Meredith's Trip to Zambia!

Six years ago, I fell in love with the mission behind Clothed in Hope. I was in college studying graphic design when I heard about this little organization another girl at UofSC had started and I was immediately sold; the heart for vulnerable women, the grassroots beginning, the opportunity to make an impact in a little corner of the world...I wanted to be a part of this and (if I was being really honest) I wanted to, one day, visit Zambia and meet these amazing women who were trusting this little organization to change their lives. 

I truly believe that God heard the little unspoken desires of my heart, because I am now sitting in a coffee shop, as the CiH Creative Director, writing a blog post on my recent trip to ZAMBIA, and let me tell you (with an extreme risk of sounding cliché) it was incredible.

When we finally arrived after a grueling 24-hour journey, it all felt strangely familiar. Driving through the streets that I have seen in so many photos — dusty roads, children in school uniforms, little shops with hand-painted signs — this was the Ng'ombe I had imagined. What I didn't expect were the tears that came streaming down my face as we pulled up to the gates of the Chikondi Community Center. It was in this moment that everything hit me...

THIS. IS. REAL.

All these years I had known of this place, known of the people who lived here, known of our skills-training program. But in a single moment the reality of these things came flooding in — all of my knowledge came ALIVE! 

Through the gates, we were welcomed with singing, dancing, hugs and prayers from our staff and students.

After our first day — which was full of happy tears, introductions and planning — Kathy asked me what I thought of the center. Thinking back on this day, it feels a little like a dream. Everything was just as it seems from almost 8,000 miles away. I kept finding myself wanting to take photos in front of different things as if I was visiting a famous landmark. Every time I saw a familiar face, I felt like I was spotting a celebrity. I was hugging the necks of the women whose stories I have read over and over — it was the most surreal experience I have had to date. 

 Cooking with "Chef Maggie" (Margret) is one of my favorite memories from the trip. 

Cooking with "Chef Maggie" (Margret) is one of my favorite memories from the trip. 

 In a few meaningful, soft-spoken words, Margret shared her gratitude for her job on staff and what it means for her family. 

In a few meaningful, soft-spoken words, Margret shared her gratitude for her job on staff and what it means for her family. 

 Nshima, chibwabwa (a pumpkin leaf stew), and chicken for lunch with the staff!

Nshima, chibwabwa (a pumpkin leaf stew), and chicken for lunch with the staff!

We only had five short days in Zambia, spending a bit of time at each of our locations (besides the Muchochoma Village location, which we didn't have time to visit this trip). We also paid a visit to the market to select fabric for ALL of this year's HOPE Club Champion and Limited Release products. Busy with local shoppers (and pick-pockets, I was warned), the market street was lined with shop after little shop, filled with neatly folded fabrics and practically anything else you might happen to be looking for. I was overwhelmed in the best way hunting down the prints our producers would use to create our next products. I am so excited for you guys to see what we found, but until then, here's a photo of me in heaven...

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By far, the most remarkable day was GRADUATION DAY! Kathy and I arrived on Wednesday morning to students and staff buzzing around the center as they prepared for the big day. Just minutes before the ceremony began, Fridah (our lead sewing instructor) handed me a folded outfit and said with a smile, "Put it on now." She and some of our other staff members (without taking a single measurement) had made me a gorgeous outfit to wear that day! Now, I can not stress to you enough how BUSY this week had been since we arrived, but these women took extra time out of their day to make me a gorgeous two-piece dress. I will truly cherish it forever!

 Elina (In-Country Director), Jessy (Micro-Loan Coordinator), Emeli (Asst. Director), Fridah (Lead Sewing Instructor), and myself in my gorgeous outfit!

Elina (In-Country Director), Jessy (Micro-Loan Coordinator), Emeli (Asst. Director), Fridah (Lead Sewing Instructor), and myself in my gorgeous outfit!

If I had to sum graduation day up in one word it would be JOYFUL! To see all of our students gathered in one place, donning their handmade outfits, laughing with their friends and family, their children by their sides, I just kept thinking, "What an honor."

I, coming from so far away and having only met these women a few days ago, was invited to take part in a day that would likely change these women's lives forever. I was able to hand these ladies (and one gentleman), a diploma that tells the world, "I have a skill. I am capable. I am worthy." Again, I found myself in a moment that could have felt like a dream, only the JOY, and the tears, and the HOPE were all too real! 

Over and over again, the story we heard was, "Before, I didn't have any skills. Now, I have a SKILL. I can do something." What may seem like a simple sewing and business/entrepreneurship course is, for our students, the key to a better life. For themselves. For their children. And this is something to CELEBRATE!

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This was a happy day. These are women empowered. Our staff is a group of people who love deeply. And this little corner of the world is being changed because of these things, and because of people like YOU who believe in us. But more notable than any of this is something that became real during this short and busy week — these are women of FAITH. 

My time in Zambia has changed me. It has changed the way I work. Working for a nonprofit can be challenging; we all work outside of our wheelhouses, within tight budgets, and without knowledge of the future to some extent. But I can now say that I've FELT it. I've SEEN it. I've HEARD it. I have experienced our vision playing out in real time, and that is invaluable. If you're still with me, thank you for taking the time time out of your day to read this. If you're a donor, please know that your sacrifice — big or small — is truly changing lives. And if you're not a donor, I hope that you'll join us in this amazing, humbling work. 

Zikomo (Thank You),

Meredith