Sunday, February 17, 2008

Africa Is Life Changing

Last Tuesday night for Relief Society Enrichment Meeting, we had invited the co-founders of a non-profit group called Africa Is Life Changing to come and tell us about the things they are doing. They work mostly in Kenya with women and girls. Their stories were interesting and engaging and sometimes heart-wrenching. Be sure to check out the link to their web-site!

One of the things they do (and this is the project my Ward's Relief Society has participated in) is take strips cut from plastic grocery bags to Kenya. The women there crochet them into purses that they sell at their weekly market and are able to make enough money in a month to feed their families. I've been so impressed with this project because we are using something so humble and simple as a used plastic grocery bag (which we all have in spades no matter our economic situation) to help these women lift themselves out of the oppressive poverty they live with. And I feel extra good giving it my full support because it's a hand up rather than a hand out.

Cutting a bag into one long continuous strip is quite an ingenious process that I'm sure someone put a lot of thinking into. You start by laying a plastic grocery bag out flat and smooth on the table in front of you. Then you cut the handles off so that the top is relatively even and smooth. Next you cut across the seam in the bottom and set this aside to tie the bundle you'll end up with at the end. Now you unfold the pleats from the sides and smooth it out as one big tube. Next fold the uncut edge nearest you toward the opposite uncut edge stopping about 2 inches short of folding it in half. Fold the folded over portion in half again by bringing the edge nearest you to meet the top edge of the layer you just previously folded. Fold it one more time the same way so you end up with a piece that's about 4 inches wide where half is two layers of plastic thick and the rest is sixteen layers thick. Now you cut 1 1/2 inch strips through the sixteen layer part but not the part that has only 2 layers so that you end up with a strip of long fringe. Pull that strip over your left arm (if you are right handed) so that the uncut portion is on top and the loops of fringe hang below. Starting nearest your hand, cut on a 45-degree angle from the outside edge on the inside of your arm to the first cut on the outside of your arm and repeat all the way across. You end up with one long, though slightly wavy, strip of plastic. Wind this around your hand into a neat little bundle and use the cut off seam from the bottom of the bag as a tie to keep it together. It takes 50 of these to make a purse.

This was an activity where I was "in charge" and it was hard! There are a ton of details to keep everyone focused on - many of which I didn't anticipate. It felt like a huge portion of them went haywire as the evening got started and I said to a couple of people "This is horrible... I don't ever want to be the leader again!" The Elders Quorum didn't have a key to get into the building to set up tables for us (who'd have guessed that?). The Young Women who we invited to participate spent 90% of the entire budget on table decorations (they were wonderful and whimsical and added to the atmosphere of the evening!). The committee member who was to do all the shopping forgot bowls for the soup and had to make a last minute run to the grocery which got us off to a late start. Another committee member who was making reminder calls didn't start until 8:45 the night before and then went into meltdown mode because we weren't providing a full meal for the kids in nursery (and she doesn't even have kids that young!). And there were more problems... But by the end of the evening, I was happy. Feeling like I'd learned a tremendous amount but pleased nonetheless. We worked through the problems and everyone had a great time visiting and eating. The presentation from Africa Is Life Changing was amazing and inspiring and we all felt spiritually nourished. And in the end, that's what counts!

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