RBC: Is the Beaded Hope organisation a full time job for you?
Jennifer: Well, that really depends on the time of year. Right now, with the Christmas season upon us, Beaded Hope is definitely a full time job for me. We are crazy busy with home shows, holiday events and online sales. It’s a good time of year. Then when you add in the addition of speaking engagements that Cathy and I have scheduled it becomes an even busier time. The busier we are the more we can bless the ladies of Mamelodi with jobs which, of course, is our goal!
When I travel to South Africa it is always a full time job prior to the trip, during the trip and just after I return. I always say that even though a trip may only last 10 days it takes an additional 2 week prior and 2 weeks after to get all the work done.
The beauty of Beaded Hope, though, is that often times the summer months are slower which allows me the luxury of spending more time with my boys while they are home on their summer break.
What are some of the challenges that the organisation faces?
Oh gosh, where to start. Well, certainly there are the challenges of time and distance. South Africa and Cincinnati are half way around the world from each other and there is either a 6 or a 7-hour time difference depending on the time of year.
Then there are the language and cultural differences. South Africa has 11 different official languages (one of them IS English). While all of the ladies who work for Beaded Hope speak multiple languages they don’t always speak English and, unfortunately, that’s the only language that I speak. I am learning words along the way but the trouble is that South Africans are so accustom to speaking multiple languages that they often mix a single sentence with work from 2 or 3 different languages. So, for me to focus on learning only one of their languages is difficult since they use many at the same time! Ugh!
I can say that I just returned from South Africa in September and I found that I could listen to a conversation that the ladies were having and actually understand what they were talking about even though I couldn’t understand the individual words. This was quite a revelation as I was able to jump into conversation (in English, of course) where in the past I was always in the dark. A little bit of progress. J
Cultural history and difference can be a huge challenge. All the South African ladies who work for Beaded Hope have lived the majority of their lives under the rule of Apartheid (which only ended in 1994). They have grown up in an environment that is beyond my comprehension. Even with the stories they share with me about their childhood, I find it difficult to imagine what their lives were like.
So, when I am in South Africa I work diligently to break down some of the cultural barriers that exist. I always great the ladies with hugs and kisses to show them how much they are loved. I do little things like hold the door for them (rather than expecting that they hold it for me). During meetings I can sometimes be found sitting on the floor so that I purposefully place myself beneath the ladies that I am meeting with. On my last trip to South Africa I ran a 3-day workshop with the ladies and every day I served them tea and cakes. These are all small things that I am doing in an effort to break down the barriers of apartheid and to let the ladies know that I view them as equals, not servants.
In the US the biggest challenge is simply getting the word out. Once people learn about Beaded Hope they are very interested and supportive of what we are doing but increasing awareness has definitively been a huge challenge.
Do you receive orders from around the world, as well as the US?
As of right now we only ship to the United States. But just yesterday (seriously!) I approached our web developer and asked him what it would take to setup international shipping from the website. Keep your fingers crossed!
Has Beaded Hope (organisation) achieved what you thought it would?
Hmmm. This is a tricky question. I have both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in business and I spent 13 years in the corporate business world where I learned that to be considered a successful business (according to generally accepted standards) you must (deliver your product or service) on time, be on (or preferably under) budget, and record a profit at year-end. These are valid measures of success and I certainly use them to evaluate Beaded Hope’s annual performance. However, after working with the women over the last five years I have come to understand that sometimes how you measure success is difficult to define. I wrote the following blog post nearly two years ago and still today it is key to how I measure Beaded Hope’s success:
When my husband, Mark, and I traveled to South Africa in October of 2006 we hired two new ladies to work for Beaded Hope. Nelly and Betty came to visit us on one of our first days in South Africa to present their work and see if we would be interested in hiring them. We reviewed their work (it was beautiful) and placed an order with them. At the end of the week they came back and presented their completed order.
As we always do, we paid Nelly and Betty on the spot for their work. But then, much to our surprise, they both jumped out of their seats, shouted, danced and sang. Words fail me every time I try to describe this scene; the best I can do is to say that they were nothing short of ecstatic.
When they settled down enough to speak (in English) they turned to us and said, “Now we will have bread on our table.”
Mark and I were stunned at their response to simply having bread on their table but also thrilled that we could help them.
Later that evening, we shared this experience with a native South African who asked “You know what that means, don’t you?”
Yeah, bread on the table, that’s a good thing, right?
“No,” he said. “It means that they will invite their family and their friends and they will ALL have bread on their table tonight.”
You see, when South Africans have been blessed, they naturally share that blessing with others. The Beaded Hope artists naturally share their success with those around them.
Today, when people ask me how many people Beaded Hope affects, it’s hard to give a number.
The easy answer; we employ four dedicated artists and sub-contract out special orders to around six more artists.
But this answer is inadequate. For each day’s worth of food that we provide, through employment, there are many family members, friends, orphans, shut-ins, who also get to share their bread.
What I once thought was a very linear relationship,
is actually exponentially more impactful than I can measure.
So, back to your question, has Beaded Hope achieved what you thought it would? The answer is: NO! Despite the small size of Beaded Hope and the slow growth (typical measurements of success) we have actually accomplished things that I never could have imagined and we have had a positive impact that is far more than I could ever dream up!
What impact has the book had on the Beaded Hope ministry?
Cathy and I had a blossoming friendship before she wrote the Beaded Hope novel but now we are bound by a common passion and mission: to bless the women in South Africa just a tiny bit as much as they have blessed us. The book has enabled us to reach out a whole new group of people, women especially, who want to make a difference in the world and want to have hope in the good of all people. Because of the book we have seen orders for Beaded Hope merchandise come in from all over the country. This, obviously, is a huge blessing. But we have also received an outpouring of notes and emails from people who have been touched by Cathy’s words. This too is such a blessing to the Beaded Hope organization and the ladies of South Africa.
