In our inaugural episode we introduce you to Sew Powerful: what it is, how it came to be, what it looked like in the beginning and how and why it has grown to what it is today. Co-founders Jason and Cinnamon Miles share their inspiring story, which is now available in Version 2 of their best-selling book, "We Are Sew Powerful".
Introduction to Sew Powerful with Jason and Cinnamon
IN THIS EPISODE
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Jan Cancila, Host 00:05
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Sew Powerful podcast. The purpose of our podcast is to bring you 30 minute weekly episodes that feature stories, inspiration and news about the Sew Powerful charity. We're going to kick off our podcast today by talking with Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon. They will take us through a chance meeting that brought Jason to a place that has become the heart and soul of Sew Powerful. Both will share how the organization started small but is now a global movement. Jason and Cinnamon have just published the second edition of their best selling book, We are Sew Powerful.
But before we get into that, let me first share their impressive backgrounds. Jason G. Miles is the co-founder of Pixie Faire and Sew Powerful. He holds a graduate degree in business administration with an emphasis in international nonprofit management, as well as undergraduate degrees in both organizational management and Biblical Studies. He previously served as the senior vice president of advancement at Northwest University, his alma mater. He started his career at World Vision where he spent 16 years in both human resources and fundraising.
Cinnamon is the co-founder and lead designer at Liberty Jane and Sew Powerful. She manages the company's premier web property www.PixieFaire.com, the world's largest doll clothes pattern marketplace. Cinnamon is also the best selling author of The Idiot's Guide Sewing and Beginning Sewing, her best seller that can frequently be found at Costco, Walmart, and bookstores worldwide. Cinnamon previously served with Youth With a Mission in Eastern Europe. She's also partnered in short term missions to places such as Latvia, Mexico and Romania.
Welcome Cinnamon and Jason.
Cinnamon Miles, Guest 02:22
Jason Miles, Guest 02:23
Hi. Thank you so much.
Okay, this is our first episode. I'm hoping it all goes well so people will come back every week and listen, so no pressure, right?
Let's start off by talking about the book you just published. Why a book? And why now?
Sure. Yeah, actually, well, this is the second edition of it. So the first edition came out, I think, should have looked but 2016. And it was really an opportunity for us to tell the whole story behind the founding of the charity, and then also to really include stories from people around the world. And the book or the initial first edition came out with a nice collection of stories from purse makers around the world. And for the second edition, we really had an opportunity to update the book in terms of what's happened since 2015, 2016, as well as include a lot more stories from from purse makers and partners that have stories of seamstresses and that kind of thing. So that's the the story behind the book. Yeah,
Well, well, and a lot has happened in the last four years.
Jason, Guest 03:35
Well, can you take us back to the beginning. Take, take us to the early days, the pre Sew Powerful days, and just tell us how this all came about.
Sure. You want me to start and we can tag teaming?
Okay, how far back in time? Do you want us to go?
You know, you know, you're on it. You're working for World Vision, and you're on a trip to Africa and something happened?
Sure. Yeah, sure. Well, so I was with the World Vision for 16 years and and had the opportunity to lead trips around the world; did a lot of work in Honduras, and, and Romania, in particular, many African countries. Cinnamon and I traveled together, leading trips, and on one occasion in 2009, March 2009, I got the opportunity to go and visit Lusaka, Zambia. And wandered into on one of our off days, we wandered into this community called Ngombe compound. Happy to tell the story of kind of how that all played out, but it really was a life changer for me. We weren't on the trip together. It was just me there with a group and then came back and told Cinnamon all about it. Yeah,
Jason, in the book you say that day defined your life.
Those were your words. Do you feel like that still?
Yeah, I do. Yeah. I mean, I, the reason is because I just felt very clearly the Lord speak to me that I was supposed to help this lady, and this group of ladies. And I didn't know how, and I didn't know what to do with that, but I had never heard such a clear calling. I have felt called to the ministry in general. For my better part my whole life, I suppose. But I never felt a specific calling to one specific location geographic work or, or effort until that day. And that was a big deal.
And cinnamon you weren't on that trip? Right? Jason was you were back home. Right?
