By Ashley Andrews, 700 Club Interactive
CBN.com If you were to google Raven + Lily, you would come across a site that sells jewelry and journals. And at first glance, you might think that that was all the site had to offer. But after some clicks here and there, you would quickly see that all of the items are made from recycled and remnant materials. Then, after a few clicks more, you would learn that every piece of jewelry and each notebook is handcrafted by women in India and Africa - women who lived in poverty, women stricken with AIDS, women abandoned and forced to provide for their children alone. There, you would read story after story of women whose lives have changed because of Raven + Lily. They are happier, healthier and lead fuller lives because they finally have a community of believers that support and value them. And it is all thanks to the founders Kirsten Dickerson and Sophia Hirokawa Lin.
Friends Kirsten and Sophia share the same passions - fashion and helping women in need. And back in 2009, they put their passions to work. Inspired by Luke 12, "where God says that we shouldn't worry about what we will eat or drink because He cares for the ravens and we are so much more valuable than birds...and he says to look at how beautiful the lilies are yet they are here today and gone tomorrow and how much more valuable we are than flowers...We feel," Kirsten continued, "that the value God sees in His creation, including ravens and lilies, reminds us how much more valuable we are as women." And so, taking from that verse, they founded Raven + Lily, a fair trade brand that works directly with impoverished women in North India and Ethiopia. "We take items that have been discarded and help women who have been discarded," Kirsten shared. "With them, we are able to present beautiful pieces (necklaces, bracelets, earrings and journals). And these things are even more beautiful because each modern, organic design reflects the beauty and the culture of the woman who made it."
- 70% of the world’s poorest people are women.
- 2/3 of those who cannot read or write are women.
- At least 2 million girls per year are at risk of under going Female Genital Mutilation.
- AIDS is becoming a women’s disease with women increasingly bearing the brunt of the epidemic.
- 80% of refugees & trafficking victims are women.
- 100 million girls are expected to enter forced marriages in the next decade.
"We are intentionally focused on creating sustainable economic opportunities for marginalized women," Kirsten asserted. "We support women's empowerment programs that comply with fair trade standards to ensure that the women are valued and rewarded for their work. We believe in training the women to create high quality, modern designs that reflect their beauty and culture. We desire all of our artisans to work in a safe and healthy environment...And we are dedicated to returning proceeds to our partner communities to fund educations, healthcare, and micro-loans."
The proceeds for R&L have made quite an impact in the lives of mothers in India, Ethiopia and Burundi.
- Five scholarships for girls living in the slum.
- Prenatal care for 10 young pregnant mothers from the slum.
- Funds to help provide for sanitation/toilets in the slum (improving health and dignity).
- Several school scholarships for remote village children in Himalayan Mountains.
- Funds to help start a second micro-enterprise sewing center in a remote mountain village in Northern India.
- 100 children of AIDS mothers receive school school materials and supplies.
- Food provision on Saturdays for children (and their parents) from Entoto Mountain.
- Medical assistance and supplies for 120 women with HIV/AIDS
- Food provision for 40 women for 3 months.
- Refrigerator for food/drinks at the sewing center.
- Medical assistance for HIV/AIDS patients.
- Large donation to secure new facility to house training program and new local co-op
- "Sew Good" Designated Gifts: Numerous sewing machines and sewing supply kits have been donated to women in our partnerships.
BETTERING LIVES THROUGH DESIGN
Raven + Lily form partnerships with groups of women who have learned design skills. They connect professional and independent designers from the West with the women’s empowerment programs in India/Africa to collaborate on creating high end, eco friendly collections.
The Ethiopia Collection is comprised of statement necklaces, earrings and bracelets crafted with handmade beads and charms from melted bullet casings and vintage silver coins. This collection empowers HIV-positive women in Ethiopia. "Farmers supply bead makers with artillery shells (from former war conflicts) that are found on their lands. Through traditional techniques passed down for generations, the village artisans melt these shells down to produce handmade, delicate beads. The beads go through several stages to achieve the final polished look, and then they are sent to the women at Entoto Mountain. The Entoto Mountain is a place where those suffering with HIV/AIDS (ostracized by their family and society) come because they believe there is 'holy water' that might cure them of their disease. Most women are uneducated about their disease and resort to begging in order to survive. Our partnership helps employ women from this area and also provides HIV care and educational opportunities for their whole family. These women skillfully create our exclusive jewelry designs in a loving, community environment. What was once intended for harm now brings hope and life."
