Saturday, November 23, 2013

Stay Tuned

The next load of 50 handbags has arrived safely in the Midwest, ladies and gentlemen! A new post with pictures of these unique and varied burlap bags is on its way. Keep checking in.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Get Ready...

...because I have from a semi-reliable source that there are more bags on the way!
I've been here in Kenya's capital city of Nairobi for almost three weeks now, which is at least closer to my desert than Hutchinson is. Though I'm not able to take the trip up to Lodwar this time (too much work here and not enough potential travel accompaniment), hopefully the bags will come to me.
A few weeks back, I let the pastor of the church know that I'm able to take a suitcase loaded with a new batch of handbags back to the States with me. Apparently that news was received with alacrity. He told me that yesterday the women came to the church to bring what they had sewn, and there were way more bags than I can handle on this trip. !
So try to handle the suspense and anticipate with me another round of prayerfully-sustainable enterprise for these ladies and their families.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Annnnnd...The Bags!

Here are just a few snapshots of what your very own handmade bag could look like. Since different ladies have made these, from whatever materials were available, each one is unique--just like the story behind it.

and shuka bags.
Burlap bags...

Small bags...
and bigger bags.
and plain bags.
Fancy bags...

Unmarked bags...
and rice bags.

Whichever kind of bag you prefer, you can know that it's coming directly from the desert and the lady that made it, and that the profit is going directly back to her and her family. Each bag sells for $15, and I can either let you choose from the inventory I have left or choose from an upcoming batch. Feel free to either post a comment here on the blog or contact me personally at with any questions, comments, and orders. I'm so excited to give others the opportunity to share the load!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Meet the Ladies!

The Women of Share the Load



 Joyce: Although Joyce is still young, she already has four children—and is expecting another one anytime. Even though her hands are kept quite busy with her family, she worked hard to make me six bags. Her selflessness challenged me, as she walked several miles in the scorching midday sun (that left me very burnt and red) just to say goodbye to me before I left. Joyce was in strong need of water and I’m sure she was overheated, but I’m her friend and so of course she would come for me.

Susan: This goal-driven woman became one of my best friends during my time in Lodwar. I got to know her one day on our walk home from church, and we had a great conversation in animated Swahili as she professed how I was now her biggest friend. Each Sunday she gave me that smile of camaraderie, and at my anniversary celebration she gave me a heart necklace that says “best friends forever.” Susan has three children, and does back-breaking work making concrete blocks for the homes in the Internally Displaced Persons camp where all the women live.

Lona: Lona has seven children, and uses her creative ability to weave intricate and colorful baskets as well as sew bags for this project in order to support them. Even though I had to turn down some of her beautiful handiwork due to luggage constraints, she was so very grateful for the opportunity to sew the handbags and gave me a great hug goodbye.
Nancy: I will never forget what this woman means to me. Nancy has become my Kenyan mother, both unofficially in friendship and officially as part of my wedding celebration. Even though we came to Lodwar in order to bless people, I have come away so blessed by her. Not only was she crucial in helping me start the handbag project as well as facilitate our weekly women’s meetings, but she invited my whole team to her tiny home to fellowship. Nancy is one of the most diligent and motivated Turkana women I have met; she holds a respected role in the local fish trade and even has started a tiny shamba of a donkey, goats, and a few chickens. She taught me how to siphon water from the riverbed and made me the first white visitor to the fish market. She and her husband, Daniel, have eight children, although we decided she actually has ten, including her adopted ones—my husband and I. The fifteen creative bags she and Daniel sewed together are for their son George, to fund his high school fees and the hopes of a more educated future.


 Celina Awoi, Jennifer, and Eliza also helped sew these bags. Each of their families has a story, too.


Christine: I met Christine when I came to Kenya for the first time. Although I’m not sure of the reason, she’s blind. As if the struggles of living as an IDP in the desert weren’t enough, she has no way to get a job and support her four kids (her little girl Akai is one of the sweetest girls at church). Christine, however, doesn’t let this bring her down, and she always has a beautiful smile ready for everyone. Her community gathered around her and is making this project hers as well, both supporting her needs and reminding her she’s not in this journey alone.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What We're About

Share the Load

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2.

Turkana women have a load to bear, both literally and figuratively. I didn’t know it was possible for someone to carry such huge bundles of sticks or such heavy barrels of water on her head, until I saw it everywhere I walked. But the women’s even heavier load is that not only are they expected to take care of all the home’s domestic chores, but they are also responsible for being the financial providers for their household. Mothers spend hours over boiling-hot jikos (small charcoal burners), lug heavy jericans of water from wherever the nearest well or river is, walk the groceries and charcoal the miles home from town, and make sure the children are fed, clean, and off to school (if possible). Due to influence of cultural gender standards and often single-parenthood, they also must be the ones who somehow find the money to buy their meager supplies of dried beans, rice, and cornmeal and to pay school fees. In fact, many mamas truly live day-to-day with the questions of whether or not they even get to cook any food, and whether eating or education is more important for their children.

No matter how many times you hear stories of how impoverished people struggle with the basic necessities of life, living with a community for whom this is their story makes it all too real. That is why I couldn’t just stay away from Africa after visiting for six months when I was 19. God has given me a family in the desert of Northern Kenya, and I’m never forgetting them. In the three and a half years between my visits, my passion to stay connected to my home around the globe grew and gained vision—and now that I’ve lived there again for another six months, I know I have to do something. 

Life is hard in Lodwar. The ladies at my church will work themselves to the core, when they have the opportunity. Even though just getting through the day in a desert environment where the temperature reaches 110˚ and you can feel the sun burning your skin and parching your mouth can be exhausting, my friends would put in long hours doing man’s labor of making cement-block houses or selling bundles of “fresh” fish or tilling the arid ground for desperate little shambas (gardens). Throw in up to eight children and those grass mats will feel like heaven by the time the dark of night rolls around. The problem is, usually either the jobs the women find don’t pay enough or there isn’t even any work for pay available. And they’re stuck: hungry, exhausted, uneducated. This isn’t a sob story; it’s true.

They tangibly showed me Christ as they took the bracelets off of their own wrists to give to me, as they enthusiastically praised God at the top of their voices while jumping with all of their strength, as they walked miles in the heat of the day just to see me off at the tiny local airport. The thing that especially hit my heart was when Helen pulled me aside and told me the ladies’ agreement. “There’s Christine,” she said, pointing to the smiling woman led by her little girl. “She’s blind and can’t sew, so we’re each going to give her some of our earnings.” This money is pure gold to these ladies who wear the same clothes every time I see them and who raised their arms in praise to God when they received a gift of two kilos of flour—but  here they are, giving it to those who need it even more. How can I respond to such love and generosity?

This is why I’m starting this project called Sharing the Load. I want to give these ladies a legitimate and sustainable way to provide for themselves and their families. We can help carry their burdens by carrying our own small burdens in bags sewn by the Turkanas’ work-worn hands; we can lessen life’s strain and help provide both financial and emotional encouragement by giving these women a channel in which to pursue some of their dreams for a better life.

I’m praying that I’ll be able to give the report that they better keep making the bags so I can keep buying them to sell. Their faces were so excited and hopeful as they handed me this first batch, and so now I’m just going to see what God does with this idea. Any money donated above my purchasing cost will go directly to supporting the continuation of our project. I hope their load will get lighter.