Right across the street from the light rail train is the Lovely Disabled Home. It is the only one-story house situated among 2 story homes in a working class neighborhood. We pulled up and I got out with my laptop and camera in hand. I was on a mission to see whether Salaam Wanita and the Lovely Disabled Home could form a business partnership whereby the home’s residents roll recycled paper for our weavers to use to make eco-baskets. My mind was ringing with logistics questions.
How many people could we count on to make rolls? Do you have a way of transporting the rolls to our headquarters once they are made? Will you provide the recycled magazines or should we? Do you have access to a computer and Internet so that we can correspond more easily? We have to sort the paper by color, are any of your residents blind? Will children be rolling? Do you have a paper cutter? Will you sell us the roll by the quantity or the time it takes to roll?
We rang the door bell and waited…and waited. It was hot and I was uncomfortable under the weight of my bag. Clean laundry stood stock still as there wasn’t a breathe of wind. I looked at the home. It’s sloped roof is not very different from the roof of the home where I grew up in Texas. The house is white with Chinese characters spelling out the name. Newspapers and large bins of some unidentifiable objects, probably pamphlets litter the yard. But it is not messy or unsightly. It’s just the sign of an on-going project- a very slow going project. The gate to the Lovely Disabled finally opened, and Mr. Lam, the director, greeted us.
He took us around the corner to the workshop and training area so that we could meet some of the residents and talk. The workshop was filled with more pamphlets and letter stuffing supplies. I looked around and took a deep breathe. I got answers to all my questions and then through my volunteer translator answered Mr. Lam’s. It was obvious that he wanted work to find work for the residents. He had brought a young lady from far away to learn the rolling technique because he thought I was there to train his residents. I was only there to assess the situation.
I took some pictures for my own reference and was charmed by the peace signs and affection the residents showed. They all wanted their picture taken. I looked into their faces and desperately wanted to give them work. You see the work is more than income. It is dignity. Mr. Lam explained that it is also an important point of contact between parents and disabled children.
Back at the office, I thought over my meeting. I believe that the Lovely Disabled Home could produce rolls. I believe that the residents are capable and would be hard working. I would be proud to buy the rolls from them. But in buying rolls we face very high transaction costs. It just wouldn’t make business sense, and we don’t have the organizational capacity to arrange such an endeavor. Moreover, the disabled are not our target. But you try looking into Mr. Lam’s hardened face, and saying so. It’s not easy. It’s damn near impossible. And it’s absolutely heart-wrenching to say no when you believe you could do something. But it just doesn’t make business sense.
Posted By Mariko Scavone
Posted Jul 6th, 2007