The India Collection features recycled cotton papers, hand-carved wood journals, metallic leather jewelry and hand milled natural soaps. This collection empowers marginalized Muslim women in Northern India. Paper products - "Tucked beneath scalloped archways, behind the narrow streets of Northern India, printing presses stamp delicate
images on handmade, recycled paper. The cotton paper is created entirely from paper and cotton waste from the textile industry. Newspapers, cotton rags, old army tents, and denim jeans have a whole new purpose. Marginalized Muslim women from this region gain employment and sustainability for themselves and their families by crafting stationery and journals from these materials." Wood products - "Hidden away in Northern India is a village sustained by the wood working industry. By joining with local craftsmen, women are able to combine the elegance of locally sourced leather with the tradition of hand carved wood. Once repressed because of their gender and poverty, these women are now empowered to be able to care for their families and gain respect in their communities." Soap products - "Our herbal soaps are handcrafted high in the Himalayan mountains of Northern India using fresh spring water, rich spices, locally grown herbs, and soothing essential oils. Made with love using organic and natural ingredients. The artisans who craft these soaps are a minority group that faces severe poverty and discrimination. By using their talents in soap making, they are able to earn an income, dig wells, and provide better health care and education for their families. In addition to providing sustainable economic opportunities, Raven + Lily returns proceeds to fund literacy programs for women and children in this community."
EMPOWERED WOMEN AND BRIGHTER FUTURES
There are hundreds of women involved in the production of Raven + Lily designs - women in Africa and India. One woman, nicknamed "Baby," shared that because of Raven and Lily, she is happier. “The first time I was given work I thought, 'It's too hard, I can't do it,' but I tried anyway. Now I am teaching other women and it is great. I am happy to work and to help other women work. The way I work with perfection, I expect them to do the same. I feel happy that our products are being bought all over the world.” Adissalem, a woman in Ethiopia, shared that she no longer has to beg on the street. "I was born and raised in Addis Ababa. My parents were very poor and I had 5 siblings, two of which were special needs. When I was young I used to carry wood down the mountain into town to help earn money for our family. 13 years ago I found out I was HIV positive. I heard the Enototo Mountain had holy water that could heal you, so I decided to move there 6 years ago to dip in the holy water. One day while begging I saw people from the Entoto Project walk by, so I asked them what they were doing and told them I wanted to finish my education. They told me about the jewelry training program for women on the Entoto Mountain, and they invited me to join. I met a good man who also has HIV here and we are now married. We want to have a baby someday, but we don't want to be poor. My goal is to help save money so my husband can start his own business and also earn income. I see so many improvements in my life now." Through Raven + Lily, these women now have hope and their families now have brighter futures.
Another goal for Kirsten and her team is that they will be able to send the children of the mothers "to good schools where they can receive a good education." As a matter of fact, their proceeds from their sales are dedicated to help launch this new initiative. Aside from on-site purchases, Raven + Lily fans can sponsor children individually. As Kirsten shared, "Only 64 children need school scholarships, which provide for their school fees, uniforms, textbooks, school supplies, transportation to and from school, and sports clothes and shoes. Education," she insists, "is the key to a brighter future for these children, breaking the cycle of poverty." And, "If we can help the mothers, we can help their children."
As for the future, Kirsten and her team have just one thing on their mind - expansion. They have every intention of reaching more women in more countries - the next on the list, Cambodia. They also plan on adding more items to their site - purses, belts, scarves and much more. For Kirsten, Raven + Lily has become "the greatest joy in her life...Every person, every woman is valuable and uniquely created...Empowering these women to discover their full potential is amazing!" These women have become family. I have prayed with them, and they have prayed with me. The experience is amazing, irreplaceable. And the women are absolutely precious."