Monday, February 8, 2016

Julia Jenkins Empowers Women with Noonday Collection

I'm so glad I met Julia Jenkins. She is so many things, including...a mom-of-three, a fun/classy lady, and a Noonday Collection Ambassador. If you haven't heard of Noonday, think of it as a fair-trade fashion company that will throw trunk shows at your house with some of the proceeds helping adoptive families. "Wow!" right?

Julia is as passionate as I am about empowering girls and women. I love the fact that she does it in a different way than I do, but it all comes from the same place of love, hope, and practical optimism. She's my guest blogger today, sharing with you how Noonday is empowering her as well as her customers and the artisans that make all the beautiful accessories in the Noonday Collection. PLUS, if you are a U.S. reader and leave a comment for us on this blog answering the question "How do you empower women?" by 9PM CST February 15th, you'll be in a drawing to win a Noonday Collection scarf!
Thank you, Julia, for sharing your story.

Julia's Story
As a Noonday Collection Ambassador, I regularly stand in front of hostesses and their guests telling stories about artisans who make the gorgeous handmade jewelry and accessories I showcase in their homes. While they sip wine, I tell them about how lives are transformed, because of the power having a job. I show them how amazing they look wearing a statement necklace made by one of our artisans. I empower them to change the world and feel beautiful at the same time.

But, here's my secret: Each time I stand up in front of a group of customers, I am trembling (and sweating). The voices in my head say that I'm not pretty enough, thin enough, well-spoken enough, outgoing enough, or confident enough to do this justice.

I advocate on behalf of women---women who depend on the job they have to live, and that happens because of my voice, and your purchases. It’s something I feel very called to spite of my sweaty armpits!

I recently returned from Austin, Texas where I had the privilege of meeting some of Noonday’s partner artisans. It’s incredibly humbling to meet these ladies. This is Ana:

Ana lives in Guatemala and learned the beautiful tradition of blackstrap loom weaving from her mother when she was just seven years old. As she grew, she became unsatisfied with the way she saw economic opportunities for women in her village. She sought out ways to make a difference. At the age of 28, she now owns a business and employs 30 female artisans. Ana partners with Noonday to make beautiful scarves. In this picture, you can see how each one is made. It takes five hours to weave one.

I’ve adopted a really powerful mental exercise that I learned from Melissa Russell, from the International Justice Mission, that she uses before she asks people for money to help her end human trafficking.

I imagine myself sitting down next to Ana, and telling her that I just don't feel confident enough to stand before you, because I’ve gained five pounds, and you have really pretty friends, and over 20 of them will be there, and I get really, really sweaty. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?! 20 ladies who can use their purchasing power for good, so that Ana can hire more single mamas to do weaving. I want to talk to those ladies, and tell them all about Ana!
In spite of myself, and because of the women I represent, I’m an ambassador. And I work at it, so that I can do it better!

Here's what Ana has taught me, and there's something here for you, too. Ana knows she's enough. She was 20-years-old when she started her business. At twenty, she was giving single mamas the opportunity to weave in their homes, so that they can also take care of their small children! And here's the truth: 
You are enough! I am enough, and so is that pretty/thin/well-spoken/confident woman across the room. Her “enough-ness” doesn’t diminish my own. And we can elevate the worth of all women when we stop listening to the voices that tell us where we fall short, and start empowering those around us.
What if we all chose to live wholeheartedly, and pour into women around us, rather than listen to the voices in our heads saying that we don't measure up? When we stomp those voices out, and believe that we are enough, we have the power to change the world!

Ana has this dream of building her business to provide jobs for 100 women! Isn’t that incredible? I want to help her on her way to that goal today. Enter to win the scarf Ana was making by answering this question in the comments by 9PM CST February 15th
How do you empower women? 
We ALL empower the women around us--each one of you can add a voice to this conversation. I can't wait to hear what you have to say!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#ElectrifyAfrica Act Passes the House & Senate!

Did you hear? The Electrify Africa Act passed in the House of Representatives! Because it already passed in the Senate in December, this means the next stop is President Obama's desk. When he signs it, it will help sub-Saharan African countries to increase modern electricity access, which will save lives, boost education, alleviate extreme poverty, and accelerate economic growth. Hooray!

