Earlier this month we conducted a set of home visits in Lusaka checking up on purse recipients. We learned a lot. In several respects, the visits were very depressing. But God is up to something very interesting – and we wanted to share the exciting news! Is it a miracle? It certainly seems like one!
First, the home visits were difficult because hearing the stories of hardship and challenge that the girls in Ngombe Compound face was a reality check. We know that 2/3rds of the children we work with are full orphans (having lost both parents), and over half are HIV Positive, but those are just statistics. When you go and visit the children in their home, see the situation, and realize how desperate the circumstances are, it’s honestly overwhelming.
But we also heard that the soap we provide in the Sew Powerful Purse Program is used up very quickly. We knew it probably was – but hearing the details made us realize we have a problem. The soap we provide basically lasts girls one period, so after the first month of use, it’s gone. Each bar costs us .59 cents.
As I sat in home-after-home hearing the same soap problem – the weight of the challenge sank in. After one of the particularly challenging visits I said to the team, “we’ve got to figure out this soap problem.”
But to meet the need we’d need to find a way to deliver a small bar of soap every month to the purse beneficiaries. This year alone, that would mean 3,700 bars of soap per month. Next year, that would be 6,000 bars per month.
6,000 bars of soap a month is 72,000 for the full year. If we reach our 2020 goal and assist 20,000 beneficiaries, that would require 240,000 bars of soap a year. That’s a huge amount of soap!
Here is where the story gets interesting…
On our last day in Lusaka we came down to the hotel lobby for breakfast and we saw a former colleague of mine. We used to work together a long time ago. We greeted her and asked what she was doing in Lusaka and she said,
“I’m here to talk to Esther(our Sew Powerful Program director) about a soap project.”
“Yes”, she said. As it turns out she had come with a proposal she wanted to discuss for an ongoing soap project. Long story short, she has access to a source of soap scraps that can be re-purposed. Melted and re-used.
To do it right, it will take equipment, space, and staffing. But the bars could be used for the purse program, the school, the clinic, or even sold in the community as an income generating activity.
I was speechless. My mind quickly flashed back to the math I had already done. So I asked,
“how much soap are we talking about?”
She said, “more than you could possibly ever use.”
A few minutes later Esther arrived to greet us for the day and take us to the Needs Care school. On the way to the school, we discussed the new project idea. At the school we sat down with our guest and worked through the details. A plan began to emerge, led by Esther of course. In short:
We’ll be launching a new soap making team. This will be our 3rd “Purposeful Product” (school uniforms, reusable hygiene pads, and now soap). Of course, we should also add food from the farm to our list of Purposeful Products, so we are now up to four!
Technically the team won’t be making the soap, it’s just melting and cutting it into small bars. But their mission will be to make a massive amount of soap each month.
Sew Powerful will fund the operation – in exchange for soap.
Esther has 80 volunteer Caregivers that have worked together for many years in support of the HIV/AIDS crisis. She is going to ask them to be helpers in the program and assist in making the soap.
We will use our current soap budget (the .59 cents per bar that we currently have budgeted) to hire several highly motivated school moms (or dads) and ask them to help set up and run the program. This will create new jobs – and expand the Sew Powerful / Needs Care school team. As the program expands more team members will be added. These jobs can be done by people who are not literate, which allows us to include some of the most desperate people in the community.
We’ll work to produce enough soap to fully supply the Sew Powerful Purse beneficiaries, and begin selling the extra soap in the local community under the name So Powerful Soap. Until we can come up with a better name.
We will work to invest in this new soap team and expand it over time – creating an ongoing income source that can assist in funding the school programs.
We Need Your Help: The program is not up and running yet! During our brainstorming conversations, we came up with a list of start-up expenses to get the program going. We need roughly $1,500 to launch the new soap team. We’d love your support: www.sewpowerful.org/donate
When you contribute – you’ll be helping us launch an exciting new chapter in the Sew Powerful ministry story. Only God could orchestrate this type of amazing provision. He loves the children of Ngombe more than we could ever imagine – and He’s got good things planned for these precious children.
Honored to serve together,
Jason, Cinnamon, Esther & the entire Sew Powerful team!
Ps. upon hearing this someone wrote, “Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.” a verse found in Isaiah 65:24. What an amazing promise that God made long ago – that He is still fulfilling today!
P.P.S. please note, all extra funds raised will be used to support the Sew Powerful Purse program – and directly benefit the children of Zambia.
Recently we received beautiful thank-you notes from some of the girls that received purses – and we wanted to share them with all of you. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do – they are heartfelt expressions – made possible because you (our amazing purse making partners) took the time to invest in a young girls life. They won’t ever meet you – and you won’t ever meet them – but their lives are changed and improved because of your hard work. May these notes fill you with joy and hope!
With just four weeks left before our October 1, 2016 priority deadline, we’d love to know if you’re working to complete some purses and send them to us. We’ve made a simple poll that let’s you response – and will help us estimate the upcoming packages. Our goal is 3,000 and we estimate that we currently have 1,300 so there is a very long way to go!
