Space, base and place. Rosal from Australia worked as a social worker in Darfur, Tibet and Vietnam. Now she has her own shop right on the beach of Las Palmas.
By Elisabeth Scharang
Entering the little shop on the first line of Las Canteras Beach in Las Palmas you start a journey around the world. The colorful hats, the cotton sheets, the tunica – every piece has a story and so has the owner oft he shop: Rosal form Australia. She worked in areas of crises all over the world. But how did she become owner of a fashion boutique?
ROSAL: My father was a patrol officer at Papua New Guinea, when it was under Australian administration, and he worked up in the mountains. He always told me: Find a job where you can travel and love what you do. So I thought studying law and work with refugees will be it, but I found it really boring. So I changed to social work which I really loved – using your mind and your brain and do some practical work.
I got very lucky; when I graduated I got a volunteer position in Vietnam for a year. I was based in Hanoi working for a big Australian watersupply protect. And from there it was 14 years work – 3 years in Vietnam, then as a social worker in London with asylum seekers and refugees, then I went to Israel for three years and back to Australia where I worked for an environmental consultancy. But it was more corporate and I lasted just for ten month.
I went to Tibet and worked with handicap international, that’s where I met my Canarian to be husband. After a project in Darfur where I did a training to social workers I came here to Las Palmas where my being partner was based. We got married and now I try living a life here and have a base, for the first time in my life. And I found this shop.
When did you open your shop?
ROSAL: Just five weeks ago. When you live in a new place, you need to have your own space. We call it space base and place. I think if you are changing country it is very important to have your own identity, it is a big achievement to have my own space here. Especially at this location on the beach where it´s usually much too expensive. But with a bit of luck and always having my eyes open, and that was part of my work over all the time: having your eyes open for opportunities.
How did you choose your jobs and protects all over the world?
ROSAL: I really never had a stable job where I worked for one employer for a long time ever in my life. I started working when I was 13. I was very young but I enjoyed working and I was independent.
What did you work with 13?!
ROSAL: I worked in a patrol station in my small community. I looked as if I were 15. Even though UNICEF is against child labor I started working when I was 13. But it always depends what you can manage. If you can manage working and education it is ok.
But back to your question, I always worked on projects because projects have a limited life spend and that also fits with the idea of community development: there is an entry point and there has to be an exit strategy as well where you hand it over tot he people. When you work on programs for big NGOs it is just ongoing, it can go for 15 or 20 years. And still there is very often no vision what direction it will take or when you will hand it over to the community, that’s why I prefer working on projects.
When you moved from one culture to the other – from Tibet to Israel to Vietnam – how did you cope with this?
ROSAL: I enjoyed it. I love it. It is like an instinct for me, having my eyes wide open, discovering the world around me. What facilities are available, what resources. And every environment I worked in, doesn’t matter if it was Darfur in the dessert or with Afghan refugees in Moscow, there are many things that are similar…
And now… this?
ROSAL (she is laughing): To end up in a boutique?! Yeah. When I was working in Hanoi I was surrounded by wonderful silk and textile. As a young volunteer always buying secondhand clothes – and enjoying that – but coming to Vietnam buying with your little income some silk, bring it to a tailor and see all these beautiful things that especially women make. And then I saw that everywhere I went: in Darfur the baskets, the Afghan women who made different embroideries.
I also travelled by bicycle for three years with an English friend, through China and Central Asia, Iran and Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan. When you travel by bicycle you can only pick up little things, that’s how I got in contact with many textiles and self-made jewelry. And now that I have a daughter and am based in Gran Canaria, which is a very small place, the people are lovely, but they don’t have a out world vision. So I really enjoy bringing parts of the world here. And I have the possibility to work with different projects and people I now from my past in Kenya or Gaza or the Philippines and I sell products from women there. In my shop, besides I get to know a lot of interesting people form all over the world coming to my shop. I am reaching a balance.
Where do you get all these things?
ROSAL: It’s important for me where the things come from. If I can I get fair-trade. But in Gran Canaria the economy is quite low and is is important to sell things for the right price.
For instance these Indonesian shirts are from a fair-trade organization in England, the butterflies there are from a project in Malaysia to save the rainforest that is cut down to get palm oil. I work with women in Nigeria who make bags and other practical things made with beautiful fabrics. Especially for women living somewhere in the dessert and don’t have any access to the world market it is important to have the opportunity to sell their things. On the other hand I like to work with young designers. I buy ten to twenty pieces from designers from all over the world.
Running a shop without any experience, what are your principles?
ROSAL: For these hats you can pay 50$ on the Internet. So I do look at the international market, but you have to make a price for the local market. I didn’t want to have an exclusive boutique. I am not a businessperson; I have never been trained in that, I want people to come in and find something nice and that they can afford it. I have been a consumer myself since – I don´t know what the first thing was I ever bought – so if you are aware of why you choose things, why go enter a shop you know how to sell things. It was self-training making my decisions here.
Where do you think you will be in about ten years?
ROSAL: I will keep it small and manageable. I don´t have any grand plans to expend. I have already someone come in and say, hey that could be a great chain! For me it’s not about selling things, it´s about choosing them. And if people like them too, that fine, but I am not pushing. I am a social worker, not a seller.
Where is your daughter when you work here?
ROSAL: She is only about nineteen month and she goes to a childcare center very close, it´s only 150 meters away and we live 400 meters away.
What is the name of your shop?
ROSAL: It’s called Las Canteras Life Style. I found the people here in Las Canteras really have their own culture. They are playeros, people of the beach. It´s much freer than in Australia in terms what you wear and do on the beach. So the name of the shops means: It’s the way you live your life.
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