Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Coffee Talk II: Emily Saunders, Comfort the Children International

Funny how things work sometimes, don't you think?
You know, when you think about someone you haven't seen in ages, suddenly the phone rings and it's them?
Or when you think that it would be time to have another interview up on the blog and bam! you receive an email completely out of the blue from someone who has no idea what you do in the blogging world, an email about someone who is doing a great job for a non-profit, and it perfectly clicks?

Yes, exactly.

Emily Saunders is that someone doing a great job. She has been working with an incredible non-profit called Comfort the Children International (CTC).
CTC has been doing an amazing job in Maai Mahiu, Kenya, trying to create sustainable change there acting in 5 different yet connected areas: environment, education, health, economy, community.
Indeed it is near impossible to act on only one without impacting the others, which is why CTCs approach is, to put in in their own word, "holistic".


Emily has been collaborating with them to design a wallet. Not just any wallet. It's the Change wallet, with a Kenyan shilling sewn on the front as a lucky charm, perpetuating a Kenyan tradition, and the word CHANGE branded on the back, as a symbol of the change that the purchase of the wallet will bring to the kids of Maai Mahiu. Because yes, all the profits from the sales of the wallet will be injected directly into CTC's programmes. That would make a great gift right?

Want to know more? So let me introduce you to the wonderful Emily!

Hi Emily, tell us a bit more about you: who are you? Why and how did you start working with CTC?
I’m a native New Yorker, in May I graduated from the Associates Program at Parsons School for Design. During my last semester at Parsons I took an entrepreneurship class where I conceived of the idea of the Change wallet. My entrepreneurship teacher, Yrmis, had such belief in the idea that a few months after graduations she introduced me to Zane (the founder of CTC) with the idea that we might want to collaborate and make the wallet a reality.

One of the first words you read about CT is "holistic", can you explain what this means and what CTC's goals are?
The emphasis on the word “holistic” comes from CTC’s firm belief that in order to effect social change you can’t just rely on the effectiveness of handouts. You have to focus on the structure of a community and work with the complete structure, not just a part of it.
CTC’s fundamental goal is to break the cycle of poverty in Maai Mahiu, Kenya in a sustainable and long lasting way. 

What has CTC achieved so far? And what's coming next?
CTC has been working in Maai Mahiu for almost ten years now and in that time one of the most important things that they have accomplished is return a sense of hope to the community. They have built a school for special needs children (who had been marginalized by their community), and created a way for the mothers of these children to support themselves - providing them with the resources to make bags and sell them for profit.

They have initiated agricultural programs to improve nutrition and educational programs to increase HIV/AIDS awareness. They have also started a youth empowerment program, which provides boys and girls from the community with a place where they can have equal opportunity to access information, education and health.
The profits from the Change wallet will go toward expanding the youth initiative program.  

Tell us more about the wallet you designed for CTC: why did you choose to design a wallet, and what is its meaning?
The design of the wallet is simple, as is the wallet’s purpose: to propagate change and promote fundamental human rights. The wallet is unisex and handmade in grey leather with a Kenyan shilling sewn onto the front, and the word “Change” branded onto the back. I wanted to incorporate the shilling because I wanted to play off of the tradition that when a wallet is gifted to someone, the gift-giver puts a coin into the wallet for good luck and to ensure the wallet will never be empty. But I also wanted the coin to symbolize the change that the purchase of each wallet will bring to the lives of the youth of Maai Mahiu.  
I wanted to use a wallet as a fundraising initiative because a wallet is something that we all use multiple times a day and for the owner of the wallet it will not only serve as a daily reminder of the change their purchase has made to a community thousands of miles away but also, hopefully, encourage them to continue to think about what else they can do to promote positive change. 

What do CTC people need now?
Any community caught in a vicious cycle of poverty needs for there to be holistic change within the community. Which means that change must be effected on a number of levels; education, environment, economy, health and community issues must all be addressed. 

What inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by the incredibly world we live in – travel is one of the most inspiring things to me, which is why I jump at the chance to go anywhere!

What are you thankful for in your life?
I am thankful for many things – just to be in a position where I can do something that I love (design) and have that benefit others as well is incredible.
Most of all, though, I am thankful for the people in my life – the friends and family that are both near and far away who provide me with unconditional support and love. I owe them each a million kisses!

Thank you Emily!

Now I'm sure you all want to see what the wallet looks like, here it is!

You can find it on CTC's webshop, as well as many other great products. If you want to purchase them all, hey, why not? It's for a good cause after all! :)

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