Orphan Prevention: One Stitch at a Time

Back in 2010, I was a rising junior at the University of South Carolina, studying Fashion Merchandising. I went on this little 6-week trip to Zambia with 21 other college students to experience life in Zambia and invest in existing projects at universities and an orphanage in the Ng’ombe compound. To me, it was just another life experience- something to do before I graduated while I still “had the time” and while I was “still young.” Little did I know, that trip would open my eyes and create a stirring in my heart that has yet to cease. I met some amazing people who impacted my worldview and my faith. af

On the weekends we went to an orphanage. The little kids we played games with were adorable. They were joyful, they were full of life, they were curious, just like any other little tot is. But their eyes told a deeper story- a story of pain, neglect, rejection that no child should have to endure.


These children were orphans. Some of them had to endure the death of their mothers and fathers. Some of them were removed from their homes due to abusive situations. But most of them and many of the orphans in Zambia became orphans simply because their mothers and fathers could not afford to feed them. Can you imagine the pain? I’m not even a parent, but the thought of what a mother must feel when she’s forced to give up her child, her baby who she carried and loves so deeply, because of poverty, injustices and systems greater than she can conquer, seems unbearable. The moms of these children long to rock their babies to sleep. These moms want to make their kids laugh, feel safe, be provided for, just like every other mom. But due to financial hardship, the evil and confusing thing called poverty, she has to give up her baby. She has to release her own child to someone else who is able to feed him, to clothe him, to care for him when he’s sick, to provide for him.

As a 20-year-old seeing these babes run around cared for, able to laugh and have fun, was a thrilling thing. But as I looked in the distance, other mamas were watching. Maybe the baby I was holding was hers. Maybe the child who was getting his boo-boo attended to by an orphanage director belonged to another woman watching from afar.

Can you imagine?

Mothers of orphans like these, social orphans, have the same intense desire to mother their child that every other mother possesses. She was not abusive to her child. Her home environment was stable. But she could not feed her child. She could not provide him with the medicine he needed to fight his TB, HIV, meningitis, malaria, etc. So she did the most courageous, selfless, excruciating, painful, loving thing- she gave her baby to someone who could care for him in a way that she was not able to due to poverty, and poverty alone.

Can you imagine?

My heart in 2010 was rocked by the orphan crisis in Zambia. It simply shouldn’t be. Loving, stable, caring mothers shouldn’t have to give up their babies to be raised in a home without them. But they do, because this world is broken and hurting, and poverty is much bigger than a handout or a band-aid.

That writhing pain deep down in my soul, the intense sympathy for women I had yet to meet, kept me up at night. It wrecked me. It wrecked my plans. And it created in me a responsibility in my soul that I couldn’t ignore. It was time for someone to stand up for the mamas who want to keep their families together, but financially can’t. It was time for someone to tell that mama that she is worth it. That she is enough. That she is loveable. That she is loved.

And with a lot of thinking, praying, a huge leap, and a big dose of crazy, Clothed in Hope was formed. Equipping and empowering mothers to care for their families, to keep families together, to approach the orphan crisis from a preventative measure.


For years since, I dreamed of a local partnership with an orphanage to make this impact even deeper, even wider-reaching. But how? When I’m just one person, how could this be possible?

And then I got a phone call on an average day in October. One that came about 5 years earlier than I ever expected. From the House of Moses orphanage run by the Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia (CACZ). This orphanage is incredible, y’all. They care for babies and toddlers who have been identified as vulnerable children by the social welfare offices in Zambia. But their mission isn’t just to take children and get them adopted. Their heart is to preserve families in Zambia. They have identified the biggest cause of the orphan crisis in Zambia: child abandonment due to poverty. The solution? Poverty reduction- Women’s empowerment.

CACZ is already taking steps to intervene before mothers have their babies taken away. They run the Milk and Medicine program, offering emergency assistance to provide food to babies whose mothers cannot afford to feed them. But they recognize that these handouts are neither sustainable nor beneficial in the long-term.

Enter: Clothed in Hope! CACZ recognizes that independence and empowerment are the keys to preventing social orphans in Zambia. And they chose to partner with us to train the mothers in this vulnerable place.

Without such assistance and educational programming, mothers would have to give up their babies. Staying in an incredibly impoverished home environment would mean that babies would suffer from malnutrition, stunting, and disease, even death.

We are getting to play a vital role partnering with House of Moses orphanage. We are combatting the orphan crisis from a preventative angle. We are empowering mothers with a profitable skill so that their families don’t have to be separated, so that the child they adore can stay at home, be fed, and receive quality schooling.

This is HUGE, friends. The 5-10-20 year plan was to get to be involved directly in orphan prevention in Zambia through a local partnership. And bam! We have been hit with a tidal wave of grace to be blessed with this partnership with an organization that we respect and admire.