I first wrote about Electrify Africa in July of 2014. Yep, you read that right. A year and a half ago. And that certainly wasn't even at the beginning of the life of the bill, which started out with a self-dating name of "Electrify Africa Act of 2013." The bill took on the thorny problem of the lack of consistent electric power in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, 589 million people do not have access to electricity. In 20 African countries, endemic power shortages - at all economic levels - are a way of life. This lack impacts lives in profound ways with disproportionately negative effects on women and girls. For example:

  • Poor healthcare: 30% of health facilities do not have electricity to store vaccines, operate medical equipment like incubators, or even provide consistent light during childbirth.
  • Toxic fumes: Every year, over 3 million worldwide premature deaths occur from exposure to toxic smoke of indoor open fires and kerosene for cooking, heating, and lighting. That's more deaths than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.
  • Limited or no education: 90 million kids in sub-Saharan Africa attend schools without electricity. In many places, women and girls must spend hours each day in the time-consuming task of gathering fuel, often a key reason why girls spend less time in school than boys.
  • Lack of safety: Without streetlights, telephones, or other means of communication, women and girls are particularly vulnerable after dark. 
The Electrify Africa Act seeks to prioritize and coordinate U.S. government resources to encourage the installation of at least an additional 20,000 megawatts of electrical power and promote first-time access to electricity for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor, by 2020. It requires our president to develop a comprehensive, multi-year strategy to addressing these problems. It also encourages USAID to provide additional grants and make loan guarantees to local African banks to facilitate investment in African power projects.

Those initiatives and more will have the effect of preserving life and bringing economic growth to areas of Africa that desperately need it. 
St. Louis ONE volunteers with Senator
McCaskill's district aide
We did this...the volunteers of the ONE Campaign. Citizens. Moms, kids, engineers, teachers, and more. Never fool yourself into believing that Congress would have done this all by themselves. Sure, a handful of them have their eye on extreme poverty issues, but as a whole body of legislators, they do not naturally unite to help the most vulnerable people without power or influence. 

So...everybody take a step back and let out a deep breath. Pour a beverage of your choice and toast yourself. Advocacy works! When it does, we need to celebrate it to fuel our souls for the next flight. But for today..."Cheers!" To all of those who will receive power and be empowered for years to come.

P.S. If you would like to see the C-SPAN clip of the bill passing, check out this link.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Anti-Poverty Mom Snow Day Activities

I'm noticing today that some DC schools are still closed or delayed and I bet that's true for a lot more as well. Believe, me East Coasters...out here in the Midwest we know what you are going through. The first day is all about digging out and having some giddy snowball fights and sledding runs. The next days bring the celebration of children as the snow days continue and you think "Well, I have enough milk to make some more cocoa." Then, you're eventually tearing your hair out because it's no longer novel, the kids are starting to bicker, and you'd really rather be getting back to work as well.

So, here are my three favorite snow day activities that keep kids busy as the snow plows finish their excavation. You can use this time to help make the world a better place to live in when everyone is all dug out again!

#1 Write letters or pictures for Congress

A picture of a very sick girl with a crying mother
followed by a recovery picture where she is even
given a crown. What can I say? was the
princess phase. 
Always a favorite of mine. For younger kids, it's more of an arts and crafts project where you tell them about a subject and ask them to draw a picture of it while you write the real letter to Congress. For older kids, it can involve a bit of learning as well. It works best if you can show a video to either age group to make it real.

Here are a few great videos to show them about global health for kids. Ask your kids to draw a picture or write a letter about what they saw. Then, send it in to your US Representative asking them to "Please co-sign the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (HR 3706) to help save the lives of moms and kids using best practices like nutrition, immunizations, and care for moms before and after childbirth."

Don't know your representative? Look it up here

#2 Clean closets and look for donations 
This is such a good activity because it gets kids involved in giving in a way that is very personal. Plus, you will gain a lot of closet and dresser space! You need to do this anyway every year as your kids grow, so put them to work now. Gently used toys, clothes, shoes are always needed in any community. In the St Louis area, we have many families who were recently forced out of their homes by freak winter floods and need to quickly replace everything. A quick internet search or a call to a local house of worship can usually direct you to a place to donate. 

Still can't find a local place? Schoola is doing a fundraiser collecting used clothes and giving 40% of the proceeds from selling it to the Malala Fund to secure girls' rights to a minimum of 12 years of quality education, particularly in the Global South. Fill out the form on this link and they will send you a bag, postage-paid, to send back full of your old clothes.

On our last big snow day, we excavated 2 big garbage bags worth of treasures. I was rewarded with an incredulous daughter standing in her closet saying, "It's soooo big now!"

#3 Social Media Blizzard!
Get creative for your favorite organizations and tweet out pictures with their handles and hashtags. Print out signs or get messy and make pictures of an organization's logo with glitter and glue. You can even tweet messages to your members of Congress. The senators may not be in their offices now, but the internet is always open for business! Don't want your kids in the picture? No problem. You can just take a picture of the sign or put yourself in the picture.

There you go! And after you're done saving the world? Go on out and have a little more fun! Wheeeeee!