I’m really excited today because I’m kicking off a post that I hope many like it will follow! Having this feature was a big goal of 2015 and now I can share the first one. Yay!
I want to change to world. I want to partner with folks who are also changing the world for better and I’m thankful to be able to use my voice to spread the awesome work and stories of amazing people around the world!
To kick things off I’m featuring a long time favorite – Amani Ya Juu!
Amani ya Juu (“peace from above” in Swahili) is a sewing and training program for marginalized women in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Liberia. Women at Amani are learning to work together through faith in God who provides a peace that transcends all cultural and ethnic differences. Amani portrays a unique picture of diversity, with women coming from Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, and other African nations.Amani began in 1996 with four women sewing placemats together in Nairobi. Since then, Amani has grown to over 100 women representing ethnic groups and experiences from all across Africa. As women return to their homelands, they carry Amani with them. Amani has established a presence of peace in five African nations and two US cities (Washington, DC and Chattanooga, TN). Each Amani center is locally registered and independently managed with support from an international leadership team.
I had the chance to talk with Amani’s Marketing Director Emily Kirwan, so let’s get to it (and thank you Emily for taking the time!)
1. How did you get involved with this organization?
I first “met” Amani in 2010 when I was studying abroad in Rwanda. A former Amani employee in Kenya had started a center of her own back in her home country. There were women working alongside each other from opposite tribes. Literally, one woman’s husband could have killed another woman’s husband during the 1994 genocide. But these women worked, sang, prayed and ate in fellowship with one another despite painful ethnic histories. And of course, they made stunning products!
I was so in love with the beauty of the organization. Every piece of that experience, from the business-as-a-mission strategy to the high-quality products, made me hungry to be part of it. A year later I was interning at their DC center, which was the US warehouse at the time. I went to Liberia the next year with Amani to volunteer and was then hired to do marketing and resource development.
2. What do you want people to know about the work you’re doing?
In the past 30 years, over a trillion dollars of development-related aid has been given to poor countries in Africa by rich western countries. Most countries are worse off. Throwing money at a problem without accountability creates nothing but a system of dependency.
Amani ya Juu is a non-profit AND a business. The ladies are trained in a skill that allows them to improve their standard of living. They are empowered to provide for basic needs of their families because their are paid a fair wage. We are all about holistic healing. That means that in addition to the physical needs like money for food, the ladies participate things like group devotion or counseling. They are being nurtured spiritually and forgiving people who wronged them. You can almost see a visible transformation. After woman has spent some time training with us she sits a little taller, smiles more, laughs as she works with other ladies, etc.
Also, everyone should read a book called When Helping Hurts. Its all about ways to alleviate poverty without accidentally hurting the poor…and ourselves. Amani ya Juu tends to identify with this philosophy of poverty development.
3. What’s one of your favorite stories from the work y’all have been doing?
Recently, we asked some ladies at Amani Kenya to share on the theme for forgiveness (see here). A huge part of our work focuses on reconciliation and forgiveness. A lot of the ladies are refugees who have fled from civil conflict or other tough situations.The responses were incredible. When I think about the things I struggle to forgive compared to the responses we got from the ladies, I am amazed.
Another cool thing about Amani is that we love it when people leave us for bigger and better things! Sometimes when ladies graduate from our training program, they are given a loan or scholarship so they can start their own businesses or go to college. My favorite of these stories is Rahab, who moved into a slum so she could employ young women (mostly single mothers) by teaching them to make paper beads (see here). When we did that interview Rahab invited me into her home in Nairobi. I had outstanding fried chicken and was able hear the stories of the Rahab and the other young women.
Rahab actually has breast cancer right now so please keep her in your prayers. She is an incredible person who has overcome a difficult past.
4. What are some of the best ways people can partner with your organization?
There’s 3 ways anyone can help change the lives of the ladies in Africa!
1) Shop online at amaniafrica.org. We have fair trade bags, accessories, home goods, jewelry, clothing, baby items, and more—all ethically made in Africa!
2) Volunteer to host a box party. We send a box of products, you sell what you can, and you ship what doesn’t sell back to us! It’s a free, fun way to empower ladies in Africa without leaving home, and it’s pretty easy (right Jamie? 🙂 ). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. (I agree! These parties are the best!)
3) Donate online to programs for sewing machines and scholarships.
Thank you so much again Emily and Amani and I’ll most definitely be praying for Rahab. Dear readers, thanks for joining in! Now let’s hear from you! Who inspires you? Whether a person or organization, I’d love to hear about them!
(There are so many incredible organizations out there doing incredible things to change the world. The Difference Makers Features highlight some of the ones I love and support and want to spread the word about!).