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!

October Update From Esther

Hi everyone,

I think you’ll love seeing this update from Esther about the recent fundraising campaigns you helped us achieve. Of course – we are always in need of more funding for the ongoing support of the program. If you’d like to give a general gift be sure to visit our giving page.

If you want to see how we use these funds (and how we achieve near zero overhead) read our Financial Accountability & Trust Information.

151005 update

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Special Update From Esther

Hi friends,

Yesterday I received this special update from Esther. I’d love to have you join us in funding these two special projects. The first project is going to take an ongoing monthly budget increase which we think is possible with your help – If you’re interested in donating – simply give a gift of any amount via paypal here. In case you’re curious the second project – the rebar project is estimated to be about $700 and we’ve already received several gifts. So I think if we all work together we can make that happen for her.

150804 update

Here are a few pictures we received with the update:


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