Right. Right. So he was on that trip with World Vision. He took a team, you know, and, and we were married for a while had three kids. And so I think, you know, from our side, always just kind of trying to figure out, like, our involvement in mission. Jason got a huge, like, he was fulfilled with that a lot through his job. So I think, you know, on on my side, trying to figure out, like, I had this burning desire for missions before we got married before I had kids, and I could just go on trips. So when he came back on this, from that trip, and we kind of had our business up and running, and, you know, it was a perfect opportunity, I think, for us to really kind of own something like we both really felt like this was a way for us to go deep into something that, you know, we have no idea what what would become of it, but at the time, just knew like this was a perfect opportunity for us to really just both go do something together.
You didn't go Zambia? Wait, what's going on a Zambia?
Well, today, at the beginning, it wasn't Romania, which was really actually I think, you know, Eastern Europe was really strong passion for me, and still is. But you know, it's, um, you know, just like with Jason, I didn't go for a couple years after that, but I did share the stories and see the pictures and going, you know, in it, it is a special place. And it really does just grab your heart, you know, when you're there, and you just realize this, the circumstances that, you know, you just you can't really fathom or understand coming from the western United States for you know, most people's life. You can't not want to do something at least that's how we both felt, you know, it was just compelled to, you know, come alongside Esther and the program and really just do whatever we could to help her help that community.
So Jason, you you met Esther, on that first encounter, and can you tell us about what she was doing and and the circumstances that she was trying to run a school in? Very challenging.
Yeah, she had started a community school in this community called Ngombe compound. And she had started in 2003. So when I visited in 2009, it had been up and going for quite a while. And they started with 99 students. When she started, she started because she felt very, very convicted that there were just tons and tons 1000s of kids running the streets, in Ngombe compound that didn't attend school. And the reason she was passionate about it as a local mom with her own kids, there was there's really three tiers of school. You know, in Zambia, there's private school, which is like private school anywhere, it's like the elite, expensive option. And then there's government schools, which was, that's their word for, like, you know, community schools or, you know, our local school system. And then there was what they refer to as a community school, which means it's really a collection of moms, who are rallying together to try to put on school for the kids who aren't otherwise enrolled. And that's what she had done. And she was doing it at a good level, a high level, she had at that point, 475 kids, when I went to visit her, and, and she was just really convicted that the kids needed an opportunity. And she had a group of moms that were helping her. And she had a group of beyond that called caregivers that had been trained to respond to the HIV AIDS pandemic, that she was coordinating. And that was just her personal conviction and calling that she needed to do something to help these kids. You know,
And, you know, I think you said in the book that most people might just feel overwhelmed by the poverty that that you saw, but you sort of had the opposite reaction.
Yeah, it's weird thing. You know, a lot of people are blind to poverty. You know, like it just in our own personal lives. You know, sometimes you drive past the wrong part of town. Your heart doesn't go out for it. You know, you don't feel a burden or conviction. And we all have those circumstances in our life where there's just something that doesn't resonate with us. It's something we're supposed to, to respond to. And, you know, that day, it was just like the opposite. It was just, I just wanted to figure out, you know, how to collaborate, how to be of help. It was mesmerizing. I mean, it was a mesmerizing set of dire problems. And that's really what I think that's part of the calling is sorry,
I'm, I'm endlessly fascinated by the situation. And so I just whatever it is, 11 years now, or more, whatever it is, beyond 10 years, I've been fascinated by the circumstance and the problem there. And this fascination that that interest in it hasn't gone away. And I think that's part of the calling, is to just say, God's put a question and mark in my heart, as to why this situation exists, how the community can work together to resolve it, how we're supposed to be a part of it as outsiders. You know, obviously, we haven't moved there. And what our role early is in supporting the effort. And so I think that's probably the the big takeaway from that day. And the work since then, is, I just am provoked to curiosity about what's occurring, and how we can, how we can be a part of, you know, making a difference. Yeah,
Yeah, I can just add just a little bit, you know, I think, to your comment about being overwhelmed, when you are in a, like, that type of situation, and it's too big of a problem and, you know, you might do nothing. It kind of because you don't know what to do at all and go at least every time I've been there, and I would assume even the first time Jason went there, the fact that Esther was there already doing something was like something already in action. And so you don't show up to that situation and just see just everything; just the the desperation of the whole thing. And just like, where do I start? It was it very easy to just come alongside her and she's so passionate, and has so you know, such a big vision for what she wants, that it actually takes a lot of the pressure off it, I think on our side to know that it's not us coming up with ideas, even though we have lots of ideas. You know, it's always been a good collaboration. And, you know, what Esther really feels like is the best thing for that community. And so it works really well, I think, in that version of this that, you know, it's just different than just a whole sort of unknown.
