In 2016, my daughter Giovanna and I stepped into a one-room structure in a remote village in the hills of Rwanda. There, we were shily greeted by Judi. Inside, there was no light other than what shone through the door opening.
After our interpreter introduced us and we exchanged timid hugs, we asked Judi to tell us her story. As one of the poorest women in the village, she had barely been surviving, raising two children alone. Day to day, she didn't know how she would feed her kids. When we asked what she had experienced during the genocide, she shook her head and looked down. Too much pain.
Judi's life changed when someone in the U.S. committed $400 to sponsor her for one year. Through an international non-governmental organization (NGO), she and 25 other women in her village were trained to be seamstresses.
Today, Judi is the village tailor. Evidence of her skills – newly sewn dresses, school uniforms, jackets — hang from the mud ceiling of her home, ready to be tried on by her clients. She proudly told us she had saved enough money to own (not rent) a sewing machine. Most importantly, she was able to look after her family, providing them with food, clothing, and even health insurance.
Judi’s story – the transformation of a family because of a learned and marketable skill — is the story of millions of displaced individuals around the world. You'll find women like Judi in the Congo, Syria, India, Iraq, Cambodia, as well as in the United States. But just like Judi, lives can change forever when they have the opportunity.
The NGO that showed up for Judi was Women for Women International. For over 15 years, I had been sponsoring women like her. While I may never meet some of the women I sponsored in Nigeria, the Congo, Afghanistan, or Rwanda, every one of them — individually and collectively – helped reshape me as a person. They have made my life so much better, and I believe I did something for them.
When I turned 50 in 2009, I conceived an idea to develop a cookbook that would highlight the work of Women for Women International. For every book sold, I hoped, someone might be moved to make a difference, to consider the opportunity to help another human being become self-reliant, perhaps to sponsor someone like Judi. With the help of a team of four women who shared my belief in the organization, we've sold over 65,000 copies and raised tens of thousands of dollars both directly and indirectly.
I have this same dream for Peace by Piece International, which I founded in August 2017. For every gift item or event giveaway that a business purchases, they provide income for a maker – someone in a remote village in Nepal or on the outskirts of Chicago, someone who survived genocide, someone who has been trafficked, someone who was incarcerated, or someone seeking a better life as an immigrant.
I hope that every recipient of every PbP gift feels the impact of that product. I hope they think about where it came from, whose hands shaped it, and how learning and practicing a skill creates strength and self-reliance.
I’m excited to help businesses make a difference in the lives of people like Judi all around the world and close to home.
Please join me on this rewarding journey!