The Power of the Purse

Participating in a sewing bee at the Langford-Nord House in Blythewood to sew purses for school girls in Zambia are organizer Kem Smith, Gail Corn, Lynne Richardson, Frankie McLean (seated), Vivian Bickley, Lisa Smith, Jeanette Smith and Caroline Burgos. The women, who brought their portable sewing machines, produced nine purses during the bee.

Participating in a sewing bee at the Langford-Nord House in Blythewood to sew purses for school girls in Zambia are organizer Kem Smith, Gail Corn, Lynne Richardson, Frankie McLean (seated), Vivian Bickley, Lisa Smith, Jeanette Smith and Caroline Burgos. The women, who brought their portable sewing machines, produced nine purses during the bee.

BLYTHEWOOD – Eight women from Blythewood and the surrounding community recently toted their portable sewing machines to the Langford-Nord House on McNulty Road for an old fashioned sewing bee. Their focus on that evening was a project to help keep teenage girls in Zambia in school.

That project is the Sew Powerful Purse Project and by the end of the evening the women had stitched together nine stylish but utilitarian purses, the likes of which might be found in any upscale boutique for women.

But regardless of how good they look, how can purses help keep girls in Zambia and other poverty stricken countries in school?

“For these girls who live in dire poverty, a purse is not a frivolous fashion,” said Kem Smith, a Blythewood CPA who has spearheaded the world-wide project locally. “It is a way the girls, as they come of age, can bring their necessary personal and sanitary supplies to school. Without a purse and these supplies, they will have to stay at home several days each month, missing at least six weeks of school each year. When the girls miss school, they fall behind. If they drop out, they will probably have no second chance for a better life.

“Statistics show there is an 80 percent chance they will become HIV positive,” Smith said. “This very simple thing, a purse, can be their lifeline to staying in school.”

In these countries, education is instrumental in the war on poverty, Smith explained, especially when poverty is so extreme that large families have to share a one-room hut with no running water or electricity, sleep on floor mats and never have enough to eat. And it is the females who, because they are female, are the most vulnerable to losing that fragile chance for a way out – an education.

To prepare for the Blythewood project, Smith, a meticulous seamstress, scoured fabric stores, selecting sturdy, colorful, washable fabrics for the purses and various color-coordinated fabrics for linings, flaps and shoulder straps. Using a pattern supplied by the Sew Powerful Purse Project, Smith cut out fabric pieces and separated them into Ziploc bags to be distributed to the women at the sewing bee. Each bag contained everything, including buttons and instructions, needed to construct one purse.

Smith said she was motivated to participate in the project by her own realization of extreme poverty, which came when she was 13 and her dad, an Army colonel, was stationed in Ethiopia.

“He wrote to me of the living conditions there, of the lack of opportunity, of the hunger, poverty and sickness,” she said. “That was in 1968, but in parts of Africa, this description of life remains much the same today. Education can be the way out, sometimes the only way out for both girls and boys. But this simple purse can be a powerful tool for keeping the prospect of education alive for the girls.”

Jason Miles, the CEO of the Sew Powerful Purse Project, and his staff will deliver the purses made by the women at the Langford-Norse House to Zambia.

“Each young woman receiving a purse will attend a health class and receive her purse filled with necessities – soap, underwear and feminine supplies – so that she can stay in school every day until she graduates,” Smith said. “It’s really so little we have to do to make such a big difference for these girls.”

Smith said more sewing bees are planned in Blythewood and she would like to see them organized in surrounding communities as well.

“We need more help,” Smith said. “For those who do not sew, they can contribute funds for the much needed supplies for the purses. Both purse and money contributions will go directly to the project. As long as there is one woman anywhere that lacks opportunity because she is a woman, our work is not done.”

To find out more about the purse project, go to SewPowerful.org or contact Smith at [email protected] or call her at 803-786-5200.

 

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