3 Years of HOPE

Exactly three years ago today, Clothed in Hope became an official nonprofit organization in the States. As I look around at all we are today, I pause to reflect on how it all began. I’d love to tell a little story I actually haven’t told to too many, a story of risk and a story of joy. The story of our beginning.

The fall of 2010 was my junior year of college at the University of South Carolina. I returned from a short-term trip to Zambia that July, and it weighed heavily on my heart ever since. Before going to Zambia, my plan was mapped out. If we’re being honest here, it was probably even mapped out in high school. I was to be a fashion journalist for a major fashion magazine or a buyer for a label in NYC. Everything I did supported my resume for this path- clubs, jobs, leadership positions, the list goes on. Until I decided to check “Go to Africa” off my life bucket list, I most certainly never even thought about nonprofit organizations, much less starting one.

I was burdened by the needs I saw, the faces I remembered, the oppression I witnessed. I felt something had to be done, though I knew the problems were much deeper than the surface issues. But this completely contradicted my path. I saw opportunity in empowering vulnerable women to better their families, to combat the orphan crisis preventatively and develop entire communities. My eyes were opened to how my skill, my passion, could play a role in this women’s empowerment and community development idea. I began to feel that my passions were possibly given to me for a greater cause. But it wasn’t that simple.

Throughout the fall, I really struggled. I was afraid of the truth I was feeling inside of me. I was afraid to step outside my plan, to entertain the idea of a different path. What would people think? How could it even work? How could I, just one person, take this on? What about my comfortable life? Won’t I be broke? These questions seem a bit ridiculous, possibly, but they were very real.

I brainstormed both sides. Comparing and contrasting was done. I daydreamed names for this imaginary nonprofit organization, how it would work, what we would do. I talked my friends’ ears off about possibilities (bless them). And other days I would retract it all and browse internships in NYC. But the more I dove into this scary unknown of a mystery nonprofit, the more I realized I had arrived at a new place.

A crossroads.

Fast forward to January 2011. A passion inside I just couldn’t shake. So I looked both ways at the crossroads and I had to make a choice.

Neither path would’ve been wrong. There’s purpose in every single career. But I knew the inclinations of my heart towards materialism and self-focus, and I knew my own convictions between the two decisions. Whenever I thought about, researched, spoke about the possibility of getting to be a part of women’s stories in Zambia, my heart raced and I got a glimpse of how joy fuels the risk.

I wish I could say that lightning struck and I made my life-altering decision, but it didn’t happen like that.

I was sitting at my desk in my college apartment in Columbia, SC. I was scribbling logo and name ideas, daydreaming yet again. But this day was different. It was time to make a choice, not because I had some hallelujah moment, but because it was time to pick. With no fireworks or drumrolls, I quietly took a leap, said yes to the massive risk, and exchanged my what-ifs for reality. I decided, with my roommate hanging out in my room, to voice the words to her, “I’m going to do this.”

And in that moment it all changed. Not my circumstances or the difficulties and intricacies ahead. But my heart. I was freed from the expectations placed by my peers and myself. I couldn’t fully chase the risk and the dream with my foot in another place. I said goodbye to my NYC plan, and that was it. I walked out of my room that night without a paper to prove my plan, without a single dime of funding, but with a heart full of assurance that though the path was going to be most challenging and most risky, it would also be accompanied by the fullest of joy.

Today I look back and remember those feelings of fear of the unknown. But I remember what I told myself to combat those feelings- “You will never know if you don’t try.” And I told my fear that faith is greater.

Clothed in Hope could’ve tanked before we even launched in-country. I am so very glad that wasn’t the case, and it has everything to do with huge helpings of grace and mercy through every single step.

Dreams in a college apartment have turned into a skills training program for 35 vulnerable women in Zambia. Three years of HOPE. And it’s my greatest joy to announce that yesterday we launched our third training class to place us at that incredible number.

We went from a class of 6, threading needles in Elina’s living room, to form our first official class of 11 with a local tailor as the sewing instructor, to initiating a partnership with an impoverished village to give back to 12 women there, to welcoming a second class of 10 new faces in April of 2013, to launching this third group of 14 women as the very first class prepares for graduation in just a couple of weeks.

I looked around today and just about exploded, thinking back to another what-if. What if I didn’t take the risk? What if I settled for my dreams of a comfortable life? Life would still be great, but it would be oh-so-very different. Today I am thankful for that college apartment, and for the One who met me there to take me by the hand for life’s greatest adventure.

To the ladies of the Chikondi Community Center, thank you for letting me into your lives. Thank you for opening my eyes to true joy, true vulnerability, true community. Thank you for challenging my worldview and for teaching more than I could ever imagine teaching you. I will never understand how I became so blessed to know each one of you. You are truly lights in your communities, a force against oppression, and a beacon of HOPE in a dark world. Zikomo Kwambiri, with all my heart.

So, CiH family and supporters, thank YOU for 3 incredible years, for impacting the lives of 35 (and so many more!), and for joining us on this adventure. Thank you for dreaming big with us, for taking risks, believing in the power of HOPE to change lives. Thank you for choosing to be world changers, where you are, with what you have. We couldn’t have even made it a year without y’all, and it’s nothing short of pure joy to celebrate three incredible years today.

Here’s to many, many more.

With the fullest heart, Amy