Fifteen ladies from House of Moses’ Milk & Medicine program, identified as the most vulnerable women in their communities, at risk of having their babies taken away, are joining our program in two short weeks. We are so excited! We are so humbled. We are so honored. And we are beyond grateful to get to play a role in the worldwide orphan crisis through our women’s empowerment program.

Thank you for joining this journey with us! Rejoice with us, celebrate with us! Huge things are happening, all thanks to each one of you who are partnering with us financially. Y’all are truly breaking the cycle of poverty, one stitch at a time, for the benefit of mamas, their dearest little ones, and entire families.

With Love, Amy Founder & Executive Director

A Heartbreaking Loss

We always knew this day would come. But somehow that doesn’t make it any easier. We know that we can’t change entire systems with our program. We know we can’t fix the life expectancy of an entire nation that hovers just around 50 years. But we do know that we can enter into these hardships, these difficult realities, and make a difference despite the rest of it. It’s that realization to which we cling with the current reality we’re facing.

Over the weekend when many of us enjoyed just another ordinary couple of days, one of the ladies in our program faced an intensely difficult day. One of the very first ladies to join our program in 2012 and one of our greatest graduate leaders now, Jessy, lost her son to a battle with HIV/AIDS on Saturday. His name was Austine and he was only 25 years old.

In a country where I see posters of HIV prevention, hear it mentioned in passing at many different places, I don’t think the magnitude of the epidemic really hit me until I dug deeper. More than one in every seven adults is living with HIV, totaling over 1.1 million people infected in the country (avert.org). These statistics are staggering, with effects far beyond numbers.

But even more staggering is the effect on Jessy. A mom who had to bury her son today. A son who died entirely too soon at the very age I am right now. A void in the family that cannot be filled. An injustice in the world played out on a very personal level. Our hearts break and feel for Jessy. I’m not a parent, so I can’t even imagine the emotions she is going through this season. But I am so beyond thankful that there are 53 mamas who can sympathize, even empathize with her.

Because of the community of strangers turned friends at the Chikondi Community Center, Jessy is not alone. Today she stands held up by her Clothed in Hope family. We cry with her. We mourn with her. We endure with her. We anger with her over the injustices of this world that take her son entirely too soon. We break with her. We take care of her, feed her family, sit in silence with her, be with her. Because that’s what family does. And each one of us, staff and graduates and “students” alike, would agree with that. We were created for community and we have been blessed by an incredible one.

So to the rest of our CiH family, you all, please join us with your thoughts and prayers for Jessy, her husband, her children, and the rest of her family as they walk through this difficult, unfathomable season. Thank you for being our family, our community, our support.


With Heartbreak & Chikondi, Amy

Thankful + Sale Preview

This Thanksgiving holiday, we pause all else to reflect over all we have to be thankful for. Every day we are able to continue our programs in Zambia fills our hearts with joy and gratitude, but we know we don't always say it. The day-to-day passes, classes are completed, women graduate and start their own businesses, and lives are changed. And it's during this holiday that we get to stop to really say thank you. So to all of you who partner financially with us, who encourage us, who spread the word, who host trunk shows and fundraising events, and who support us along this journey of HOPE, thank you. Thank you for making this possible. Thank you for stepping out to make a difference in the lives of Zambian women through your generosity, sacrifice, and empathy. Thank you for joining us in writing stories greater than ourselves. Thank you for being the little lights all over the world that create a beacon of hope in difficult places. We couldn't do what we do without you, so this Thanksgiving and every day, we want you to know that we are immensely grateful for you. May you be blessed and filled with the hope you enable others to experience. And to celebrate how great y'all are and how grateful we are for you, we're sharing a little Sale Preview for our 4 one-day-only sales coming up this weekend. We hope y'all will enjoy a little "thank you" and choose to give purposefully this Christmas through the purchase of Zambian designed & produced items benefitting vulnerable families and giving hope to many. Without further adieu, here's a sneak peek at these holiday treats:




[use code: APRONSALE on Friday until midnight EST]



Enjoy this NEW bangle as a special collaboration between us & Shine Project. [Brass bangle $10 off Saturday until midnight EST with code: BANGLEBASH]



[use code: TOTESMONDAY on Monday until midnight EST]



EVERY donation over $20 will receive a free Signature "LOVE" T-shirt, valued at $15 Offer valid Tuesday only, until midnight EST, via www.clothedinhope.org/give

One Class Saved a Life

We’re constantly encouraged to hear that our program is truly making an impact in the lives of Zambian women and their families. And we continue to be surprised at just how far-reaching those impacts are. So we want to share one of these stories with you, a story of how one 2-hour class can save a life.

