From the founder. Kabul, Afghanistan.
Before leaving for Afghanistan and Nepal last week I made a short trip to my alma mater, York College in York, Nebraska. It was homecoming weekend and I was scheduled to speak in chapel and some classes, so as I was traveling I was compelled to “look back” and reflect on things. Not something you take the time to do very often, but possibly a good exercise to look back at the past to know better how to proceed into the future.
Sometimes you don’t know how all the experiences you have and relationships you make will add up to what you ultimately do in life. You make think they are random, but if you are willing God usually has a plan that reveals itself to you little by little.
I’d like to tell you that I knew from the very outset what my life would look like and what I would do with it, but I didn’t. I’m glad God could see the whole picture and give me snapshots along the way for me to see – when I was paying attention that is!
I committed to my first “mission” trip when I was a student at York College that probably created both a desire to serve and a desire to travel. I didn’t know then that I would spend 27 years of my professional life as a flight attendant. It’s very random to think of that career as preparing for ministry, but then there was that “plan” again that I wasn’t fully aware of. The travel experience, learning about other cultures, developing a life-long fascination with textiles and ethnic crafts, having the time to go back to school and study theology as well as the opportunity to develop photographic skills all added up to something in the end.
Half way through my career I committed my time-off and airline travel benefits to serving in South India. This was the second juncture in my life that ultimately lead to the establishment of Eternal Threads. It put me in contact with extreme poverty for the first time in my life and set me on a path of thinking about what my response to that should be as a person of faith.
I fell in love with India and especially the people that lived in extremely poor, rural villages. I don’t mean to sound sexist, but it was the women that really captivated me. I’ve often said that it’s the Nebraska farm girl in me that gave me such an affinity for these women and what their lives were like. It was their hard working and humble spirits that drew me to them. They never had the opportunity to be educated as I had and their only desire was to make life better for their families as it is for women all over the world. That first year I helped start a child sponsorship program (India’s Child) to help educate their children, but I thought for many more years about how I could eventually bring meaningful income to them.
That took a few more years of development but in the year 2000 Eternal Threads established it’s first project in this area of India making the original Sofi tote. This project taught me what I had to do to help women living in extreme poverty to have a sustainable income. They have to be able to make a product with the skills they already possess and raw materials that are readily available to them and most importantly to be able to work from home. I’ve learned many more lessons along the way, but we now represent women in 12 countries. Eternal Threads is part of the Fair Trade Federation, which means that we insure that the women are receiving a fair and living wage for the goods they make which gives them the potential of a sustainable income.
The greatest focus of our work at present is in Afghanistan and Nepal where I will be traveling on this month. In Afghanistan we are working with nomadic women in a very remote village on the Iranian border. Because of the poverty level and conditions after decades of war, we also do a great deal of humanitarian work in this village…we just sent 26,000 lbs. of donated aid to the village…much of which was nutritious, dehydrated food because in the winter there is nothing to eat. We also send school supplies and are building a school which we hope will be finished soon.
In Nepal we are primarily working with a local partner to prevent the trafficking of Nepalese girls across the border into Indian brothels. Additionally, much of our focus is in giving vocational training to rescued and “at risk” girls so that they can have an income that will prevent them from being tricked into taking “jobs” which don’t exist. Working on a sewing center for these girls will be my main focus on this trip to Nepal.
Sometimes I’m asked the question whether or not what I do is ministry or a mission? The only answer I can give is that girls in Nepal that are rescued come to know that someone cared enough to save them from a life of slavery and death…a profound witness in itself.
I want to tell you one story that illustrates this to you. When young women are successfully trafficked the brothel owner than turns them into traffickers themselves sending them back to their home villages to bring more girls to “work”. When our partner caught a young woman on the border that was doing this, he was prompted not to turn her into the police and spoke to her instead about his own life experience and what forgiveness means. He and the staff spent a lot of time with her, they had a meal together and he let her go. The next week she came back and and asked if they would help her escape the brothel. She ultimately returned to her home village and is a powerful witness for making others aware of the dangers the traffickers pose to village girls.
Our Afghan partner is passionate to show the villagers we work with that they are not forgotten and that there are those in the world that care about them. He is especially determined to educate the girls in this village to prevent them from begin sold at an early age to older husbands. I am humbled by his commitment and willingness to risk his life to do it.
Afghan School Girl
As I was boarding the bus at the Dubai terminal to go to my flight to Kabul I found a seat by a young american from Georgia. His name was Lance. He’s been working in Afghanistan as a contractor for 2 years primarily building schools in the same area where our project is located. As we talked about the need for education especially for girls I mentioned the time magazine article that I had just bought in the airport with the front cover: “Why the U.S. can’t save Afghanistan.” He commented that the men he works with both Afghan and American have come to the conclusion that if Afghanistan is going to be saved it will be the women that do it!!! Women have been oppressed in Afghanistan in horrific ways in the past and the present…maybe those school girls in headscarves are the future.