ILIZWE, which means land in Xhosa, was selected as the project name to symbolize commonality and shared purpose on this small Earth. In that spirit, the Ilizwe EmPOWERment program embodies the power of partnership in the name of educational and financial freedom. Ilizwe began, as most ideas do, with a small gathering of motivated people: in this instance, a dozen residents of Molly Blackburn, a neighborhood in the larger community we serve. That first day in 2015 the residents shared their dreams: a nursery school for their children, brick and mortar homes, clean water, electricity, enough food to feed their families, and a decent-paying job.
UP understood that their dreams hinged on financial security. How do they move from jobs that barely allow them to survive to a career that allows them to thrive? How do we provide women and men with an opportunity to become financially independent and to secure a position of importance in society, one they have always earned but for which they have rarely been recognized?
The crafters started small, with simple bracelets, but then they taught themselves how to make crocheted hats, and then Molly's Dollies, and then beaded greeting cards, devices to air-dry lingerie, dresses, scarves, and more intricate bracelets. It was crystal clear, early on, that the crafters were driven. They could bead 500 bracelets in two days, learn to knit a simple scarf within an hour, and create 350 dollies for the Molly's Dollies Posse in half a week, all while earning a wage that is three to four times their norm. They also crafted a Code of Conduct for a serious and purposeful business environment.
Ilizwe members know that 100% of the profits are reinvested in the initiative and in local schools. In addition, our sponsors' monthly donations purchase anything from beads to fabric, scissors to rulers, and sewing lessons to business workshops with Xhosa experts. Sponsor dollars also fund crafter participation in classes in creating, pricing, merchandising, marketing, accounting, and inventorying. Sponsors may choose to play a role that goes well beyond financial support, however, and they are encouraged to do so. They may agree to consign items for sale in their hometowns, find a local business to carry wares, or collect items in support of this program.
In an incredible excerpt from the internationally recognized documentary Poverty, Inc., someone cuts to the heart of the issue:
"If I was in a personal financial crisis, and I could not feed my child, I could no longer pay for their school supplies for them to go to school, I didn't have enough money for them to ride the bus, whatever, and somebody from some other nation came in and said, 'Hey, you know what? We've got a solution. What we'll do is we'll set up a house where all the kids that have that problem can come live. They are not going to be your child anymore. You're just gonna have to give them to us, but we will make sure they have everything they need.' Is that the solution that you'd want? I think most honest people would say, 'No, I wanna raise my own child. I just need a job.'"
Martha T. Cummings, Ilizwe Coordinator
Brian and Lori Hogan
Chester and Jennifer Bejtlich III
David and Laura Proietti
Erik and Kim Kohler
Mary Ellen Lynch and Nicholas Pappas
Tracey McCoy Elliott