One of the main tasks I’ve been working toward this summer has been to overhaul the cooperative’s website into one where customers can learn about their processes and traditional designs, meet the artisans and browse and purchase their products. Ideally, customers will be able to order weavings by completing an order form online and have them shipped directly to them from Ain Leuh.
The cooperative already has a payment and shipping process in place through Western Union and the post office. All customers who have placed special orders in the past, however, have come in person to the cooperative. The cooperative has yet to process an order completely via the internet, and there are a few obstacles the members must overcome before online sales can be a sustainable process.
Traditionally, women begin weaving full-time at an early age, usually around 12 or 13 after finishing elementary school or dropping out entirely. No current member of the cooperative has an education higher than the US equivalent of 5th grade, many not even that. This makes navigating the internet a challenge.
Once a week I’ve sat with members of the cooperative at an internet cafe to go through the basics of computer literacy. The first major difficulty the women face after learning the computer components and how to use a mouse is typing. While almost everyone is familiar and comfortable with the Arabic alphabet, Latin script, that is, the French or English alphabet, is a new concept. To be able to even hunt-and-peck for letters requires the knowledge of what an “a” or “q” looks like capitalized on the keyboard.
Taking and uploading pictures of new products to the website is an intimidating process. Steps that seem intuitive to me, like saving a page after making edits, are steps easily forgotten for someone who was not raised with computers.
I have about one week left in Ain Leuh. Unfortunately, I don’t expect any member of the cooperative to be able to take pictures of new products, write a small descriptions of them using Google translate, post them online, and then be able to read and respond to orders sent via email in that time. One cooperative member’s educated daughter was recently sent home from her work in Syria, and has agreed to temporarily take over this work once I leave.
The cooperative would benefit greatly from regular training specifically on aspects of the internet they need to respond to online orders: a perfect project for a future volunteer with The Advocacy Project. The women here are motivated and excited to learn ways to increase sales and promote their business. It is just a matter of finding someone to show them how.