Read Part One of our So Powerful Soap Miracle Here
It’s International Handwashing Day … a perfect time to give you a proper update on our soap initiative.
If you read our first post about this from July, we shared about the basic opportunity. Yes, we truly believe it’s a miracle.
So here is the latest …
12-Month Budget & Startup Funding: We’re thrilled to report that from just that one blog post we raised $5,600. That gave us a startup budget plus a 12-month operating budget for this program. In the near future we will announce a need for additional funding, but as of right now, that initial giving was more than we could have hoped to get – and so the program is off to a great start!
Official Charter: The Program has been officially approved by our ministry partner (Needs Care School) in Zambia as a ministry initiative. The goal is to provide love and care to the needy of their community while also offering empowerment and sustainability to their program. This fits perfectly with our “Purposeful Products” strategy!
Use Of Soap: As part of the official approval the Board of Directors decided how the soap would be used.
- 25% of all soap will be given to the poorest families in the community through their Caregiver ministry.
- The remaining 75% will be made available for purchase.
- The Sew Powerful Purse Program will act as a “buyer” in that regard. So we fund the program with a budget each month, and in exchange, we receive a certain amount of the soap for our purse program. Think of it like a standing monthly order, from a trusted customer, which the team can use as a stable source of funding to scale up their program.
- The goal will be to scale production so a local sales staff can begin selling it to add income – making the program locally sustainable.
Soap Team: We have a leader and funding for an initial team of 4 people. Our vision is to scale this program to a large number – adding staff and facilities in a logical and methodical fashion. Our initial goal will be 20 employees, after our facilities issue is resolved.
Current Facility: The team is currently using the existing clinic building location since it is not in use every day. The challenge is – it’s very small space. More room is being actively looked for.
Initial Test Batches: The team has been doing initial test batches learning about how to melt, shape, and dry the soap. From these tests they’ll be able to determine many things including production capacity, speed of drying, and best practices for cutting and packaging the soap.
Pictures From The First Batch: We’ve included the pictures from the very first batch of soap attempted before any proper tools were purchased. This gives you a feel for how challenging the environment is – but it’s so fun to see the project come to life.
A Huge Thank You: We want to extend a huge thank you to everyone that donated to this initial effort. This project has captured the imagination and support of so many people – it’s exciting to see it spring to life. It couldn’t happen without your support.
Honored to partner together,
Jason, Cinnamon, Esther & the Entire Sew Powerful (and So Powerful Soap) team!
Tell Us What You Think: Be sure to leave a word of encouragement in the comments below so the Zambia Soap Team knows they are loved and supported! We’ll do our best to continue giving you updates!
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
Give a gift of any amount here
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.
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 second request was for better machines. (Please note – if anyone wants to step up and help us replace the entire set of machines, we’d be incredibly grateful. Contact us.) I blogged about that not long ago – here is the entire story.
- 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.
We are grateful for your support.
Jason & Cinnamon Miles
As 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:
- 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.
- 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
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.
Here are a few pictures we received with the update: