Every African Bag Has A Story:

Mary and Linda's Story — Each side of the Sea

The passion to help other people brought Linda and Mary together and start a partnership for the Global Bag Project.
The passion to help other people brought Linda and Mary together and start a partnership for the Global Bag Project

Mary’s story is about women across the world coming together. Linda, an American woman in Kenya, was making bedspreads for the guest house on the campus of Africa International University (AIU) where Mary, a Kenyan woman worked doing laundry. However, this work provided only enough to either feed her children or send them to school, but not both.

Linda and Mary learned they both loved to sew and became fast friends. Mary had taken classes in sewing and had some experience as well. In 2008, Karen Mains approached Linda, an accomplished seamstress, with the idea of the Global Bag Project – to provide income for vulnerable women in developing countries by creating artisan style reusable bags from Africa. Linda’s work in Kenya made her all too acquainted with the real life stories of women affected by poverty and disease. The unemployment rate is off the charts and the HIV/AIDS pandemic has devastated families and communities all over the country.

Mary is seen here training women how to operate a sewing machine to make bags from Africa.

Mary is seen here training women how to operate a sewing machine to make bags from Africa.

Carla Boelkens is seen here with Mary and her daughter Lois.

Carla Boelkens is seen here with Mary and her daughter Lois.

Linda and Mary learned they both loved to sew and became fast friends. Mary had taken classes in sewing and had some experience as well. In 2008, Karen Mains approached Linda, an accomplished seamstress, with the idea of the Global Bag Project – to provide income for vulnerable women in developing countries by creating artisan style reusable tote bags. Linda’s work in Kenya made her all too acquainted with the real life stories of women affected by poverty and disease. The unemployment rate is off the charts and the HIV/AIDS pandemic has devastated families and communities all over the country.

Linda consulted Mary about this new endeavor, and together they developed the template for the bags according to the information gathered from fourteen focus groups in the States. In fact, it was Mary’s idea to use the bright and beautiful East African kanga fabric for the first Global Bag Project bags from Africa. Mary has since made hundreds of Global Bag Project reusable shopping bags and is also the GBP Kenya Trainer and Buyer.

I’ve now been to Kenya five times in three years. Each trip, I spend time with Mary in her home or in the GBP sewing room on the university campus or even at a local restaurant. I’m inspired by her passion for life–––her drive to help create a better life for her three children and for the women she is helping by giving them work in making the GBP bags. She says that it doesn’t matter how hard she has to work.

Mary cleaning beans in her yard in Kenya. Her drive is to to help create a better life for her three children and for the women she is helping
Mary cleaning beans in her yard in Kenya. Her drive is to to help create a better life for her three children and for the women she is helping.

On one of my last visits to her home, Mary had just finished collecting water in fifteen jerry cans of water from the stream about 100 yards from her small home. (photo) That’s fifteen trips; 200 yards each trip, carrying about five gallons of water in each can. The water is for cooking, cleaning and bathing. Then, she’ll milk the one cow they have that provides milk for her family and for her customers. Yes, she takes milk to market to sell as well. Later, she’ll sift through the beans and put them in a pot to cook for dinner over an open fire, aka her stove.

Life is hard. This week, Mary and her children have had to leave their home to escape abuse and to avoid a violent situation so she can continue to be responsible for the needs of her children. With the help of GBP and the AIU community, she and her young children are safe and looking for a new place to live. Life is hard. When I talked and prayed with Mary on the telephone today, once again, I was struck by her tenacity and strength; her hope and faith.

Mary has a heart to help other women like her. Her vision is to employ over 100 women to produce GBP bags. Help make Mary’s vision realized. How? Buy bags! We don’t have enough work for her or the other women to sew full–time. Mary is always grateful and asks us to thank everyone for investing in her life through the GBP. Experience her laughter and enthusiasm as she tells her story on video at www.globalbagproject.org.

Carla Boelkens

Make A Difference

Mary Nduta, the GBP Trainer holds a Quality Control session for the ladies. She does this on a regular basis.

Mary Nduta, the GBP Trainer holds a Quality Control session for the ladies. She does this on a regular basis.

The world food crisis became real to me last week as I sat in the Global Bag Project sewing room and talked with the women about how much they receive for sewing each bag. Due to the fact that we have sold fewer bags this year than last, the division principle has been activated. In order to keep all the women working, the wage for each bag is now $4.00 instead of $6.00 to $7.00—the reduced work load due to slower sales is being divided among the six women in the sewing room on the campus of Africa International University.

“Is this enough?” asked Mary Ogalo, our Project Manager. Shyly, with eyes downcast, the women admitted it wasn't enough. “Food costs more,” one bag–maker explained. “Every time we go to the market we have to pay more.” And although they might not be able to explain the treachery of international finance, the Kenyan shilling was collapsing around us even as we spoke. I felt anger rising in me—$4.00 a bag!—how could that possibly keep these women and their families going?

My thoughts were interrupted by the last woman, “But I am very grateful. Without the Global Bag Project, I would have nothing. There would be no work for me.”

According to World Bank president Robert Zoellick, food prices are rising at unprecedented levels. This surge has already driven 44 million people below the “extreme poverty line,” meaning they live on just $1.25 a day. An additional 10% increase in food prices would cause another 10 million people to descend below this line. Simply put, according to the World Food Program in Somalia, prices of the staples–red sorghum and white maze—have increased up to 240 percent and 154 percent respectively. Poor families are spending from 50% to 80% of their meager income just for food.

So here are some things we can do to help the seamstresses who depend on their living from the Global Bag Project. We can cut the small expenses of the U.S. office out of the bags from Africa sales. That means we need to raise $20,000 to underwrite Carla Boelkens’ small salary for one day a week of work, the rent on the office, gas expenses, fees for various Internet charges, etc. Underwriting this expense alone will enable us to contribute most of the sales of the bags back to Global Bag Project Kenya.

This is what you can do. Will you consider (in addition to buying some bags for Christmas gifts) giving a year-end donation to the Global Bag Project U.S. office? A check in the mail made out to Global Bag Project and mailed to GBP/ Box 30/ Wheaton, IL 60187 will go far. I keep hearing that dear sister say, “But I am grateful for this. Without the Global Bag Project, I would have no work.”

And if things are tight for you financially, would you regularly pray for us? Hold the hungry and the poor of the earth to your heart and intercede that we will be able to launch this dream—sustainable incomes through reusable bags from Africa.

Karen Mains

Africa Journey

Voluntourism

Salome's home needs a makeover. Join us in October 2012 and take a vacation with a purpose.

Salome's home needs a makeover. Join us in October 2012 and take a vacation with a purpose.

Salome is one of our regular seamstresses of bag from Arica

Salome is one of our regular seamstresses
making colorful bags from Africa.

I heard this phrase for the first time last week as I was in Nairobi and we were brainstorming ways Global Bag Project Kenya could become self–sustaining. It appears that volunteerism is the new trend in travel.

According to Wikipedia, volunteer travel, volunteer vacations, voluntourism, or vacanteerism is travel which includes volunteering for a charitable cause. In recent years, “bite–sized” volunteer vacations have grown in popularity. The types of volunteer vacations are diverse, from low–skill work cleaning up local wildlife areas to providing high–skill medical aid in a foreign country. Volunteer vacations participants are diverse but typically share a desire to “do something good” while also experiencing new places and challenges in locales they might not otherwise visit.

Next October 2012 we will be offering an opportunity for hands on volunteering with our friends in Nairobi. The beautiful Guest House (Kijiji) on the campus of Africa International University is an excellent source of income for the GBP sewing room—but it needs some sprucing up inside to attract a steady stream of guests. Some of the bag–makers homes in slum–like localities need "flipping"—good neighbors (from across the ocean) who will spend a morning to lend a hand. We need to capitalize the sewing room—we’ll take women who are experts in shopping into the markets to buy fabrics that some days there are not quite enough funds to buy. AND we’ll hold brainstorm sessions as to how to market “bags” in country and in the States.

We'll be asking you to do more than just volunteer and leave with good feelings. We’ll be asking you to become friends who want to be involved on a long–term basis. The land fee will be $3,000 ($500 of which will go toward capitalizing the sewing room). More details on the trip will follow in the next GBP e–newsletter, but if you are a traveler who wants to become involved with the world, reserve the first two weeks of October 2012 on your calendar.

Children love bags from africa, too

Children love bags from africa, too.

Great Shopping Ideas

A Global Bag Project bag is a great gift – birthday, wedding, anniversary, baby shower (we understand they’re great diaper bags) and of course, holiday gifts!

Did you know you can order a Global Bag Project reusable bags from Africa on our web site? Go to our site to place your order today! Our shelves are stocked and we’re ready to ship them to your doorstep.

If you’d like to order more than 5 bags, give us a call at 630-293-4500 or email carla@globalbagproject.org.