Bags of sugar, tins of fish, bottles of juice, and boxes of matches line the shelves in the slightly-sunken below ground-level room. Various other household and kitchen necessities and food products fill the spaces in between. Treats like magwinya (fatcakes) and chicken feet sit ready by the barred window, waiting for hungry patrons. The local pedestrian traffic moves in a steady stream past the waist-high fence dividing the yard from the nearby street. A small fire, guarded from the wind by a few small sheets of tin, burns slowly beneath a black cast-iron pot. Standing proudly underneath the awning outside of the orange-painted plaster of the sunken room, festooned as it is with a sign emblazoned ‘Tuck Shop’, Baamuchili smiles at the camera and says softly, “Please send this picture to Tom.”
Beneath the shade of the familiar faded green army tent, the white walls of the prison practically glowing in the noon-hour sunlight, a transaction is taking place before another camera. A newcomer to Botswana is standing humbly before a group of 60 prison inmates, a handful of guards, some local prison ministry leaders, and two prison officers, all equally locked within the confines of First Offenders Prison for the moment. Tyrone*, in his orange prison garb, smiles bashfully and produces a large rectangle of thick paper, etched entirely with a pencil drawing of his own making. The entire gathering claps loudly in appreciation of the beautiful rendering of a familiar northern-Botswana scene; a bull elephant wandering through tall, bushveld grass. Tom Roes of Mennonite Church Canada accepts the gift with thanks, and to amusement of the crowd says that his daughter had requested that he bring home an elephant from Africa; now she won’t be disappointed.
A few weeks earlier, Baamuchili and about 25 other Batswana from around Gaborone had gathered every night for a week in a hall at a local mainline church, on plastic patio chairs surrounding metal folding tables, focused on the teaching at the front. There Tom had expounded on starting a small business, from the Jesus-ethics involved in doing so, to the basics of getting started, to the minutiae of marketing and financial planning.
Each person came to take part in the MC Canada-funded study directly from their daily routines of schooling, childcare, and work, attentive and writing notes in the margins of the workbooks provided by Tom. As the week progressed, Tom and the group were afforded the opportunity to hear from each of the other participants as to the type of business which they hoped to eventually begin.
Tom’s emphasis throughout the course had been surrounding the question, “What’s in your hand?” Taken from the book of Exodus, as an uncertain Moses tries to deflect God’s instructions to lead his people by suggesting his own lack of capability and personal resources for the task in question, God says to Moses, “What is that in your hand?” He then proceeds to perform a pair of miraculous signs using nothing but the shepherd’s staff Moses is carrying, and then Moses’ own hand itself, showing him that not only can God do more than is expected, but that what he has already given, which has perhaps been overlooked, is a resource to be used.
Given the time to consider this during the evening sessions, the members of the group around the metal tables cited their business venture ideas according to what they felt that God already gifted them with. And these were varied: a nail salon; a driving school; a daycare centre; a computer store. Baamuchili knew that the sunken room at his house beside the road would work well as a shop, and that his younger brother would be able to man such a shop while Baamuchili was at work. That people would happily pay for his mother’s homemade magwinyas, and that his father could bring home cheap chicken feet from his work with a nearby chicken farm.
While his evenings were spent at the Anglican church, Tom’s mornings were spent in the conference room of the officers at First Offenders Prison. There, a group of 20 inmates gathered around a massive wooden table in a room so cramped that to come in and sit down meant staying there until there until those closer to the door left the room. Tom brought the same teaching structure, slightly modified for context, to these inmates. Employment is hard to come by in southern Africa these days, especially when a prospective employer hears about time served, and desperation often lends to old, punishable habits. So, Tom worked to equip the men so as to help them start their own small businesses upon their release. Many were skilled at welding, carpentry, sewing, and other abilities honed while incarcerated. All listened carefully, and worked on their own business plans throughout the week.
Tyrone, always keen, tightened up his business plan, and Tom was able to look at it specifically before he left. And a few months after gifting Tom with his wonderful drawing on the last day of class, Tyrone was released, and immediately took the first steps with his newly founded company, using his artwork to beautify his community and to make a living to provide for his family.
Within a few days of the end of Tom’s class, armed with his creative ideas, understanding of his own neighbourhood, his newly sharpened business acumen, and the knowledge of what was already in his hand, Baamuchili opened his tuck shop. It has grown, with his well-stocked shelves reflecting the inventory necessary to meet the specific needs of the community in Old Naledi, while Baamuchili and his family continue to both make a profit, and to bless their community through their honest, well-run, and neighborly business.
As we relax with his family one evening, we take the photo of Baamuchili in front of his shop.
“We’ll get this picture to Tom,” we assure him.
*Not his viagracanadapharmacybest.com real name