And if you’ve already sent in your purses – we want to extend a huge “Thank You”. This program is only possible because of your amazing generosity – and partnership. We are increcibly honored to partner with each of you in support of the women and girls of Lusaka!
Whatever happens – we are grateful, honored, and super excited to celebrate during our Unboxing Party on October 26th at 6pm Pacific. Please plan on joining us that night and save-the-date.
As I write this we have just two hours left in Lusaka before we head to the airport. I realize there are a lot of you that have been following our daily posts on Facebook and all the fun pictures there – and would love to be here with us – so I thought I’d give you a quick list of the requests I heard about this week – and a quick update on the status of the program. First the status report.
The program is working incredibly well, but it’s not without it’s technical issues. But overall, the seamstresses are busy making product, the teachers are training the girls, and the purses are making a huge impact. We heard story after story – the outcomes are very consistent – the Sew Powerful Purse program is making a transformational difference in the lives of girls and women in this community.
In terms of urgent requests – here is what I heard this week in order importance. Please note some of these issues our team in Zambia can resolve on their own with our help. Some we can resolve ourselves on the U.S. side, and several are simply funding related challenges, so as you might guess – your monthly financial partnership is incredibly helpful (set that up here). Here’s the list:
The girls mentioned they run out of soap. They are provided one bar in the purse when it is given to them. It costs us 38 cents. But to offer an ongoing supply – we’ll need to create a line-item in our program budget for soap so the girls can come to the school and get some when they need it. (Please note – we do not, and cannot accept random bars of soap in the purses you make for us. That’s not helpful. These items need to be purchased locally and used at the Needs Care School.)
We met with the seamstresses as a large group, then with our three amazing team leaders – and they requested three things. First, a bigger team budget to grow the team and ensure everyone is benefiting.
The seamstresses third request was for more space. They are challenged by the space they have – and ideally (some day) as we continue to grow they will have their own production facility.
We met with the World Vision Zambia team and they asked us to urgently help them fulfill their Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program goals distributing 5,000 purses in the One-Chongwe Area Development Program with purses and the Sew Powerful training. All indications are that our 2017 purse goal should be 6,000 purses (to fill the need at the Needs Care School + the 5,000 World Vision is requesting). Can we do it? We have NO idea!! But we we believe in miracles – and we are constantly blown away by the enthusiasm we’re receiving for this program from around the world.
Finally, the donors on the trip requested more giving options and resources to help them tell the story, engage their pastor and missions pastor, their local fabric store, local sewing machine store, and their personal network of friends. Watch for those soon on our resources page.
Cinnamon and I are incredibly honored to serve as coordinators for this program – bringing together seamstresses from around the world to combat extreme poverty and unlock the educational potential of girls – and entrepreneurial potential of the moms of the community.
I think you’ll enjoy seeing this exciting update from Esther! The purses we packed on November 11th have arrived at the Sewing Cooperative in Lusaka! If you didn’t watch the fun unboxing party from the 11th of November, you can see it on the bottom of the homepage.
Atelier Angels: If you feel your heartstrings prompting you to begin supporting this program, be sure to check out our Atelier Angels program, we have summertime Thank-You Gifts we’d love to send to you!
Wow – a big life milestone flashed in my face today!
I got all emotional this afternoon when I saw that World Vision was retiring the program I had the honor of helping to create 10 years ago. It made me realize – when God builds something special, there are three things we must do!
I’ll get to the three things in a minute… but first a little background…and the flier I saw today…
Background Of The World Vision Caregiver Kit Project
Involving Church Folks In The HIV/AIDS Issue: The Caregiver Kit Program as it became known was started with a conversation between Todd Johnson of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and I, at the La Boulanger Sandwich Shop in Menlo Park in January 2006. Todd had connected with Steve Haas previously, World Vision’s VP of Church relations, and inquired about World Vision helping to mobilize 1,200 people to do something hands-on during a Sunday morning. They had discussed a new idea perculating up in Seattle – to buy and bag up supplies for the World Vision HIV/AIDS Caregivers. Todd wondered if we could do 10,000 of these kits.
Their church was going to call the event ‘Compassion Weekend’ and Todd had advocated that HIV/AIDS be a focus. He wondered if there was a way to get church folks involved in the HIV/AIDS issue in a meaningful way that wasn’t overly controversial. He wanted moms, dads, kids, teens, and senior citizens to all work together (somehow) to make a real difference.
What happened in the following months and years can only be described as a miracle of people, process, and products (to steal a line from Marcus Lemonis). Here is what I mean,
People: Dana Buck and Phil Ewert were the World Vision folks that had started to put together the list of items that Caregivers needed. Dana went on to direct the program for 10 years. Their original list had 59 items that we had to narrow down for practical purposes. Todd recruited an amazingly talented project manager, Nancy Rosa, to be the Project Manager on the Menlo Park Presbyterian side and she recruited John Blaha and an impressive group of volunteers to make it all happen. I should list them all. There were so many awesome people.
