There’s something ironic about the fact that Esther’s promising online Canadian business is rooted in selling skills she learned on the street and in a refugee camp a world away.
After graduating from high school in rural Liberia, West Africa, in the early 1980s, Esther moved to the city, where she sold trinkets in front of the supermarket. Years later, she made and sold tie-dyed clothing while she lived in a Sierra Leone refugee camp with her three children.
Today, Esther is capitalizing on those selling skills, thanks to an innovative employment program at YW Kitchener-Waterloo. At In Her Shoes, Esther was introduced to the many facets of running a business, from marketing and inventory to payment, shipping, and customer service—all for free.
This program is very important for women. It opened my eyes. I learned so many things.
She learned about the program at a local community centre and immediately set out to register—with help from her 14-year-old grandson.
“I didn’t know how to use a computer,” Esther explains. Since immigrating to Canada in 2006 and working part time as a dietary aid, she’d rarely used a keyboard and had never sent an e-mail or used social media.
All that changed at In Her Shoes. On her very first day in class, Esther opened an e-mail account. By the time the program ended eight weeks later, she had developed a business plan and logo, launched her business, Esther’s Creations, on Facebook, and starting selling her handmade, tie-dyed T-shirts on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace.
“This program is very important for women,” she says. “It opened my eyes. I learned so many things.”
Esther is now taking a computer class. She was inspired to improve her computer skills so that she could feel confident working on her online business. She calls the entire experience a “good dream.”
And one that was probably unimaginable to a young woman growing up in West Africa four decades ago.