June Update From Esther

Hi everyone,

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!

Sew Powerful Update From Esther

When God Builds Something Special

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…

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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 at the first Caregiver Kit Program

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.

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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!

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!

The Caregiver Kit Program Was Engaging To All Involved!

Eric Zimmerman helping make it all happen at the 1st Caregiver Kit event!

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

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

Toby Visiting With Caregivers In Zambia in 2009

Dana Buck With Caregivers In 2009

Dana Buck With Caregivers In 2009

Toby With The Caregivers In 2009

Toby With The Caregivers In 2009

World Vision Caregivers In Zambia In 2009

World Vision Caregivers In Zambia In 2009

World Vision Caregivers 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!

Grateful for your support,


Our Manifesto For Self Reliance

School Uniform ProgramAs a donor – we need you to understand your role and how we see giving/charity/and the issues related to creating sustainable solutions.

So I thought I’d outline our vision for helping the wonderful people of Ngombe Compound, Lusaka, and the entire country of Zambia. I hope you hear my heart in this – I’m not trying to sound condescending or like a know-it-all or something. We barely know anything about combating extreme poverty, but we feel strongly about a couple things and I thought I’d share them with you today.

Broken Program Models

I’ve worked in the non-profit world since 1990. In that time I’ve seen a lot of International mission and aid type program models (from A (AIDS relief) to Z (Zika Virus Intervention). I wish all of the programs I’ve seen were effective at combating poverty, but they aren’t. That’s a serious problem!

Some of the program models I’ve seen, (the worst), are hurtful, wasteful, and render poor families and communities dependent on perpetual handouts. There is a nagging question that every charity leader needs to answer…

Can my charity (and donors) do too much, give too-much, and intervene too much? Can we cause harm by taking control out of the hands of the (truly) responsible people and “handling” it for them?

Specifically, in 2009 when we first entered Ngombe Compound in Lusaka – we saw,

48% of the kids HIV Positive with no clinic and no medical help

70% of the children have lost both parents to HIV/AIDS/TB or Malaria.

kids at the Needs Care School only getting 1 small cup of porridge for lunch each day

Kids with no school uniforms

Girls that don’t go to school when they are on their time of the month because of a lack of supplies

The moms don’t have jobs but want to help

No school building (so they met in a half-built church)

Very few 7th grade children going to Secondary School (what we call high school)

Girls failing to pass the 7th grade exams at more than 10% short-fall compared to boys

And many many additional challenges – this list honestly just scratches the surface.

Why Do Good Intentioned Donors Do Harm?

The short answer is – yes – of course donors can cause harm by creating programs that bake in dependency and obliterate self reliance. Bad medicine. Good intentioned people can do TOO MUCH and therefore dis-empower local moms, dads, teachers, and community leaders – the people who are actually responsible for the situation.

We’ve struggled with this over the years as we’ve worked in Ngombe – always trying our best to NOT be the problem solver, money giver, (hero of our own story). That is not a good long-term solution. That’s wasting the most valuable of all human resources – people’s ability to overcome their own problems. We want the moms, dads, and teachers of Ngombe to be the hero of the story.

Turning Your Abundance Into A Weapon  

When you stand in a urban slum in Africa, or a very rural village far away from any town, you understand that the people don’t have much (compared to what you are used to). And you realize that you have a lot by comparison – and your community of friends and family back home has TONS of financial capacity by comparison. Surplus resources that could solve a lot of problems – it’s easy to see a simple solution. You give – they get.

The first response is to simply give – give – give. Give to solve the problems. What’s wrong with that? Jesus said to give. You give out of your surplus capacity (of time, money, fabric, sewing ability, health supplies, food, vehicles, clothing, etc.) … giving to people who don’t have any of it. They are (of course) grateful.

Many charities work to make this a pinnacle of achievement – an emotion provoking feel good moment where we all rejoice together at “what God has done.” How much can you give? Can we give more? Can we give millions? Can we give billions? Shouldn’t we?

Of course – when we do that we are managing our resources out of our surplus to solve their problem because they don’t have any resources. But the real compassionate / caring / loving question is,

How Could The Moms and Dads Of The Slum Get To A Point Where

They Can Manage To Solve The Problems On Their Own Out Of Their Own Capacity?

And … is there anything we can do that would help make that happen – without destroying their self-reliance?

These are the questions we obsess over at Sew Powerful. They haunt us. It’s a much harder set of questions to answer. It means that you have to set aside the quick and easy knee-jerk response that says,

“Well, I’ll just give you what you need today –

and maybe get you therapy later to deal with your self-reliance issues.”

But the self-reliance issue never gets dealt with.

Mainly because the Americans don’t even know what they are doing. Plus, they get so good at setting up a capacity pipeline that they (we) hire the Africans to simply manage the abundance of the flood of giving. A charity industry is born. The Africans have jobs and a better standard of living. They work for the charity.

But that is NOT the same as truly creating real capacity within the community.

At Sew Powerful we truly believe that clothing children, and providing girls health supplies (and training) is a problem best solved locally – by the moms and dads of the community – out of their own financial capacity. Our job is to help them put together a system that generates real resources – that they keep – so they have real SURPLUS capacity.

Creating True Capacity & Abundance

Sorry if I sound like a raging capitalist, (I am an entrepreneur after all), but I don’t know of any other method for creating true financial (and time and resource) capacity in a local community than by moms and dads making money in legitimate ways and accumulating assets that they manage. Moms and Dads having real jobs.

Creating a money making venture anywhere is hard. Doing it in an urban slum is crazy hard. But as long as the moms want to keep working and learning (and trust me they do) we will keep helping them figure it out.

At Sew Powerful we have two things happening at the same time:

  1. A Sewing Cooperative in Ngombe (the worst slum in Lusaka) where seamstresses create school uniforms (that the parents pay for) and feminine hygiene supplies (that go in the purses that the donors provide). The seamstresses are paid for their work – giving them a real income – and the dignity of knowing that they are making an impact on their community. This is our CORE activity. It’s hard work.
  2. Donors from around the world create purses that are delivered to the Ngombe Sewing Cooperative. This is partly an awareness / fundraising strategy (let’s be honest) and partly a way to help support and encourage the Ngombe Sewing Cooperative. It is also VERY helpful because the fabric (and time) our world-wide group of seamstresses have to contribute to the project is amazing. Of course we also need financial support. We need YOU and your abundance (and generosity) if this crazy 2-part model is going to work. We also need to encourage and support the Sewing Cooperative by involving you in the effort.

Achieving Real Capacity Milestones

In my last post I mentioned that the largest charity in Zambia was eager to sign a 4-year MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) with Sew Powerful to distribute purses and feminine hygiene supplies to girls in need because the product was coming FROM Ngombe.

They had NEVER heard of donations coming OUT of Ngombe – and they wanted to learn more. Even after several conversations they still thought we going to somehow ask THEM to give us something. When we explained WE where going to give THEM something (of value) they were shocked! Imagine…

A tiny little sewing cooperative in the worst slum in Zambia giving over $30,000 worth of purses and feminine hygiene supplies to the largest charity in the country for use that their program sites. Imagine their shock!


But this isn’t the only capacity milestone we’ve achieved together. Before this large milestone, we also…

#1 – Created school uniforms for over 1,200 current students and well over 2,000 students in total.

#2 – Provided 500 purses and feminine hygiene supplies to the girls of the Needs Care school.

#3 – Regularly distributed clothing to rural schools (Susu Village).

If you’re still reading this then you are a TRUE saint – amazing partner – and friend. We are so incredibly blessed and honored to work with each of you. We are making a difference together. Learning how to serve – and doing our best to effectively use the resources we’ve been given.


Jason, Cinnamon, Esther & the entire board of Sew Powerful

Announcing Our 2016 Program Goal and 2nd Ministry Location

Sew Powerful Zambia

Jason and Cinnamon with purse recipients

Hi friends,

We are incredibly excited to announce that we’ve set our goal for 2016 at 3,000 purses. We are also thrilled to be expanding into our 2nd purse distribution location. A community called Kapalulwe Hill (Kapa-lul-way).

Can we hit this goal? We honestly have no idea – but we are excited to strive for it. If we work together we can help more girls attend school and achieve academic success!

Why We Need 3,000 Purses

For the last month we’ve been in discussions with the largest charity in Zambia (I don’t have explicit permission to announce who it is just yet, so I’ll leave that part out). But they have become very interested in the ministry model we are developing for several reasons and they’ve signed a 4-year distribution agreement with us. This gives us the ability to scale this program to a huge number. And for 2016 we’ve set the goal at 3,000 purses.

Why are they excited to partner with the Sew Powerful Purse Program?

They like our program because #1: it empowers girls to stay in school all month and achieve specific academic outcomes that are measurable, learn more about that here.

They like our program because #2: it empowers local seamstresses in Zambia to earn an income – and minister to their community by making reusable feminine hygiene pads, learn about the importance of that approach here.

They like our program because #3: the program location is Ngombe (the largest urban slum in Zambia). They were BLOWN AWAY that this type of innovative program was coming out of Ngombe. They wanted to partner with us because we were there.

