Community-Owned and Sustainable

When setting up an African nonprofit from the US, there are always things you hope for but just may not be possible. There are things that happen that you didn’t see coming. But there is such joy in the moments where things go exactly as planned, as wished for, for the good of the organization and every person it impacts. This week brought one of those moments. In order for a nonprofit like ours to really thrive and be of great benefit to the people of Zambia, it must be community-owned and it must be sustainable. We’re not the crutch they lean on, we’re the fuel to launch them towards empowerment and ownership of CiH in Zambia, for truly lasting impacts in their communities and in their families. It’s not the easy way to do things, but it’s the way that’s worth it. For some this takes years to establish. For some it never really happens.

For us, we are thankful. The ten women of CiH excitedly proclaim, “I am a fashion designer!” as they create beautiful, handmade, high-quality bracelets, and now headbands, from their own designs. The women show up before class is scheduled to begin, and leave hours after it is supposed to end, breaking the notion that everyone here runs off of “African” time. When I asked them if they’re enjoying the program the replied, “why else would we stay for hours after?” And this isn’t just something that launched quickly but will quickly fade. We’re just getting started.

One day this week, the women all spoke Nyanja to each other, discussing something I couldn’t quite understand with my few-word Nyanja vocabulary. After they were finished though, they told me that they all just decided that CiH must be a group thing. They all must help each other, encourage each other, challenge each other to be the best they can be. They all are committed to the success of one other, and no one person will receive more benefit than another. They’ll all receive the benefit together through the hard work they contribute as a group. They value the friendship of one another and delight in learning, creating, and sharing life with each other. This just sends waves of joy throughout every fiber of CiH. What we hoped for, what we dreamt, is a reality. These ten women take ownership of their skill as a group, and they see the future as opportunity to thrive. They enjoy hope.

Perhaps the most exciting moment up to this point was one I didn’t quite plan for, one that exceeded my highest expectation of the whole community-owned thing. I’ve been planning on training a leader here to fully take over CiH when I’m in the States, one who’s passionate about the women of Ng’ombe, one who’s trustworthy, dedicated and committed. I had ideas but I thought the one woman would only be decided upon my leaving Zambia in October. Boy was I wrong. Elina walked me out on Tuesday afternoon and handed me a piece of paper. Written on it was a list of 13 guidelines for the group to follow so that they can further succeed in their learning, design and production. Elina also told me to take 2 days a week to work on the business-side of things because she’s got it covered. She’ll take care of what needs to happen. Mondays and Wednesdays are all hers, and it’s a win-win for everyone involved. How incredible is this?!

Sooner than expected, thankful, and full of joy, I am proud to tell you all that Clothed in Hope is sustainable. Clothed in Hope is community-owned. Together, we’re equipping and empowering Zambians to improve the lives of Zambians, the best possible way to see development and change better this nation.

Great and exciting things are happening here. Will you join us? We’d love your help.

With Chikondi, Amy