When I was 21 years old, I made my way back to Rwanda for a semester. My family had been living in Rwanda for the past four and a half years. I needed to go home; I needed to figure out my life.
While living in Rwanda that semester, I invested in a sewing cooperative comprised of 33 women who are recovering from a life of prostitution. More Than Sparrows, the name of the cooperative, is located in a run-down corner of Kigali on an uneven and dusty red-clay road.
The name of the cooperative comes from Matthew 10:31 which talks about how much God cares for the sparrows even though they are seemingly small and insignificant. This means that God cares for the ladies of the sewing cooperative even more than He cares for the sparrows on the earth. This is an important message for the women to hear because it is not something they naturally believe. Coming from a life of abuse and recklessness, it is no wonder these women feel unworthy and unloved. More Than Sparrows exists to give the women another option of income and an understanding of their value as women created by God.
When I began working with More Than Sparrows, I had no idea the healing that I would go through. I was given an outlet for creativity which is something so needed in the healing process. This is why the ladies create every day; they are healing.
The ladies of the cooperative sit under the mango tree and embroider tea towels and roll paper beads which will soon be turned into beautiful necklaces. As I watched them create, ideas generated in my head. I began to show them new necklace designs and new color combinations. Together, we collaborated and produced some truly unique and trendy pieces of jewelry.
I organized their little store and displayed pieces in a shop-able way. I worked on quality control and communicated with wholesalers in the U.S. I painted their main sewing room with bright colors and Bible verses in Kinyarwanda and words of hope and inspiration. I created so they could continue to create. We sat through weekly devotionals together and sang and danced. I listened to them cry and fight and love each other. I learned a lot of Kinyarwanda, I learned a lot about joy in the midst of pain, I learned about living in poverty, and I learned the power and desperate need for creativity in every one’s life. My semester with More Than Sparrows came to an end. Tears were shed. I promised to return one day.
Now, three years later, I am working with Elevāt as a writer. I’m working with a wholesaler who buys from small artisan cooperatives just like More Than Sparrows. To be on the other end of the equation is a new experience. I know what the ladies are going through to produce theses pieces we are ordering. I can imagine the cheering when they learn of a new order to fill. I can imagine the days and weeks as they work to complete the order. It is a process I know well.
Working with Elevāt shows me the ins and outs of being a wholesaler for female artisans around the world. Instead of creating and sending it off to the U.S., now I am receiving and learning how to distribute. I get to use my experiences to put passion behind my words as I try to sell these beautifully handcrafted pieces from female artisans around the world.
Each time I unpack the Elevāt products at fair trade shows, I am reminded of the beauty behind the products. It is not just a necklace or a bracelet. It’s a person. Someone worked meticulously to create what you are wearing. It could be that she was treated lovingly while she made the shirt, scarf, or necklace. Or it might be that she was treated unfairly. Working with Elevāt has fine-tuned my heart and made me more aware of the fashion and purchase choices I make. Instead of seeing a product, Elevāt has taught me to see a person.
Working with Elevāt has reminded me of my heart song and called my future into question. Prior to this internship I was planning to take my writing into the corporate world. But I couldn’t find an internship. And then there was Elevāt, and it was almost as if God was trying to tell me all along, but I just wouldn’t listen. Within the first week, I was all lit up inside. I was reminded of my passion for vulnerable women and children and my desire to create and to make an impact for the Kingdom. So, working with Elevāt has been a huge blessing because it has realigned me with my true desires.
One of the most exciting things that has happened while I have been interning with Elevāt is the shipment of Rwanda products that arrived just a couple weeks ago. It was so fun to open the box and see the products that I know well. And see the people who made them.
Last weekend Julie and I worked to rearrange the Elevāt showroom so that it would be fresh and new for the open house on April 27th! Once again, as I moved products around, I reflected on the people who made them. They’re such beautiful pieces, but even more so, they are such beautiful people. So, stop by the Elevāt showroom in two weekends. We have some great new products and exciting stories to share with you.
Elevāt Showroom: 4900 Hodgson Connection | Shoreview, Minnesota