The first time Mariam Mohamed heard of EWI, she was a new vendor at the Fenton Street Market in Silver Spring. She recalls the start of her career selling her crafts, “ I did not have much to sell, but just came out to meet people who love art and crafts like me.”
Through the Fenton Market, she met a representative of the Education Development Center, an international non-profit based in Washington, DC. Through her connection with EDC, Mariam discovered EWI. After reading about EWI’s program and work, she immediately fell in love with the organization and applied for the Entrepreneurial Training for Success.
Mariam followed up with EWI at an event hosted by the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, where she found that she was accepted into the program. Mariam recognized this as an incredible opportunity because she always found inspiration and support from a community of women. “Since my childhood, I always want to be close to my mother and learn what she was doing. She was multi-talented and I was able to develop interest in sewing. Like most Swahili women, she used to love Kanga cloth and my father used to tease her, by a nickname of Kanga Capitalist. That is what inspired my business idea.”
For a long time, Mariam wanted to share the cultural connection with the Kanga cloth, but could not find her target audience. Mariam said, “EWI’s program gave me the niche to start the conversation.” Mariam is deeply inspired by Kanga cloth, what she calls, “the cornerstone of the Swahili culture.” She even decided to incorporate this idea into her marketing strategy, naming her business Bahari Deco Crafts – Style the Swahili Way.
Upon joining the ETS program at EWI, Mariam was recovering from severe food and pollen allergies. She had a variety of symptoms, from constant hunger to skin irritation. Even though her friends advised her to postpone the class, Mariam did not want to lose the opportunity. She was not in any pain, thereby choosing to continue with the class. The other women in the class were very supportive: “I was amazed how no one ever made me feel bad because of my skin or my weak body.”
Mariam was encouraged to apply to Grow my Business Program after completing ETS, which she says “helped a lot to improve my products and services.” Throughout her experience at EWI, Mariam has glowing reviews of the support she received.
“I am very lucky to have Dianne Lorenz as my mentor. She is tireless when imparting her knowledge and experience. She is also a good listener and considers herself a teacher and a student. She always asks ‘why did you choose to do it this way?’, instead of saying ‘I think you are doing it wrong.’ Likewise, our beloved trainer Sharmilla Karanchandani is a compassionate and encouraging person, full of skills and experience.”
Her advice to other aspiring women entrepreneurs is insightful and wise: “What I always like to share with other women who are pursuing their dreams, is to focus on perfecting their tools to achieve their dreams and surround themselves with people who can help them.” Mariam strongly believes in creating a supportive circle of loving friends and family around herself, as it helps to shield her business from negative attitudes.
Mariam was once asked by a friend, “Why are women so connected to EWI? They love each other so much. How did this happen? I am sure it was not by chance!”, to which Mariam replied with the example of putting cabochon (a gemstone) into a polishing machine for several days: the results are always good, in harmony, and no matter what, you are changed for the better.