Patricia is a recent graduate of our program. She’s in her young 30s, has a growing family, and has carried her youngest son, Mwila (9 months old), on her back every single day that she has come to the Chikondi Community Center. Although she graduated in September, we still get to see this gorgeous duo 2-3 times a week as Patricia is a very talented designer/tailor working on projects for CiH customers and personal clients. Patricia has never missed a Monday. Mondays are our product workshop days when women bring in their personal designs, we purchase them to sell later, and all work together to dream up new designs and products.

But this Monday Patricia didn’t come. Not at 10am when we started, not at 11am, and not even by the afternoon when we wrapped it all up. Perhaps she had to attend a funeral last minute, a sad reality with life here. Or perhaps she just got caught up doing something else.

Then Tuesday arrives and Patricia is here. Though she looks sad, distraught, tired. Mwila is tied on her back, head tucked down and asleep. Patricia asks to see me alone in the office. She then explains that Mwila is very sick with malaria. He’s spiked a very high fever, and as I feel his soft skin, I run my fingers over the bite bumps on his legs and the sweat droplets along his hairline. His eyes are open but he doesn’t even flinch when I touch him.

Patricia tells me that she is going to the clinic tomorrow. And admittedly I become worried, afraid that Mwila doesn’t have until tomorrow according to the timeline she’s presenting to me, with Mwila symptomatic since Friday. My heart hurts for her as I see the fear in her eyes. Her young baby, suffering greatly from this disease that has taken lives of many, even of family members of some of my closest friends.

So together we must discuss a plan. Patricia knows I’m not a doctor (though many times I wish I was or had one nearby). Patricia is confiding in me, not as some savior of Mwila’s malaria, since we both know that I’m quite ill-equipped and of malaria’s unpredictability and threat to a 9-month-old, but she comes to me as a friend. Someone to feel with her. Someone to encourage her. Someone to know.

Patricia shares that the clinic is closed now. Mwila can’t be seen today. And after we fumble around words trying to communicate with each other, I remember a very important detail. The word for “tomorrow” is the same word in Nyanja as “yesterday.” In the confusion and emotion, Patricia accidentally said tomorrow, but really it was yesterday. That’s where she was. On her own, she took Mwila to the clinic within the crucial time window of treatment before a very high risk of death. On her own, she sat in front of the compound clinic doctor and demanded a malaria blood test- a procedure that surprisingly isn’t always done to arrive at a malaria diagnosis. On her own, she instructed the doctor to examine further and to prescribe all medicines to treat Mwila’s confirmed malaria case. On her own, she purchased every single medicine he needed, thanks to the CiH product sales she benefits from.

And she did all of this on her own, because she’s loaded with the knowledge. She knows the symptoms of malaria. She knows the appropriate treatment and time window to catch it. She knows that the drugs are dangerous without the actual disease. She knows that she has the ability to ask questions and to make requests in the clinic.

All because she sat for one class at our Chikondi Community Center when we taught about malaria. With Mwila on her back, crying to be fed, playing with her pen, distractions plenty, Patricia listened to the lesson, she learned, and she became empowered with that knowledge of malaria. Knowledge that this week has saved Mwila’s life.

I saw Patricia today. She strolled through the gate at our center with Mwila on her back, his head raised, eyes alert. His forehead and stomach were cool to the touch. His body re-strengthened. And Patricia wasn’t far off from being exactly the same. Her head was held high. Her face relaxed, and a smile even spread across it. Her soul re-strengthened.

So together we rejoiced in the gifts of knowledge and grace that have saved her baby boy. Patricia pulled me aside, looked me square in the eye, and said, “I was scared. Really scared.” Her son almost died. Malaria is real, and a killer of way too many. But today Mwila is alive, his mama is relieved and encouraged, and all of us are celebrating his precious life along with her.

The education we provide for women at the Chikondi Community Center may seem basic or like a simple Wikipedia find to some of us, but to the rest of us, it is life-giving, life-saving, and empowering.

Today Mwila is alive and we rejoice in that. We cannot wait for the day that Patricia gets to share this story with her son, as he will surely learn to value education and live in the light of grace, just as his mama did when she helped to save his little life.

Thank you for making this life-change possible. Thank you for impacting mamas to impact so many others, even the little ones that join them every single day at our center. Your contribution makes you a part of this, and we are all so very grateful.

With Chikondi, Amy

Her First Graduation

Graduation day. A day most of us remember to be joyful, significant, even life-changing. Graduation from college marks the beginning of a new career and adventure. Graduation from high school gives way to the excitement of the grown-up world out there. Graduation from Kindergarten probably just meant new crayons and shiny shoes, but to our parents it signified a new chapter of growing up and learning the hard way. Since I spent the first 22 years of my life in America, I can only speak knowing that context best, but I’m sure this occurrence happens many other places around the world. Graduations have become a common thing, for me, for my peers and neighbors. Sure, the school graduations are a big deal. We work hard for them and celebrate them hugely. But we also attend other “graduations” that seem to minimize the greatness of the word, like from puppy training class (not judging, I’ve totally been there), from VBS, from social clubs, from sports leagues. Even if it’s not a “graduation” we seem to group the phasing out, moving up event together with this notion.