Why We Are Excited To Partner With The Largest Charity In Zambia

We need a large partner to continue to grow. We also need them because we’ve met the need of all the girls at the Needs Care School in Ngombe where we currently work. So we need another program location. But not just any program location. We need a partner that can monitor and evaluation the program impact in a professional way. In this manner we can ensure we are measuring the impact of our work, (learn more about that topic here).

Kapalulwe Hill Zambia

When the Deputy National Director for the charity mentioned the location he wanted us to consider expanding into Kapalulwe Hill – I had to laugh out loud. I was blown away and immediately realized God was up to something exciting!

Why is going to Kapalulwe Hill so amazing? In 2009, I visited Kapalulwe Hill with a group that included three of our four Sew Powerful board members (from left to right Toby Capps, Dana Buck and Andy Smith). We were all there together with a wonderful group from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Visiting Kapalulwe Hill Zambia

———————– Visiting Kapalulwe Hill Zambia in 2009 ———————–


We Need Your Help More Than Ever Before

So now that we have a second program location with an amazing partner – the real question is – can we scale up together? We were blown away that in 2015 we received 1,619 purses. Last year our program goal was 1,000 purses and we smashed it. But 3,000 purses is a very large number.

It also means we need a LOT more financial support for the Ngombe Sewing Cooperative itself. Because by committing to 3,000 purses it also means we are committing to 3,000 sets of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) supplies that go into the purses. These are sewn locally in Lusaka at our Sewing Cooperative and requires fabric, supplies, machines, and funding to pay the seamstresses. Each of these sets cost just under $5 to make apiece, so the total need is $15,000, not including sewing machine maintenance and other program costs.

Only time will tell whether we can achieve this ambitious goal together. It’s a stretch, but we serve a big God and he has a big plan …

… for the seamstresses in Lusaka…

… and the girls in Ngombe and Kapalulwe Hill …

… and all of our amazing partners around the world who have decided to partner with us to sew purses, advocate locally, and help us raise awareness about this issue – and our program.

Thank you in advance for all your amazing support. We are honored to work together. Without each of you – we couldn’t do this important work.

Jason, Cinnamon, Esther & the Entire Sew Powerful Board

The 2015 Unboxing Party Photos

On November 11th, 2015 we gathered to unbox, count, and prep all the 2015 Sew Powerful purses. In total we received 1,619 purses from all over the world. We are incredibly grateful for all the enthusiasm and hard work that people from around the world are putting into this program. Here are a few of the picture highlights from the evening.

Cally Leighton - Purse Queen

Cally Leighton – Purse Queen

The Miles Girls Working Hard

The Miles Girls Working Hard

General Chaos, but we got it all figured out!

General Chaos, but we got it all figured out!

Jason explaining the program

Jason explaining the program

The Renton Post Office was even represented!

The Renton Post Office was even represented!

Winner of the farthest package (India)!!

Winner of the farthest package (India)!!

All boxed up and ready to go to Zambia!

All boxed up and ready to go to Zambia!

Winner of the most stamps used!

Winner of the most stamps used!

It's nice to be able to use our new office space for this type of project!

It’s nice to be able to use our new office space for this type of project!

A view from the street!

A view from the street!


The Power Of A Beautiful Gift

We believe the quality of your giving says a lot about the depth of your love.

Quality matters. It matters in our personal lives as individuals – and it matters in our giving too.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so proud of what we are accomplishing together through the Sew Powerful Purse project. Together we are elevating giving to an art!

Over the last few months I’ve had the honor of watching a huge number of seamstresses work hard on absolutely incredible purses that are going to girls in Zambia. We have a mountain of boxes filled with these purses and although we’ve been tempted to open a few – we’ve decided to wait until November 11th – for our big unboxing party. But I know that the quality and craftsmanship of the purses being produced is incredible.

Recent Purse Examples

Here are a few examples recently shared on Facebook…

Anne Stockdale's purses

Anne Stockdale’s purses


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Shanti Siri’s purses

Time – The Most Powerful Gift

While the purses are absolutely amazing – the purses aren’t the only gift that we are giving to the girls in Zambia. What we are really giving – which is much more valuable – is our time – that is the most powerful and beautiful gift we can possibly give to these girls in need.

We are all so busy, trying hard to keep up, meet our own needs, and make our lives easy and fun. Taking the time to do complex and detailed work on behalf of a child in need is a radical act of love – a powerful and selfless gift!

Rick Warren said it best,

time is your most precious gift

I’d love to hear your opinion about the quality of our work together – the importance of the beauty and craftsmanship of the purses – and the impact this program is having. Leave a comment and tell us what you think!

Ps. If you are excited about this program and believe it’s making a real difference – we’d love to have you join us financially and give your best gift today. Every dollar given is a huge blessing and goes directly to help support the Zambian Sewing Cooperative where moms and grandmas are working hard to serve the children of Lusaka! Give today!