Yeah, and we've never really felt sorry to just elaborate on that. I never really felt like we have like, you know, they call it a messiah complex, or like you want to save people or whatever. And I really, from the very beginning, when I've really felt clearly that the Lord speak to me that I was supposed to help them. That was the first thing I thought was I, I don't have any answers. I don't have any solutions. I can't even it's it would be insanely arrogant to even think you could propose solutions in the context in which they operate as a community. What once you've been there and seen the challenges that are in the community, and and so it's really about serving and collaborating and partnering. Yeah, I think that that's the hallmarks of what we're trying to do. Yeah.
Well, and there's one little thing I had to chuckle because apparently the children sang and danced for you. The group that came in,
But then they asked you to reciprocate.
Yeah, it was horrible.
I'm glad I wasn't there on that trip. Of course, they've made us do it every time. Yeah.
Every trip we go to, of course, they'll do they kind of treat our trips as like an opportunity to do like, rehearsed, plays, skits, songs, and all that kind of thing. And then were like their audience, and then they did ask me to dance with for the kids. And that was ridiculous.
Was that recorded? Can we find that video anywhere?
Sure. We can find that video anywhere. I think it might have been scrubbed from.
Um, you know, you talk about the situation there and a lot of the the population is very young, because parents have lost their lives due to HIV, which is very prevalent there. Um, can you give us a little background on what what happened there?
Sure. Yeah. Well, when I first visited in 2009, it was quite a bit different than it is today. So things have changed to some degree. But the impact of the HIV AIDS pandemic is still really present in the community, if you if you know, kind of what to look for. First of all, yeah, the the population of Ngombe compound is about 150,000 people's estimate. Half of them are under the age of 15. In Zambia itself, the statistics at the high level, say that something like 13% of the country is HIV positive, but the way it works is, that's true for all the population, which includes many, many, many villagers, and people who are very rural livers, you know, life location livers, and that's a phrase. And in Lusaka, of course, then you'd have a concentration of HIV. And then in Ngombe compound, you even have a higher concentration of HIV. And then for what you might call, you know, mature adults, maybe, like, you know, from let's just say, you know, 15 year olds to 40 year olds, the concentration of HIV is going to be even higher. And what occurred, there was a national tragedy, and really a continental wide tragedy. HIV AIDS was sort of originated in Congo, many people believe, and Zambia is just south of Congo. And so that the virus raged there for years with many people unaware that it was occurring. And then many, once it did begin to be called the withering disease, or whether it really withering disease. People didn't know what it was. Many, many rampant sort of false, you know, claims about it were prevalent. Many, you know, kind of cultural beliefs that really compounded the problem. And so what you ended up with was a community that was literally obliterated, what from average, adult mature adults, I mean, if you, if you in 2009, when you would go to Ngombe compound, you would see children, and grandmas. And that's pretty much all you saw. Now, today, you'll see a lot of middle aged people, but HIV AIDS, TB and malaria together, just destroyed the community. And then you end up with a lot of really early pregnancies, and just a ton of kids who maybe go through a few years of school, and then they're done. And many, many children are done with school at seventh grade, if they've gone through, you know, kind of the primary school level. Only 8% of children in Zambia graduate from high school or what they call secondary school. So the vast majority never go that far in school. And once they're done, they're done and they're in the community. And, you know, early marriage, early pregnancy and childbirth, and all in all is just a reality of the situation. So you see many, many desperate circumstances that, you know, come out of all of that.
Okay, well, why don't we take a break here and when we when we come back, we're going to continue talking about the book in the early days of Sew Powerful and we're going to get caught up a little bit more about where the charity is today.
Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original bestseller, 4.9 out of five stars, by the way, is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen, and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty, through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget, when you place your order if you use smile.amazon.com and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful. And now back to our podcast.
Welcome back. Before the break, Jason was giving us his experiences with his his encounters in the Ngombe compound in Zambia. And Jason and Cinnamon, can you sort of fast forward? Where are we today and and sort of what's changed since those early times?