So when I attended the first graduation ceremony of the ladies at the Chikondi Community Center, I went in with this belief- it was just another “graduation” ceremony. Yes, we should celebrate. Yes, we danced, we ate, we laughed, we made it a big deal. But only at our second graduation ceremony, the one just one month ago, did I realize that I was hugely underestimating the power of this party.

Graduation: the ceremony of a student receiving a diploma or degree upon completing a course of study. There’s a lot of goodness in there. The student has completed a course of study. She’s tested. She’s studied. She’s completed final exams. And she has passed. She has achieved the goal. She has earned the diploma.

And specifically for us at the Chikondi Community Center, she stuck with it, she endured oppression, she overcame obstacles, she persevered, she sewed with a baby on her back for 12 months, she tried new things, she worked diligently, she chose a more difficult path, and she accomplished her goal.

Graduation for our ladies is a BIG deal. We celebrate their accomplishments that pierce through the despair and oppression that many of them face on a daily basis. We recognize them for the brilliant, brave, creative women that they are. And for many of them, this is the first recognition of their entire lives.

Many of them have not been able to receive a secondary school diploma. Some of them did not even have the luxury of completing primary school. All of them are responsible for their families first and foremost, and have sacrificed greatly for those they love, even to the point of sacrificing their chance at an education. Food for their siblings after a parent dies is first in their mind. Their dreams take last place as they live each day for the sake of others.

But as life goes on and opportunities arise, women of the Ng’ombe compound decide to take a new step. A step toward achieving their dreams so that they can benefit their families in a greater, more significant way. No longer will children have to beg for money. No longer will mothers have to wonder where the rent money will come from. No longer will the voices that speak words of hatred, of insignificance, of degradation be heard. These graduates, these women, have risen above. They have recognized their worth, their value, their place, their ability, through a 12-month program, and this is the start of something new. This is the start of a confident, proud, independent, self-sustaining, hope-filled life.

And that is worth celebrating.

When we dance, we do so celebrating victory in spite of darkness. When we sing, we do so celebrating hope greater than fear. When we laugh, we do so celebrating a joy that cannot be silenced or shaken. And when we hand that paper to a graduate, we do so celebrating her bravery, her endurance, her steadfastness to accomplish something so great, so huge for herself, her children, and generations to come.

So celebrate with us, friends! Celebrate with the graduates of the Chikondi Community Center who have been recognized for the accomplishments, some for the very first time in their life. The photos we take and hand out to each graduate are photos that are cherished deeply and evidence of how HOPE can truly change lives, one stitch at a time. Thank you for helping to make all of this possible.

With Chikondi (Love),


Yvonne with the completed garments from her final examinations



Patricia and son, Mwila, in custom matching outfits made by Patricia


All 4 of our September 2014 graduates: Patricia, Yvonne, Anastasia, and Maureen (with Regina)


Chicken Run: CiH Chicken Farming Initiative

Well, our income-generation programming has officially evolved to the next level.  Bright and early (this) Friday morning, we drove to the chicken store and brought home 51 of our newest friends.  That’s right, 51, because if you buy 50 chicks, you get 1 free.  What a deal.  Seriously, though, they’re really fun and we’re excited to have them. The whole reason we decided to start a chicken project was for small-scale income generation for Clothed in Hope.  Basically, we’ll raise the infant chicks (who are 1 day old) and gradually sell off the extra chickens until we have 10 remaining… because we only have room for 10 full-grown egg-laying hens. We ended up with 51 because the smallest quantity available to buy is 50.  So if any of you readers know anyone in Lusaka, Zambia who’d like 40 baby hens, we’ve got them and we’ll sell them for cheap—we’ll even raise them until they have feathers.

Once the “layers” get older, the Chikondi women will sell the fresh Chikondi eggs to help fund the Clothed in Hope programs in Lusaka, and give them more experience with running a small business.   We’re excited (especially Farmer Wyatt) and we can’t wait to begin this new income-generating project.

Don’t worry, everyone, we did our research and took intensive training classes from Google University and from urban chicken-raising extraordinaires, Landon & Jordan Thompson of Columbia, SC, who recently came to volunteer with us in July. Our caretakers, Eddie and James, are also pretty excited to try their hand at chicken farming as a caretaker resume-booster.

Big thanks the group from Midtown Fellowship who visited us and gave us the seed money to launch this new initiative. We can’t wait to connect with even more people in the Ng’ombe community through our chick and egg sales, and look forward to the chicken-farming journey to come.