Have the women of Beaded Hope read the book? What was their feedback about “their” story?
On my last trip to South Africa, in September, I was able to take each of the ladies a copy of the final book. They were so thrilled to have an actually copy of their own. Mrs. Tshabalala, whose picture is on the first page of the book, was overwhelmed that someone so far away would care so much and do so much to bless the women of South Africa.
With that said, I don’t know if any of the ladies have read the book. I am certain that some of the ladies will never read the book since they don’t speak English. Mama Peggy and Mighty, who are both very well educated women, work so hard for their community that at the end of the day they come home exhausted and fall into bed. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if they just never quite have the time to read the book.
But the fact that Cathy thought so much of the women and wrote a book inspired by them is not lost on the ladies. They love her for loving them and, honestly, that’s the most important thing.
How can people make a difference to those living in poverty?
Love this question and I’m certain that I could write about it for days
For starters it is important to recognize that poverty is a component of nearly every major issue in the world. With hunger comes poverty. With AIDS comes poverty. With unemployment comes poverty. With civil war comes poverty. You get the idea. Poverty is at the heart of everything.
Mama Peggy said to me once “poverty in South Africa condemns our minds; we think we need to live on handouts.” This is so profound and true. Poverty has taught people to live on handouts rather than find a way to prosper. I believe that rather than offering a handout to someone in need we should teach a skill, encourage, nurture and empower them. If we do this then they can go on to be change agents in their own community.
Once we understand these two components of poverty then it’s time to take action. To me, there are three key ways to do this. First, find an organization that is working to make a difference in the world of poverty. Research it. Learn as much as you can about what they do, how they do it and why they do it. Then begin to look for a place that utilizes your talents and get involved. If that means filing papers at the office of a local soup kitchen then go do it! It doesn’t matter whether what you do is large or small, it matters that you are involved and working on having an impact on the world.
Secondly, be wise about how you spend your money. Don’t buy from a big national chain just because that’s what you’ve always done. Look for companies (big or small) that are directly or indirectly working on having a positive impact on the world. Can you find a t-shirt company that bases their business on providing a fair wage to employees? Can you find a retail store that clearly defines how they give profits to charities? Can you find a boutique that supports marginalized artists from around the world? Can you find a company that has a business strategy that is entirely based on being fair, equitable and empowering? Shop with these companies! I know it sounds like work but I bet you all can find at least one company that meets these criteria (or other criteria that you come up with!).
Lastly, keep talking about it. Nothing will change in the world of poverty if people aren’t aware of what’s going on. When the opportunity presents itself, talk with your family, friends and co-workers about what you see going on in the world and how it just isn’t okay with you to sit back and watch.
Please share a highlight of your work with Beaded Hope
Another question that I could write about for days
On a personal level, Beaded Hope has blessed me with the fulfillment of a life-long dream to go to Africa. I have had a heart for Africa for as long as I can remember and Beaded Hope has enabled me to fulfill that dream. I once heard a missionary say that every person has a place in the world that is their home but it typically isn’t where they live. This rings so true for me. When I am in South Africa I am home, it is the place that nurtures, inspires and feeds me.
I have watch my husband and children grow into a place where they all think that the work of Beaded Hope is “normal” and they can’t imagine that I would be doing anything else. My oldest son, who is now 12, has insisted for years that he wants to go to South Africa. I love that Beaded Hope has given him a perspective of the world outside of himself and that he has grown into a child who is passionate about helping others, all because of Beaded Hope.
Because of Beaded Hope I have had the opportunity to develop friendships with so many people who bless my life. People like Cathy who come and offer their talents to help Beaded Hope, people like Mama Peggy and Mighty who are life-long girlfriends, and people from all over the world who also have a passion for making a difference in the world. I am blessed with amazing friendships because of Beaded Hope.
I have been on safari and witnessed a male lion walking right next to our jeep on his way to see his pride that was resting in the grass just around the corner. Now that’s just plan cool.
On a spiritual level, I have seen the power of being obedient to God when he calls you to action. I have witnessed His hand in the work of Beaded Hope because we have said “yes” and were willing to do what He asked us to do. I have come to see many of the things that make God’s heart break and have felt my own heart break at the same time. I know that I am to be God’s hands and feet and do His work on earth, however he calls me to do it. So, I suppose you could say that Beaded Hope has strengthened my commitment to God.
On a business level, I have seen the impact that Beaded Hope has made on the individual lives of the ladies in South Africa. I’ve watched them grow into employees who are capable, dedicated and committed to Beaded Hope.
I think one of the biggest highlights of working on Beaded Hope has been all the individuals and organizations that have come alongside of us and offered their talents and services in support of our mission. We have partnered with numerous companies included a warehousing and order fulfillment company, a professional photographer, a creative design firm, a bag company, an advertising agency, an art gallery, several churches and numerous individuals. This list goes on and on and it is truly humbling to see all these people step up and support Beaded Hope.
Lastly, because of my work with Beaded Hope I have been invited on numerous occasions to speak to the Social Entrepreneurship students at Miami University. These students are studying ways to combine a social cause into a successful business model. It’s so wonderful to see the creativity that they have and to think about the possibilities for their future, and the future of the world.
Wow, ladies! What an amazing set of questions. Thank you for taking the time to ask such great questions and thank you, especially, for allowing Cathy’s book to touch your hearts. I am so incredibly blessed to be a part of the Beaded Hope journey and to be friends with the ladies in South Africa. I hope that you felt just a bit of the love and joy while ready Cathy’s words.
As they say in South Africa, you are blessed!
Thank you, Jennifer ~ what an amazing journey you have been on! Appreciate all you do and your passion for others
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