Yeah, well, well, you have a thriving ministry that we help lead and we've got some exciting things happening on the ground in Zambia. A sewing cooperative or group of seamstresses that rally together, about 35 of them right now, in sort of three ways. We have the veterans, then we have sort of the sophomore class, and then the freshmen class, but they're all paid for their work. And they're trained on how to sew. And so that's exciting. I'll talk about what they do, specifically in terms of product in a moment, but we also have a soap team, then that is, you know, paid to be on a soap team. And then we have a farm. And the school is thriving. And so there's school teachers that are paid. And then there's a clinic for maternal health. And it all works together in support of not just the one school, the one that Esther founded, but actually 11 schools and Ngombe compound,are direct beneficiaries of the program work. And then many schools outside of Ngombe compound as well. So the programmatic side of the work is on the seamstresses side, really a process of having them focus on what we call purposeful products. You want to describe those since I'm monopolizing the conversation here.
Sure, yeah. So we, when we worked with the seamstresses initially, you know, we were looking at things that they could sew, and then use directly in the community. We, we, I think, gave our input early on that, you know, trying to export items into the US to sell wasn't a good long term solution. But definitely the skills of sewing and as a long term skill for them was a good way to move forward. So we worked through the first project, which was sewing the school uniforms, and they also did a knitting machines. So they were knitting sweaters on the machine and sewing the school uniforms, which they would have the community members pay for. It worked perfectly there. And then, and that still happens, they actually do that. I'm not sure for how many but they do sew uniforms, also for some of the other schools, which is great. It's kind of an entrepreneurial thing that they you know, they've stepped out a little bit to do that. And then when we introduce which we didn't really exactly touch on, I don't think yet here but the purse program, and we had we which is two sides, which actually goes back a little bit to the growth of not the program, the program side, but the donor side, which maybe we'll jump forward in a minute to. We have the seamstresses, sewing reusable feminine hygiene products that they will put into the purses that are received and then they get distributed to the community. So all the girls in the schools, the local community schools, get those in health class, they're given that product so that they can stay in school all month long. So in a current situation, those girls don't have access to hygiene supplies. So when they start their period, they're missing school. And it doesn't take very long before you miss a week, a month and you get behind and you drop out and you just you know, you lose your momentum and you can't continue your education. So, that part of it with the seamstresses, they do that piece work style and they're paid to sew that reusable hygiene. I'm thinking do they sell anything else besides the hygiene and
Currently they're making COVID-19 masks?
Which is all the rage at the moment and and it is they've done 1000s of them now helpful in the Coronavirus response. But ya know, those purposeful products we mainly it's the school uniforms, reusable hygiene pads. So, and then of course farm fresh food, we call them purposeful product, too.
And can you explain a little bit more how the idea of the purse came about and how that ties into to end up back in Zambia?
Sure. Yeah. When we when Cinnamon and I started helping the moms there do the sewing cooperative, we were the first donors. We were the only donors and like so for the first, literally two years, we had our personal giving was the only giving that went into Sew Powerful, but we had set it up as a, you know, a proper 501 c three in Washington state with the hope that someday we would figure out how to how to tell people the story. And so we were a couple years into it.
And can I back track just a second?
You set this up as your personal giving. You weren't wealthy people. I mean, this was no, this was a sacrificial gift, right?
Well, yeah, I mean, in essence, this was our act of missions, giving in our effort to support you know, what we felt like God was leading us to do in terms of caring for for others. And so yeah, it was sacrificial, but we had a little eBay business that we had started and we were doing auctions and we would give proceeds of the auctions to support the work in Zambia. So we would call it Liberty Jane Gives Back and we would do auctions. And that's how we funded it for the first couple years. And but about 2013. there abouts, the seamstresses in Zambia were really good at the school uniforms. They were going, and they were getting money locally for for the uniforms. And the children that were all in uniforms now in the school, it was really transformation. And so they were kind of well versed in what they were doing. And we were on our side. We would talk to people about what we were doing. But have you ever had a conversation where you like, tell somebody something, and they just changed the subject completely? Like, Oh, that's great. Let me tell you about my dog that just stuck my puppy I got her. So we just kept finding nobody cared what we were doing. And we really, we felt like there was a story to tell. And then in 2013, 2014, we started to hear about the girls missing school on their period. And that it was a real barrier to the girls succeeding. And we hadn't heard that before and we started to investigate it. We asked Esther about that. And we realized that the seamstresses in Zambia could make reusable hygiene pads. And that is the logical solution in that context. And when we were in that conversation with our board members that we pulled together, we expressed this, you know, like we really wish we could get people to be involved, you know. And we started brainstorming ways to do it. And Cinnamon had designed a purse pattern a few years prior. And so we came up with this idea. What if we ask seamstresses around the world, our customers, from Pixie Faire to to make a purse for us for a girl in Zambia and to send it in? and
Was like, would this work? Would somebody use what they had, you know, and sew and send it back? And, you know, as a gift to the girl? and I think the first year that we did it, we worked really hard to try to explain what we wanted. And you know, we got, I mean, we got like 400
I think we got 305 persons by the deadline. And then by the end of the year, this was like the end of 2014. We had 503 persons,
And I will say, I did five of those persons that first year.
