If you have not read our previous post that reviews March through September of 2015, you may want to go to that post first. This post followed it by just a couple of hours. That is incredible, isn't it? Two posts in a couple of hours and no posts until now for 2015. My apologies.
We have spent a serious amount of time getting back into the swing of things here. We sorted and sifted through everything in our apartment, store and storeroom. I would say we are up and running and being efficient again. Our inventories are taken, or spreadsheets are tweaked and we are moving forward. Stabilizing one area, does not however mean that we have nothing to do. It means that we can change our focus to other projects that have been neglected due to lack of time.
The major projects for the next 8 months will be quite varied and VERY important. They will probably all happen simultaneously. In an effort to prepare for the future opening of the high school, we need to design and build a new store so that we can vacate the current spot in the high school that we use for our store and storage. We need it to be a building that can also be used for housing that would produce potential future rent income for the ministry. The future principal of the school is well into raising support and he and his family should be here in the next couple of months.
Another major project that we are working at launching is a system that will allow us to remind customers that they have a balance due and need to return their outstanding products and/or pay off their balance. We have never had a real collections system in place. We need a system that will automatically send out reminders and give us a list of what needs to be done to close out our old open accounts. I have literally been researching that system for years. We now have a system identified and purchased and we are trying to get it launched. I anticipate it taking us a year to clean up our books from the past. We should be able to keep the present and future accounts under control at the same time.
We are also in the middle of having a company help us get more visibility on the internet. We are re-branding, improving the website and exploring some other marketing strategies. We have never done any sort of mass marketing before, so this is another new area of improvement. In order for the livelihood project to continue into the future, we need to have a market for the product. Therefore making Threads of Hope more visible will help the longevity of the livelihood project in Aninuan as well.
Yet another project we need to complete is a change in the way that we handle giving the bracelet makers orders. For close to the past decade, the requirement to get an order has been to attend a church service on Sunday and a prayer meeting on Wednesday night. That was a way to give the people the opportunity to hear the Gospel. That leaves us with a couple of problems to solve. We found that during the "no tourist" season we could have up to 1000 people showing up to get orders. The attendance could literally double during this time, which also means that the orders we could give based on the fact that our budget doesn't change with attendance levels would be half of what it had previously been. So our regular, faithful, all-year-round attendees are getting hurt by having to "share the pot" with the people who show up only when the tourists are gone.
We spent months before we went back to the States collecting family demographics. We now know the number of people per family, whether they have another income, what their other incomes come from, whether we are dealing with any medical issues, the number of bracelet makers, what kind of bracelets they can make, and whether we are working with a widow or a single parent. Our next step is to turn all of that information into a monthly order that meets the needs of the family and removes the requirement to attend the chapel to EARN an order.
The outcome of the change in the way we assign orders should change the attendance at the chapel dramatically. When 1000 people show up at a church service and only one third of them (potentially) are there because they want to learn, it is very loud and chaotic. When you remove the attendance requirement, only those who WANT to be there will come to hear the word of God. We are hoping for spiritual growth to take hold in the lives of those who remain and want to seek after the Lord.
As of mid September, Jim has started teaching guitar to students. We purchased 6 guitars through money that was donated to Threads of Hope for that purpose. There are two levels of students being taught, beginners and intermediates. The first week there were 8 beginners and 3 intermediates (including our very own Jojo). The second week the numbers jumped up to 18 beginners. They are going to share the guitars to practice. The music ministry Jim wanted to start is officially launched. We will see where God takes it.
|Week 1 Beginning Students...And Growing|
There are several products that we are working on improving or creating for the first time. It is sometimes very difficult to find just the right components to complete the task. You can't just jump onto e-Bay here and find what you need. We also need to find just the right person to design a pattern that all can follow. These key chains are the perfect example. There have been MANY designs submitted. But none of them are exactly what we are after quite yet.
|Trying to Develop Philippines Flag Key Chains|
(Still need the BEST design.)
|Camera Straps from Head Bands (Almost Ready)|
The picture below is of several bags that we sold at festivals this year. They went like hot cakes and they were great conversation starters! Our favorite question was "SO,,,what are they made out of?" Common answers to the question were "duct tape or gum wrappers", Wrong answers! They are made out of drinking straws.
During a pay day one of our leaders came with one of these bags. Her family had started to make them. They were so adorable I had her make one for me. I chose the colors and the size and she went from there. I have had that bag for well over a year. I have not babied it in any way. It has been to the States and back again. In fact, I carry my Bible around in it and it is heavy. That bag is still wearing very well and it is a head turner even here in the Philippines.
We can not sell the bags and make a great rate of return on the investment like we can with our bracelets. We may never carry them as a product line for everyone, but they will probably continue to show up on our festival tables. They are so cute! Not to mention waterproof, light weight and durable.
|Drinking Straw Bags made by Locals|
Ok, you made it through another post. Thanks for joining us.
Stay tuned for "Reflections of Last Year" and "Modifications to This Year" for our next post. I am on a roll. I hope to do this once a month. My strategy is to put pictures in a newsletter folder as I take them so I don't spend hour upon hour searching for just the right picture to share with you.
There I go again doing that organizational/administrative thing. That will be good for all of us.
Tomorrow we make the 48 kilometer, 1.5 hour trek (one way) over the mountains to Calapan to make a 5 minute bank deposit (and go grocery shopping and hunting for things we can't buy here because we had to go make the deposit any way). I'll take you with us some time soon. It will give you a glimpse of what living in the provinces is like. But to us, that is a better place than the big city of Manila that was just rated the #1 place in the world for horrific traffic jams. We travel for 5 hours to go there on Sunday so we can make.....another bank deposit.....that can only be made at the branch of the bank where the account was opened, even though there is a branch in....Calapan. Banking in this country is our nemesis, that is for certain.
Tata for now!
Love you all!
Julie (and Jim)