Your organization, Sewpportive Friends, helps address the feminine hygiene crisis in rural African communities. Why did you found it?
In 2013, my family planned a safari vacation in Zimbabwe where we would also be visiting schools in the rural communities. We packed general school supplies; pencils, pens, notebooks, for our 2013 trip, as well as our return trip in 2014. While preparing for our 3rd trip to Zimbabwe, I researched and hoped to find more specific needs of the communities and found that the school drop-out rates among girls in many rural communities are extremely high due to the lack of adequate feminine hygiene. They have to miss school for a few days every month and it leads to dropping out. Or they use old rags, feathers, or crumpled up newspaper, which leads to health issues. This was a clear need. I thought I’d bring manufactured products, but most of the girls in these villages don’t have proper places to dispose of one-time use pads. Reusable was clearly the answer, but they’re quite expensive to buy. I had three months before my next visit, so I just decided to sew these items myself.
How did you even know where to begin?
I started by researching the healthiest fabric for this use. Then, created the pattern and started to sew. I posted on Facebook information about this project and a number of sewing friends reached out as well as others who wanted to get involved.
With the assistance of my family and friends, we created 108 kits before leaving for Africa, each of which included three padlets, nine pad inserts, Ziploc bags for carrying soiled items, plus underwear and knapsacks.
How did you grow from there?
One of the teachers we met in Zimbabwe, asked us to start teaching them how to make the garments themselves. On our next trip, we arranged a sewing class and taught the teachers, women and girls from the community how to sew the pads—all by hand because there’s no electricity. So now we bring in all of the sewing supplies and lead classes. Our current focus is on Zimbabwe, but we partner with organizations that have reached out to us in other parts of Africa, including Uganda, Zambia and South Africa. We provide the materials and teaching instructions, and they lead the sessions and deliver materials locally.
After that first initial Facebook push, how have you continued to raise funds for this growth?
Word of mouth and press—we still receive donations from individuals who read an article published in the Christian Science Monitor in 2017 about our mission. But we’ve also found that partnering with other organizations helps raise awareness. In addition to the other organizations in other parts of Africa, we also partner with a safari company to help bring American volunteers to Zimbabwe to see the project in action and ideally, volunteer. They can go on a safari, and enjoy a cultural experience along with helping teach sewing classes in the villages. They cover their own travel costs, and we go as a group to tented camps with professional guides. These are in remote, rural regions-- wildlife right outside your tent at night. You don’t get much sleep--running on adrenaline! But it’s all pretty special. This is how I ended up working with Serve Kindness. Jillian and Melissa came on one of our safaris in the summer of 2017 and helped with the sewing classes…
How has your partnership with Serve Kindness helped benefit Sewpportive Friends?
They’ve been tremendous supporters on many levels, including hosting a bowl party at my sister-in-law’s art gallery, which benefited our organization. It was an obvious connection. I’m just so grateful for what they’re doing. The event was so well organized. It was a great evening!
What’s next for you?
We are continuing to produce kits, bring sewing supplies to Zimbabwe, and teach new communities how to sew washable pads. We’ve also been purchasing beautiful hand-woven baskets from the communities we are working with which provides them an income and gives us another way to fundraise for our project by selling these handcrafts.
This is such an inspiring story. What advice would you give others who have an idea for serving kindness in their communities and beyond?
If you see a need, respond. With vision and passion, you can do anything. You can make a difference. Reach out to other organizations for support. Move forward with your idea. Follow through, and don’t give up. Together, we can make this world a better place.
This project has really been a blessing in my life. I am so grateful for the incredible people that I have met and for all the love, kindness and support.
To learn more about Sewpportive Friends, visit
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