monday, March 12, 2012

Old Friends

Ndeye Bineta Sarr is a wife and mother of three children from Dakar, Senegal. We have many borrowers from Senegal. However, Ndeye has the unique distinction of being the very first borrower to have her loan financed through Zidisha! Madame Sarr used her loan to buy a sewing machine that is able to embroider using larger types of thread. Allowing her to craft the beautiful boubous (See picture to the right) that many women in Senegal wear everyday. With her loan, Madame Sarr was also able to hire an assistant, and plans to produce mens' boubous in the future. Our Director, and Founder, Julia Kurnia met with Ndeye just yesterday. Despite being robbed, dealing with power outages, and having her building demolished, Madame Sarr is striving! Read about Julia's meeting with Ndeye below:

Dear lenders,

I’m Julia, director of Zidisha. I was fortunate to be in Dakar, today, and took advantage of the occasion to visit our first client in Senegal, Madame Ndeye Bineta Sarr. 

Madame Sarr met me at the edge of the paved road, and even though it was the first time we met she greeted me as affectionately as an old friend. As we wound our way through the dusty dirt paths of her neighborhood, she introduced me to various local households who had benefited indirectly from her business: a cloth dealer in the nearby market, a little boutique stacked high with reels of yarn in every imaginable color, and a small sewing shop to which she sometimes outsources less specialized aspects of clothing manufacture. 

West Africa is famous for its vibrant traditional clothing, and many women in Dakar make a living from sewing traditional dresses. Yet in this competitive market, Madame Sarr has carved out a niche for herself thanks to sheer artistic genius. Her creations never fail to turn heads: multicolored skirts sparkling with embroidered stars, hand-knitted lace, and overlapping layers of transparent gauze, imposing folded headdresses with brightly dyed cloth tied in the shape of flowers, necklines in every imaginable geographic shape. Clients fortunate enough to own one of her outfits guard it for special occasions, and when they put it on appear to float above the rest of us in this world, suddenly immune to the billowing clouds of red dust and car exhaust that choke the air. If she had been born in another time and place, Madame Sarr could have easily handled the royal wardrobe of the court of Versailles.

Madame Sarr’s house is constructed in the typical Dakar style: three brightly painted bedrooms alongside a small open courtyard, a separate shed for a kitchen and another for the restroom, corrugated metal roof, and a little faucet in the courtyard which provides the household’s only running water. The whole place was irreproachably clean and Madame Sarr’s artistic touch could be seen in the potted flowers and colored tiles decorating the courtyard. In all some thirty people - including Madame Sarr’s mother, siblings, nieces and nephews, and her own three children - live together in that house.

Madame Sarr used capital raised from Zidisha to buy an electric sewing machine, rent a boutique workshop, hire an employee, and establish a working capital fund that allows her to fill up to a dozen client orders at a time (up from one or two at a time before her first loan). This has allowed her to increase her income dramatically, making her the main breadwinner for her household and allowing the family to invest in public school education up to the university level for Madame Sarr’s children, nieces and nephews. 



Madame Sarr suffered a setback earlier this year when the building housing her workshop was demolished. She adapted by lending the sewing machine to her employee who uses it to assemble outfits that are cut and embroidered by hand by Madame Sarr in her home. Madame Sarr intends to open a new workshop soon. She certainly has no shortage of clients. When asked how she advertises, she laughs and says she simply dresses herself and her children in her creations and waits for people to inquire where in Dakar they can go to buy such extraordinary outfits.

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