I had the honor of being the Project Manager on the World Vision side and tried to pull things together without getting fired for neglecting my major donor duties. Dana Buck knew a guy named Toby Capps of McKesson Medical Surgical – who helped make the product sourcing possible. Dana also involved Dave Finsaas and Kristen Tweardy as they coordinated logistics from World Vision’s Denver Warehouse. And then of course there was Princess Kasune Zulu, the courageous advocate who came and told her story of living positively. She made us all cry and explained the situation on the ground in places like Zambia.
Princess Kasune Zulu and the Caregiver Kit Program
Over the course of the next two years we assembled an army that put together 21,000 of the first 25,000 Caregiver Kits that World Vision received – and created the model that ultimately accomplished the 500,000 kits mentioned above. World Vision hired Cassie Smithco and amazing administrator, and Andy Smith, an incredibly gifted pastor to expand the program in the Bay Area, and MPPC faithfully created kits for 10 years. I left my role in 2009 and wasn’t able to continue in the program formally, but always attended events when I could. My heart was always right there.
Amazing people at the 1st Caregiver Kit Build. Toby Capps, Nancy Rosa, and Dana Buck!
Process: What Dave Finsaas explained to us was that if you were going to try and assemble over 1,500 kits in a few days, you couldn’t go purchase the items locally. He had tried it in response to Hurricane Katrina, with a Denver wide program, and although they cleaned out every Walmart, RiteAid, Walgreens and related store in Denver, they could only get about 1,500 kits worth of helpful stuff. So we had to find a better way. Dana found that way when he discussed the program needs with Toby Capps. Toby to the rescue! He was able to have all the needed supplies drop shipped straight to the program location. Problem solved.
Dave Finsaas helping coordinate the shipping!
Nancy Rosa, John Blaha, Kristen Tweardy and other smart folks figured out how to get 1,200 people involved in a well coordinated and fun way. The event started with an educational program that lasted 30 minutes, then 90 minutes of assembling the Caregiver Kits. Young and old alike found it fun, engaging, and most importantly spiritually meaningful.
The Caregiver Kit Program Was Engaging To All Involved!
Eric Zimmerman helping make it all happen at the 1st Caregiver Kit event!
Todd Johnson At The 1st Caregiver Kit Event With Bob and Megan
Product: The heart and soul of the Caregiver Kit program was learning that there were Caregivers in Africa (77,000 when we started the program) caring for AIDS patients with literally no supplies. They were so desperate they would use, then wash and re-use cotton balls if they could find them. They would use Banana leaves, or plastic grocery bags, as gloves. They would care for their loved ones, at great personal risk, with or without the products they needed. We had to help them. The Caregiver Kit was the perfect product to equip them with what they needed.
The caregivers are the heroes of our story!
Toby Visiting With Caregivers In Zambia in 2009
Dana Buck With Caregivers In 2009
Toby With The Caregivers In 2009
World Vision Caregivers In Zambia In 2009
World Vision Caregivers Zambia In 2009
What To Do When God Builds Something Special
When God builds something special you’ve got to do 3 things.
#1 – You’ve Got To Document It. The three most important words in the human language are, ‘write it down’. If you really believe God is up to something big, then get your camera out and take notes. His story is amazing – he works miracles – but how will people know if we don’t tell the story! It’s been an honor for me to participate in the Caregiver Kit program by telling the story. It’s fitting that on the last day – I do the same by writing this blog post.
#2 – You’ve Got To Celebrate It. We need to be dancing with tears in our eyes! One of the most meaningful parts of Compassion Weekend for me was always the Sunday night service where people would get up and share their testimony about how building kits impacted their lives. Celebrating what God had done only seemed right. We sang, we clapped, we cried, and we celebrated together.
#3 – You’ve Got To Learn From It. The Caregiver Kit project wasn’t perfect. It was God using flawed people, with flawed organizations, to make a difference in this flawed world. But it had program attributes that were deeply important. Program attributes that ten years later, we still think about every day at Sew Powerful. Things like:
Involving donors in the hands-on work in a meaningful way.
Donors supporting field workers from their home with enthusiasm and activity.
Unlocking the resources within a donor community through hands-on service.
Slowing down the giving process, so it can really have the deep meaning in the hearts of the donors, and having it revolve around something other than simply writing a check.
Teaching donors about an issue via hands-on service.
Organizing large organizations to do what only they can uniquely do – in support of the greater cause.
How Does All This Apply To Sew Powerful?
Well, in addition to the fact that Dana, Toby and Andy are all board members and helped us create the Sew Powerful Purse program – the main thing is inspiration, insight and relationships. It’s a miracle that our purses are now on their way to the World Vision Zambia Kapalulwe community location – the very spot where lots of the pictures in this post were taken in 2009. We have the relationships to scale up the purse program.
It’s time to go on an epic run friends. Let’s start to look forward to the day when we will have completed 500,000 purses and helped 500,000 girls achieve academic excellence!
Can we mobilize hundreds of thousands of seamstresses to participate in what God is building through our purse program? Can we unlock millions of yards of fabric that are sitting around unused? Can we involve sewing and fashion companies to get involved? Can we explain the desperation and urgent need of girls in poor communities through our program?
Let’s do this!
Thanks for reading this insanely long post. I felt like it had to be written. I’d love to know if you ever made a caregiver kit!