Warm Regards, Wyatt Zambia Operations Director

Yvonne, the Entrepreneur

Yesterday I arrived at the Chikondi Community Center a bit earlier than usual. The sewing room was empty, the morning air cool. I was headed to the office to sort a bit in preparation for the day’s product workshop ahead, but right as I turned away from the sewing room, I heard one of the ladies, Yvonne, call my name. “Amy!” she exclaimed with a huge smile on her face, toddler strapped to her back with her sewing materials in hand. She went on, “My business is doing very good!” I thought that tidbit was enough to warm my soul on a cool Monday, especially since I’ve come to realize that it takes quite a lot for women to open up to me about their daily lives- a cultural norm. Women are encouraged to just go with the flow and keep their opinions to themselves. But I lingered for another minute to see if Yvonne wanted to share more. And she did.

“It is because of the business plan! I now know how to make a profit!” She goes on to tell me how she’s growing her business because of her microloan and her business education classes. She used the capital to build a small shop outside her home. With an incredible joy across her face she tells me what she’s selling there- sugar, sweeties (candies), charcoal, even bubblegum! She built her stand with her own hands, put to practice what she learned, and is reaping the reward of a successful business.

So naturally I wondered, what is she doing with the profits? The true test to see if the 6-hour seminar I taught last week made a lasting difference (because admittedly, I returned home feeling like I failed to communicate much of anything).

And I was bursting at the seams with her response. She invested profits back into her business and purchased materials to start a popular popcorn business at her stand. She’s diversifying her product offerings based on what her target customer wants. How incredible!

Yvonne grew up in some difficult circumstances, which prevented her from completing a secondary education. But she didn’t let that be the end of her story. She taught herself English, and how to read and write. And she’s soared in our skills training class as a passionate and skilled designer, seamstress, and now entrepreneur. Yvonne is writing a new story for herself and her family through our program, and we are so inspired by her.

Zambia may be full of obstacles and setbacks, especially for vulnerable women and children, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Opportunity is knocking. People are capable and eager. And education truly is a weapon that can be used to change the world, one stitch at a time.

Thanks for joining us. You are making a difference. With Chikondi, Amy

Microloan Program Launch

It is with great excitement that we announce the launch of our Microloan Program this month! Planning for this program began a year ago after a meeting with a microloan start-up based out of the US. They wanted to collaborate with us to issue microloans to dedicated applicants to further equip them with the tools needed to overcome poverty and oppression. After months of communicating, we received the exciting news that this organization, Oasis Microfinance, would be 100% funding a microloan program for Clothed in Hope. Overjoyed and overwhelmed, we did our research to ensure the success of this program, new to all of us.

We have created a Microloan Program that fits into the local culture and practices. A group of 10 women will be issued loans upon the acceptance of their application, presenting their business plan and profitability analysis to our Microloan Committee. These women will attend business and finance workshops to ensure that the capital gained from the loan is most effectively utilized to truly launch a new business or take an existing business to the next level of profitability. Women from our Loan Committee will also be making routine home visits to see the business in practice, to encourage loan recipients, and to address any needs that arise. Loans will be revolving, accessible to new applicants upon the repayment of previous loans, hoping to cycle through every 6 months.

Apart from the financial benefit of having access to greater capital to purchase assets, bulk materials, etc., we believe that our Microloan Program will further engrain self-sustainability, empowerment, self-confidence, security, societal and family status, purpose, and respect in the lives of the recipients as they are also walking through our Life-skills Training Program.

Coupled with education in sewing and entrepreneurship, this financial opportunity will benefit families in both the present and future, as children learn healthy business practices from their mothers to impact generations to come.

Here in Zambia, traditional lending companies have been known to charge upwards at 40% interest on microloans for impoverished and illiterate people, who lack assets, capital, steady employment and therefore, banking opportunities. We want to counteract that oppression that only keeps poverty recirculating in the lives of the vulnerable. Studies show that when a woman generates her own income, she is likely to re-invest 90% of it into her family and her community. We already know that the women in our skills training program are positively impacting their families and communities, but this Loan Program will just further assert that benefit.

Microloans are only one tool in the complicated solution to poverty. Money doesn’t fix poverty, and we get that. We are simply giving the vulnerable access to capital they wouldn’t otherwise be able to acquire due to their societal position. We are partnering this financial benefit with our other strategies of education in sewing, business, and health for increased impact and sustainable community benefit.

We are excited to see applications come to life as women dream and plan to open boutiques to sell handmade garments, bakeries, grocery stands, even community schools, all with the mindset of doing so to benefit their families and their communities. We feel this Microloan Program has the ability to apply the education we offer through our program in the greatest, most sustainable and effective way.

We look forward to sharing stories along the way as we dive into this world of microloans, and are glad to have you along for the ride.

With Chikondi (Love), Amy, Founder & Executive Director

Graduation Day

This past Saturday was International Women’s Day and what better way to celebrate than to have a graduation ceremony for our first group of women to take part in our skills training program? It was truly the best day.

