Our First Campaign: Pienaar

29 06 2011

We arrived in our archetypal South African minivan, with the sun beaming down on us like a spotlight. The road our stage and we the protagonists, the key players of this new initiative we excitedly engage our audience to take part in. This is an interactive performance and we are nothing without the people.

Waiting for eye exams

We knew we had arrived when we saw the group of people sitting on chairs, standing by the trees, some having found shade underneath the stone house’s oversized roof. First we presented ourselves and our three products: the Q Drum, the Firefly Solar Lamp, and the Biomass Cook Stove. The people looked especially pleased when it came to the Q Drum, a rolling drum used to transport water! Second, we gave out numbers to be able to attend to clients in an orderly fashion. We started with one and two, and the rest is history! We split ourselves up so that some of us were taking product surveys and needs analysis surveys and others were giving eye exams. I gave a woman an eye exam who, as if to reassure herself that her sight had truly been bettered by the glasses, took out her needle and beads and began using them! That to me was a snapshot of success. We served young and old and were able to sell over 50 eyeglasses! It was wonderful to have had such a successful campaign, especially being that it was the first in South Africa.

During the campaign, every now and then I would peek out of the window and see people coming to the table with products. It was heartening to see them interacting with the products and asking questions about costs, when we would be able to bring more, and when they would be able to have one. That last question is always the toughest. How do you explain that we are here to do research, ask questions about a need that we are almost positive they have? These are the moments where development vs. relief is really a toughie. I constantly have to remind myself that we are not here to give things for free, even when we want to. At the same time, the needs analyses and product surveys have really helped us see where there is the most need and how much we should price the products. We now have solid data to work with, and this makes me hopeful that SECs contributions in the future will be effective and well-distributed.

Argemira conducts an eye exam

After the purchase of each eye drop, eye glass pair, eye glass case and sunglass pair, the warm embrace of each person’s smile has left me convinced that we made a great impact in their community. More than 50 people came out to our campaign and it took us a little over 3 hours to see them all. To me, that is great, and I can only imagine how many more people we would see if we would have stayed for longer. Campaigns in this area would be beneficial for the community, especially after seeing how pleasant the people were. I also noticed that there were a good amount of people ranging from early 40s to mid 50s. This seems like a good age for women to train and start giving eye exams in their own community. I could definitely see a future for SEC in Nelspruit.

The sun was still navigating its way into the blanket of blue above us, showering us with the last bit of ephemeral warmth before the windy evening. And then, as if the evening were not unwinding nicely enough, Luke told us that since we did not have a specific business we were working with in South Africa yet, we were donating the profits of our earnings to the orphanage we had visited days earlier. We were able to donate more than R800, about $125! Presenting the money to the head woman Mrs. Mgwenya brought us all to tears. All she said was, “My God,” and looked down as if to hide her eyes that we could all see were watering. As Bucky would say, “This is why I do what I do.” This woman is the epitome of a loving human being. Having taken more than a handful of orphans in as her own, she meets their needs with nothing but a smile on her face. Even those who are ill with HIV, and unable to qualify for child grants, are kept healthy with medication she gets from the government and healthy foods she provides for them. Mrs.Mgwenya, a woman of such caliber, has shown me that the adage is after all true, all you need is love.

–Argemira Florez

SEC with Mrs.Mgwenya after the campaign

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