Yeah, that was not the easier pattern.
Yes. So the first, the first version of the pattern was smaller and a little more complicated. Yeah. And you know, it, it really, I don't think and you could probably speak to this, but I'm not sure that it connected 100% on the donor side, what we were trying to express until we went on that trip, and we took those purses, and we came back with pictures and video. And we're able to actually say, here's your purse in the girl's hands. And then now now it'd be my turn to cry. And then, you know, I think immediately it changed on the other side. And we both You know, I think we both realized that it's like, we don't need to try so hard. That at that point, the whole donor side of the charity took a different path, and it just like opened wide up. And that was what 2015, 2014? Like where we are right now, it is amazing to see what's happened and what's happened so quickly in the passion on this side with people like you that just come alongside and have made this their own passion. And, you know, it's like, there's, there's so many people now that just have this burning in their heart to help this community. And you know, it's not just us, and it's amazing. And I think you know that after that first trip and really showing the girls receiving the purses, and even us going and understanding how, you know, we said oh, this will be meaningful this this is they don't get gifts like this, but you go and you do it and you give it to them and you actually understand, you know. Wait a second. They they don't get gifts like this. You know, this is the most meaningful thing that somebody actually went out of their way to do something for them. You know that they didn't ask for that. But definitely meets a need. You know, is this really special.
So it just took off. First year it was 500 and I think 503 purses, and then it just exponentially grew and went from there. 1600. 3600. We're up now to this year our goal's 20,020. We'll see if we hit that. But it's 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of purses that are getting to me. Like yesterday, we got, like 28 boxes and is it just it's it's grown so widely. I mean, I knew we, I knew we had hit a nerve, I guess you could say, when after the first, in the first year, I got an email from somebody who said, I set up a group in Australia. Hi, I'm, I'm Kylie and I have 100 ladies in Australia making you purses. And I was like, What is happening? It's just
Look! What have I started?
Yeah, it's just a huge, huge blessing because it's a symbol. You know, the purse is a symbol of care. That the, you know, that people want to rally around these girls and these seamstresses in Zambia. It's a tangible expression of a deep care and prayer and thinking about what's happening. And that's why it's so meaningful. Yeah.
One other thing, I think that really stood out to me when we put the, you know, Jason work to put the first book together. And I knew he was collecting stories from people who sewed purses. And, you know, it's kind of all happening in the background. And then that first time when I sat there, and, you know, skim the book, and I'm looking at the first half and get to that part of those stories. And I, you know, I think I was crying, like, just reading those realizing that, like, we had focused so much on the ministry on the Zambia side, and we knew that, you know, that we needed to come alongside that. And we actually have two sides of a ministry to a whole bunch of people that have something that they, like, you know, what's my calling? How do I give back? How do I, you know, participate in a missions kind of way or anything like that without leaving their house? You know, and I think I struggled with that for a while, before we, you know, really settled on this being a program that we could do together. And it's how did it How does it fit into your everyday life? And, you know, we have an amazing group of seamstresses that have, you know, they're amazingly talented and have a huge fabric stash. And you know, and it just really meets a need, where people feel, it just adds so much meaning on that side, which, you know, I think was like a double blessing, a secret blessing that we didn't really know, we were even putting this together in this way. Like finding these two different groups of people that could benefit each other
Well and, and our intent on the podcast is to interview all those purse makers who have submitted stories, because we want to hear it from their perspective as well.
Well, let's wrap this up for today. But we're going to continue our conversation next week, where I hope you'll join us. We're going to talk more with Jason and Cinnamon and I'm sure we're going to talk about Sew Powerful for sure, but Jason and Cinnamon you have such a wide array of talents and interests. We would just be remiss if we didn't cover some of some of the things you do outside of Sew Powerful. So until then, please join us next week. Thank you very much.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference. I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.SewPowerful.org. That's SEWPOWERFUL.ORG. The website has great information about the organization, is where you can download the free purse patterns, or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.