We’ve known this group of ladies almost two years now, and are so grateful to witness their growth into confident, talented, hope-filled designers, seamstresses, mamas, friends, and community leaders. They all started out threading needles in one room of Elina’s home, and now are making dresses without patterns for personal clients in their communities. These women are empowered. They have bettered their families through the education they’ve taken to heart and the skills they’ve sharpened.

And we could not be prouder of each of the 9 women who received certificates at our skills training program.

Each of these women have pushed beyond hardship and oppression to hold onto hope, and are now being launched into their communities to share that hope with others. They are equipped for success and we cannot wait to see how the next chapter unfolds. They will still have a home at our Chikondi Community Center, able to use our facilities for their personal businesses and take part in our income-generating projects. But now these women are the leaders, the vision-casters, the teachers, the entrepreneurs.

We wanted to share a part of the speech which was given at our graduation ceremony, specifically to the first graduating class of Clothed in Hope, but also to the two other training classes and Muchochoma Village ladies who came to support their friends and mentors.

“Statistics show that when you empower a woman, you empower her village, her family, her community, her nation, and even future generations.

You hold the key to restoring the dignity and rights of women in this nation. You are a world changer. Your life matters greatly.

The question now- what will you choose to do with that key?

I believe in you. God believes in you. You are capable of great things with the knowledge and hope you now hold. We are so proud of each and every one of you. Instead of saying goodbye, this is just the beginning. And we cannot wait to see what is next for each of you.”

It was a beautiful day of reflecting back to all the hard work and sacrifice given by this first graduating class, celebrating its payoff and their great accomplishments.

Our legs are sore from dancing, our cheeks burning from smiles and laughter, and our hearts bursting with gratitude and joy.

Enjoy some photos from the big day:

(No, we didn't miss-count... Margret, the mama to newborn twins, also graduated but was unable to make it to the ceremony)

Thank you, donors, for impacting the lives of 9 women to gain the empowerment, confidence, and dignity that comes with learning a valuable skill in this culture. Thank you for giving HOPE. Thank you for helping us to write new stories.

We NEED you to join us to enable us to continue our training classes throughout 2014 and for years to come. Our dream is to graduate dozens, hundreds more from our program, launching them to be a force of hope in their communities. But we can’t do it without you. Without the commitments of monthly donations, we don’t know how many more training classes we can provide. So give today. Don’t let the joy end here. We wouldn’t be asking if we didn’t urgently need you to be a part of what we’re doing here in Zambia. Give here and be blessed: www.clothedinhope.org/give and select a monthly giving amount at the bottom to join us in giving hope.

With Chikondi and Joy, Amy

Chasing Dreams

The day before our 3-year anniversary since the founding of our organization, we began our third cycle of women to take part in our sewing and business skills training program. For the first time ever, we had to use an application process due to the overwhelming demand to be a part of what’s happening at the Chikondi Community Center. Word is spreading, and we are so grateful. Our in-country director reviewed each application to select women with the greatest need and also the greatest desire to learn the skills taught at our center for their benefit and the benefit of their families. And after quite the process, we excitedly called each of the 15 women in our newest training class to let them know of their acceptance into our program.

I, too, looked over each application to learn a little more about each story: how many children she has, why she wants to learn, what hardships she’s currently facing, etc. One woman is a widow and a mother of 9 children. She wants to learn sewing, tailoring and fashion design to start a business to support her growing children. Another woman is eager to learn so that she can impact her community. Yet another woman recognizes the all-too-real possibility of her husband someday becoming unemployed, and wants to be prepared with a trade of her own should that happen.

The desires of these women are powerful. They have great goals and big dreams. And every dream reaches beyond them to impact the lives of family members, friends and entire communities. We gladly open our arms a bit wider and our doors for hours more to educate and empower these women to be able to achieve these dreams. Women recognize the power of education in the ability to change stories and change lives, and have chosen to train with us at the Chikondi Community Center.

As I read over every application, I jotted down the ages and number of children to share with y’all to get a better idea of who the women are in our training classes:

The average number of children each woman has is 4 (and you’ll see quite a few of them on the backs of their Mamas if you come to our center). The number of children ranges from 1 to 9. The average age of women in this newest class is 36 years old. The ages range from 21 to 54 years old.

The last part is what strikes me most, what encourages me, what inspires me. With the average life expectancy hovering around 50 years old, the oldest woman in our class has already beat the odds. She’s thriving and she doesn’t stop there. Rather than remaining idle in her house, she’s chosen, after half-a-century, to get the education and training she’s desired her entire life. She’s interrupting her well-engrained life routine to receive the life skills training that will change her story.

