This text was written by Sister Jacqueline. She serves in the Love and Care Center in Hunan and is responsible for the manual workshops there.
For the first time the manual workshop of our Love and Care Center was asked to accomplish a task of great proportions: to produce 2000 wooden calendars was something impossible to imagine for us, but it was a challenge that we wanted to accept. We had only one purpose: to finish the task and make sure we had all the calendars done well and on time.
After we prepared all the materials needed we gathered to do a working plan: 1) to decide the number of persons needed to do the work; 2) to plan the progressive steps of the process; 3) to divide the work and to make sure everyone was aware of their responsibility.
Before we had to design the samples we didn’t realize how complex and detailed it was. But when we started doing it we found out that it would be much harder than we expected:
1. Two female patients, two volunteers and a sister were responsible for making 2000 auspicious Chinese calendars and 4000 buttons.
2. One sister, at the big wooden board, was responsible for drawing and measuring every small piece.
3. The patient in charge of the mechanical instruments was responsible for cutting and trimming all the parts.
4. Two sisters, at the small board, were in charge of duplicating the English and Chinese logo of Casa Ricci Social Services.
5. Two patients, using the electric iron machine, were in charge of ironing down the previously prepared characters.
6. Cooperating together, we used sand paper to polish the wooden border of the characters so that they would be completely smooth.
7. We all helped in painting the back side of the planks with oil colors.
8. Two female patients and the volunteers had to shape the patterns and print them separately into each bamboo tablet.
9. The person responsible for the mechanical instruments cut the 2000 pieces that were previously printed.
10. We all cooperated in grinding the bamboo sticks into different thick and thin parts.
11. The person in charge of the machines cut 6000 plaques for the top part of the pattern.
12. We all used sand paper to polish these parts.
13. Together, the patients and the sisters sprayed all the previously designed parts with different colors.
14. One patient used the curved knife to carve the dark colored details of the frame.
15. We all helped in polishing these parts.
16. After that we all pasted the parts together.
17. Then we polished again the margins and the surface so that they would be even.
18. We pasted in the Chinese part of Casa Ricci’s logo.
19. We made the holes to hang the Chinese auspicious calendar.
20. Paint the final layer of color.
21. Hang the calendar part and pack all in boxes.
Every task’s difficulty is different. To make Chinese calendars and buttons might seem a relaxing job. But to make them beautiful and resistant we had to use a string and pull hard to adjust the parts. Because of the friction and because we did it for such a long time the skin from our fingers was pulled off and our fingernails broken.
To cut bamboo plates correctly we need to measure the size and the angles very carefully, so each time we have to measure several times before cutting. The reason why we could finish such a big work is because Fr. Roberto offered the machines to us. We are very grateful to him. If we didn’t have these machines we would never dare to accept such a task. Right from the beginning we needed to cut 6000 parts, so the person who works with the machines spent 3 months from morning to night working at the machine. He said: “Being there all by myself with no one to talk to was very tiring and I often felt very sleepy”. In fact, because of the tiredness, there were a few times in which he almost fell asleep and injured is hand.
The process of ironing the characters is the hardest and most important part. Because the electric iron is so long it is very hard to control by hand, so after ironing each stroke of the characters our hand starts trembling. Moreover, because of their sickness, the patients often lose sensibility in their hands and feet, even to the point of burning themselves several times in their hands and arms. Even so, we did not want to lower our expectations regarding the quality of the calendars. Verifying the quality was, each time, the most painful moment for me because if we found some mistakes even in one single character we would throw away the whole piece. When I saw every one working so hard to iron those characters I really didn’t have the heart to throw them away just because of a few mistaken strokes, but they said to me: “No problem, it’s good to be a bit demanding with ourselves, you can throw them away. It’s much better to throw them away now then to have people throw them away latter because they are not well done.” Their attitude touched me very much, and at the same time encouraged me to continue trusting in ourselves. And so we threw away 700 pieces.
It took us one month and a half to iron all the characters, more than we had predicted, so I began to worry about not being able to finish the work in time. But then they told me: “Don’t worry, since we promised we will make it in time, we will take less time to rest and eat, and more time to work.” And indeed it was so; some of them start getting up at 4:30 in the morning to work, and kept working in spite of tiredness and discomfort. Normally they would go to bed early to rest and recover, but now they were moved by a strong will and wanted to finish their mission.
Each of us had different tasks but we all helped each other. Apart from the patients, the sisters, two volunteers and also the children all participated in making the calendars. Apart from the ironing of the characters and other tasks that need a machine operator, we all cooperated, for example in painting, pasting the frames and pictures, polishing, etc… To polish well the calendars, especially the small parts, is a hard process, and because it hearts our hands and fingernails it is also easy to lose patience while doing it. After we finished it they said: “To polish is really annoying, it makes you want to give up, but if we are not persistent here we will lose even more time”, and so they convinced themselves to keep working hard.
When we were pasting the pictures the children helped us very energetically. Even the smallest said to me while he was helping: “We have to be careful in choosing the right colors and sizes; we don’t want to use the wrong ones.”
One of the volunteers didn’t really know how to paint and so she was very slow, it took her a long time to paint just a few pieces. One of the patients told her: “Don’t worry about how many you can make. The important is that you are here with us and we are grateful for that.”
Thanks to everyone’s hard work and collaboration we could, in the end, finish our task in time. After we heard that all the calendars had reached the office in Macao and that they were very happy with the calendars we felt very relieved. We were all so happy: what was hardship and tiredness became joy and is now for us something we can always recall with joy. The next time we gathered we wanted to evaluate and summarize our experience. Here are a few things we said at that meeting:
“We have learned things we never imagined before, I never thought we could still do such a fine work.”
“I couldn’t stand so much time sitting on the bench without moving from there and feeling my feet numb, but I still persisted!”
“When I was doing this work I felt my heart was at peace”.
“I think it helped me grow in patience”.
We all shared what was in our hearts and what we felt during this time. I could feel how much it had helped them build up their self confidence. I believe this experience will be something they will always cherish.
Maybe you found some imperfections on that present, but you can be certain that it was a present that we prepared the best we can, and that we offer you wholeheartedly.