What Happens when You Feel that Life has Come to a Halt?

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When one hits a hard rock in life, they often lose their sense of direction.

This lady, on the other hand, used the roller coaster of emotions she went through during her darkest hours and turned it into something the benefits many. We are talking about Amani ya Juu’s Founder and Executive Director, Becky Chinchen – the woman who creates change.

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Amani ya Juu’s Founder and Executive Director, Becky Chinchen

Tell us about your role in Amani yu Juu
I wear a lot of hats—-design, management, counseling, budgeting, and more!

As Executive Director, I am constantly overseeing internal and external communication both at our African centers and in the US. One of the most exciting parts of my job is participating in design month, which happens twice a year in Nairobi, Kenya. I also enjoy working directly with the talented seamstresses of Amani Kenya on a regular basis and sourcing new product materials in local Nairobi markets. I spend much of my time fundraising for exciting programs as well, like our scholarship fund, which allows many of the ladies who graduate from our sewing program to pursue higher education.

Tell us more about Amani ya Juu
Amani ya Juu features high quality handbags, accessories, home goods, baby items, and jewelry—all in the colors and prints of Africa. Quality control is a big part of the production process; our products don’t fall apart. We have a team of talented people—from designers to seamstresses—who ensure the items we produce are quality.

But we are also unique because each product tells a story—the story of a woman on her journey out of poverty. We were doing fair trade and business as a mission long before either became popular. Women who work at Amani have always received not only a livable wage, but a wage that allows them to pay for adequate housing, healthcare, and education.

What have you learnt while working with your team?
In 1996, I was living in Liberia and working as a missionary when civil war broke out, forcing my family and I to flee as a refugee to Nairobi, Kenya.

I went through the emotional roller coaster experience of loss. The feeling that life comes to a halt; the feeling of being a lesser being because life is in limbo due to the inability to plan or live a life of purpose; the feeling of being a burden to society as you have to depend on others for shelter and food; the loss of dignity. Everything is unpredictable, uncertain, unknown. I will never forget that feeling.

But I will not forget the next feeling I experienced either. In Kenya, I met three other refugee women experiencing the same thing. We came together with this unheard-of idea—the combination of business and mission work as stepping stones out of poverty. It wasn’t traditional charity. It was an unusual combination of dignity, sustainability, and care for the whole person rather than only physical needs. It was such a unique concept, and today, it has touched so many lives. I will never forget that incredible realization—

“This could work. This could change lives in a holistic way.”

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In what ways do you think the program has benefitted the marginalized women in Africa so far?
In the past 18 years, hundreds of women have come through our centers, using Amani as a tool to lift themselves out of poverty. Women at Amani gain not only physical sustenance, but also emotional stability and community after incredibly difficult experiences. This is a place where women come together and experience Christ’s resounding peace on a level not normally seen in today’s world of violence.

It is beautiful to watch dignity and self-worth affirmed through this combination. Usually, these women is supporting at least 2 children, and are usually the sole provider of income. Many of the women we work with leave after they graduate from our sewing program, going on to create their own small businesses with a loan from us. As a result of sustainable work, these ladies are able to send their children to school and keep them out of dangerous professions like prostitution. The cycle of poverty is broken over and over again.

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Becky Chinchen’s Biography
Through my own experience as a refugee, a vision for working with marginalized women was born. Kenya is brimming with women fleeing from neighboring civil conflict. I saw the need to affirm the dignity and worth of those around her. Along with two refugee women from Sudan, I started a sewing and reconciliation project for marginalized women called Amani ya Juu, “Peace from Above.” Each of the ladies in this small group—including myself—began our journey of healing with Amani having been broken and devastated by the horrors of civil conflict.

We all needed healing, a restored vision, and a renewed energy to live again. Yet while we came with needs, we also came with gifts. We brought together skills in stitching, a love of African textiles, an eye for beauty, and a passion for peace. We watched the Amani center in Kenya grow a thriving oasis for more than 100 women. Women from Amani went on to found 4 more centers in Africa (Rwanda in 2000, Burundi in 2004, Liberia in 2010, Uganda in 2011) for the same purpose—bringing peace and sewing skills to women in need of hope. Today, I live with my husband in Nairobi, Kenya and operate as the Executive Director of Amani ya Juu.

 

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