And she’s not alone. Other women, one 43 years old with 5 children, or one 47 years old with 6 children, have realized the beauty of chasing their dreams for the benefit of others. They’re choosing this year, 2014, to push away the things that hold them back and to step out to begin a new chapter. They recognize that there is no better time than now, and we are so very blessed to be a part of this journey with them.

We look forward to sharing the stories of these ladies in the coming months, and how education really does change lives, no matter what age or chapter of life you’re in.

What’s your dream? Chase it. Reach out for it. Work hard for it. It’s never too late.

With Chikondi, Amy

P.S. In order to keep writing new stories in the lives of women in Zambia, helping them achieve their dreams, we urgently need you to be a part of it all, joining us as a faithful monthly supporter. Sign up HERE to be a part of HOPE in Zambia and know your gift is truly changing lives.

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

Let's Bake: UPDATE

Yes, it's only Tuesday. No, it's not the day we said we'd end our campaign, but we're ending it today. ...BECAUSE Y'ALL ARE AMAZING!

In just 4 hours y'all donated 251% of our goal, exactly $2,087.27. Just four hours! Y'all gave gifts ranging from $25 to $800, which further proves that together we can have a huge impact in the lives of people around the world. Look what happens when we all pitch in with what we have, investing in lives for the long-term through this program. I can't even express the humbling emotions that have washed over me the past day just in awe of it all. We are part of a MUCH bigger picture and I can't believe we all get to be a part of it.

Now $2,087.27 may not seem like a lot to some, and to others it's a fortune. And to us it's quite a fortune, a treasure. This money has well covered the cost of our Stove/Oven and Fridge/Freezer. The leftover funds have even purchased a BRAND NEW Singer Electric Sewing Machine and an Overlocking Machine/Serger!! Not to mention that we can buy as much butter and flour and sugar as our hearts desire.

You are giving life to 22 women in Zambia. Nutrition lessons, healthy lifestyles, income-generating opportunities, empowerment, education, friendship, sure-to-be laughs as we experiment and learn together, independence. I could go on and on. But I'll leave this post with 23 hearts bursting with gratitude (mine included, obviously), and a photo of our soon-to-be Top Chef: Zambia.

Even before we made the big announcement today- complete with Oatmeal Raisin cookies to sample what's to come- Margret told me, "I just love cooking. I will cook anything. It is my favorite thing to do. I really love cooking." And she said this all while cooking off a hot coil cemented onto a bucket of stones without any proper utensils or oven mitts. Needless to say, Margret is absolutely thrilled and we cannot wait to share our baking adventures with you all.

Zikomo Kwambiri (Thank you VERY much), Amy and the Chikondi ladies

We're Cooking Up Something BIG!

It’s a new week of a new year and we are so excited to invite y’all into something hugely NEW in our skills training program. Here at Clothed in Hope, we empower vulnerable women through life-skills training in sewing and business. The ladies absolutely love our program and are so grateful for it. But we’ve discovered that most of the ladies have a top-secret skill.

We have 22 Betty Crockers currently enrolled in our program. They love to cook. They love to host friends and visitors for lunch. Their desire is to one day learn how to bake and sell the goods they make.

So… we’re starting a Cooking & Baking program this month!!! The program will just be a fun and optional addition to our sewing & business training program, open to any of the ladies of CiH. They will learn how to cook nutritious meals for their families. They'll also be taught how to bake the most delicious treats to sell in local markets for income-generation. They can even store their nutrient-rich goods, such as dairy products and proteins, at the CCC to enrich their regular diets in a healthy way. We will supplement hands-on lessons with education about food- and water-borne illnesses.

The ladies let out shouts of excitement when we told them what might be in store for them, and we need YOUR help to make it happen.

We have a big request. But we know that the hearts of our supporters and fans (you all) are even bigger.

In order to launch our Cooking and Baking program, we need:

1 Oven with 4-plate Stovetop 1 Refrigerator with a Freezer

We’ve been bargain hunting around town for the best value and here is our current/immediate need for these:

Oven/Stovetop: $487.27 (brand new with a 2 year guarantee and delivery- the best!) Refrigerator/Freezer Combo: 343.64 (brand new, delivery included)

For a grand total of: $830.91 + some extra cash for flour, baking soda, sugar, and all the other essentials

Here’s the kicker- we’d love to purchase these on Wednesday (yes, in two days). Y’all think we can do it? We do. Because we believe in you, World Changers, to make it happen, and give this new education and income-generating opportunity to 22 women who are beyond excited about it.

It’s going to be awesome. And we can’t wait to show you photos on Wednesday of the newest additions to our Chikondi Community Center. First thing on the menu is homemade ice cream to sell at the nearby market with a vendor who has already agreed to let us use his space. You may be experiencing that Polar Vortex but it’s hot & rainy on this side of the ocean, and that ice cream is going to bring in some great funds for our ladies & our program.

Donate here now with whatever amount you’d like to give and be the one to help launch this brand new Cooking & Baking Program:

And if you need a bit more evidence of just how badly the ladies desire this program, check out these photos of their cooking and baking experiences at the Center on charcoal stoves and a makeshift stove with an electric coil on stones. Sounds safe, huh? These ladies are determined. Let’s do it for them.

With Gratitude & Chikondi, Amy

"Move that Bus" in Muchochoma Village

This post should actually be titled "Move that Ox-Drawn Cart" since our program with the women of Muchochoma Village takes us 3+ hours past a paved road and beyond where most people dare to take their vehicles. We absolutely love our time with these women and our partnership with them. Once a month we travel out to visit these ladies, many of whom have never been to a grocery store, have never stepped foot inside a real school, have never poured water from a faucet, or taken advantage of many other modern-day conveniences. Once a month we spend time building relationships with these women, women not unlike ourselves filled with laughter, joy, the stress of raising a family, and insecurities. We share the skills of sewing with them and they are the sole producers of our popular Village Twist Bracelets (click link to check 'em out). The money we give the women for their beautiful craftsmanship is invested into bettering an entire village. We've shared in the past about those benefits and we continue to see how development really works.

Today we want to share just one more exciting renovation within our Clothed in Hope program. Below you'll find one more "Then" and "Now" photo. Since the beginning, we've met the women of Muchochoma with their babies wrapped on their backs under the shade of a mango tree to escape the summer sun. Unfortunately, the ladies' ability to gather and meet has greatly depended on the weather. Summertime means morning meetings or quick afternoon sessions. And rainy season has usually meant no meetings, for months at a time. The fabrics would be ruined and the conditions too terrible for the women to gather to learn, work, and grow together.

So these women proposed their own solution. They wanted to build their own shelter. You heard me. Twelve women, ranging in ages from 22 to 60+ wanted to put aside their personal duties and businesses to build a shelter. This isn't just putting some putty on bricks. They had to build the bricks- clay bricks by hand. These women wanted to use the skills they know to further benefit their "Chikondi Club," giving a home to HOPE in the Muchochoma Village. We provided a few roofing sheets and it was just completed a few weeks back. Check out the photo for our upgrade from the mango tree shade sitting on stumps, bricks, and old food sacks to this beautiful handmade shelter. Pretty impressive work, ladies! We are so proud of the women of Muchochoma Village, of how they are taking the initiative with our program to see it grow and benefit many in the most beneficial ways, and how they continually inspire us to recognize true joy in life. What a gift to be a part of the lives of these 12 women.

Move that Bus!

The time is FINALLY here! We're so excited to reveal the finished product of the Chikondi Community Center renovations. There are currently 23 women enrolled in our skills training program which takes place within the walls of our little compound. Last year at this time we were just getting into fundraising to buy this place. Today we can proudly say it's ours, thanks to you. Check out these "Then" and "Now" photos and you, too, will see how this center is a beacon of hope in the Ng'ombe slum compound, after quite the extreme home makeover project. Women are eager to come, begging to stay late, all because they find safety, encouragement, love, and hope here. A huge thank you to the two volunteer teams who came this past summer to help out with decorating and making this building a home to our program and the community. I never dreamt in a million years that I would spend the majority of 2013 as a Zambian construction contractor, but there's a first time for everything, right? Dare to dream. Dare to do. The most beautiful part of the Chikondi Community Center isn't the bright turquoise walls with photos adorning the walls, or even the intricate Africa wall string mural. The most beautiful part of the CCC is each woman who walks through our big iron gate to join us on this journey of HOPE.

Enjoy the tour of our new home - now it's time to "Move that Bus!"

With Chikondi, Amy

the Holiday Collection is here!

Introducing fabulous new holiday items designed & created by the talented women of our skills training program! All items are produced in very limited quantities so pick up your favorites today to make sure they don't get snatched up. Here's a sneak peek at some of our new favorites. Find them all for sale at our Chikondi Shop.

Find more colors, styles, and patterns at our shop. Choose to give HOPE this holiday season.

Our Wednesdays

What do our Wednesdays look like? This.

We don't meet for training on Wednesdays because we know that all of our women are also full-time moms. And we love that about them. So we give women (like Margret) time to enjoy their families, take care of their households, and invest in their children (like Rabbecca).

Because HOPE begins in the home.

Program Snapshot

PROGRAM SNAPSHOT: Yvonne is receiving hands-on training to make a 7 panel skirt from our Tailoring & Design Instructor, Mrs. Mulenga (bottom left), during class at the Chikondi Community Center.

We believe in the power of education to empower women, to change lives, and to improve communities. We learn together. We grow together. >>To join us in our work in the lives of vulnerable Zambian women, Donate via our Give page. Team up with us as we break the cycle of poverty, one stitch at a time. Know that your contribution gives HOPE.