This.Is.Awesome.

Last Wednesday was the highlight of my trip so far. I had the opportunity to visit one of the most spirited, positive, and fun communities I’ve ever been to — the Chikumbuso project in the Ng’ombe compound.

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Let me back up.

Compounds here in Lusaka are similar to the townships you may have heard about in South Africa, or to a slightly lesser extent, the Favelas of Brasil. In Lusaka in particular, people come from around the country in search of more opportunities in the capital. Once they arrive here, transplants often find themselves setting up makeshift housing in these compounds. As you can imagine, living conditions in the compounds can be… difficult. And that’s putting it lightly. Poor water and sanitary conditions often lead to higher incidence of disease among those living in these communities.

But, it’s not all bad. There’s often a lot of positive that comes from these communities. Such is the case with the Chikumbuso project in Ng’ombe. A little over a decade ago, Linda Wilkinson, the founder, started working with a group of widows whose families had been hit hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When I say hit hard, I mean their husbands, and often sisters and brothers, all died from illnesses exacerbated by AIDS. Moreover, some of these now widowed mothers were also HIV+, and left with the responsibility of looking after their own children, nieces, and nephews.

Given men in the society were the predominant breadwinners, unfortunately the widows didn’t have formal education, prior work experience, or skills to make them attractive to employers. All this added up to an extremely difficult equation for making money. So the widows did what they could to make a living— used art. They used their crocheting skills to start making carry-all bags and purses with only Shoprite plastic bags, a crocheting hook, and scissors. Yeah, you read that right. Shoprite bags. And let me tell you— they’re awesome.

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The shop at Chikumbuso. For an example of the amazing craftsmanship, these bags are made entirely of plastic!

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Detail of a bag made at Chikumbuso with an old Zambian coin on the handle. This model is part plastic, part native fabric.

Chikumbuso started with the mission of training these women, giving them skills and a means to sustain their families, and also provide a space where they could speak freely about the issues they faced given their HIV status. Now, 10 years later there are over 45 women and 25 youth making purses, bags, wine bottle holders, and jewelry of all forms. The handmade goods are sold from a store at Chikumbuso, at local markets throughout Lusaka, and even at the airport for those last-minute gift hunters. The program at Chikumbuso has grown to serve not only women seeking financial independence, but also to support the Ng’ombe community by educating and feeding youth who would otherwise have had no opportunity to attend school. Today, over 300 students from kindergarten through grade 6 attend class at Chikumbuso with another 150 on scholarship to attend local schools for grades 7 – 12.

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Bob Keating, Operations Manager at Zoona, speaking to a group of women in a 6th grade classroom at Chikumboso.

Last week, we went down to Chikumbuso to talk to the women about a different kind of opportunity; an opportunity to become a Zoona franchisee. Zoona believes in working with groups of people to help establish entrepreneurs who will be able to give back to their communities. By setting up a Zoona kiosk, these emerging entrepreneurs can provide financial services to people who need them, while earning commissions and creating jobs for those who want to work. In the case of Chikumbuso, Zoona would establish a model where a percentage of each transaction would go back to Chikumbuso to directly fund operations and other initiatives at the center.

This.

This is why new fintech biz models are so awesome.

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Beauty Kamwaya, Jane Kapenda, and Vera Chewe follow along as Bob talks about the process to become a Zoona entrepreneur.

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Gertrude Banda, President of Chikumbuso, discusses some of the finer points with the group.

If you’re so inclined, you can make a contribution or sponsor a child at Chikumboso by easily donating online at http://www.chikumbuso.com/donate

Or, for those of you in the northern hemisphere, pick up a handmade bag for your next trip to the beach.

You can chill out, cool as a cucumber, knowing that your purchase directly supports widowed women and orphaned children here in Lusaka.

Check out some more shots from my trip below.

Agness Namfukwe is working on a small bag at Chikumbuso.

Agness Namfukwe is working on a small bag at Chikumbuso.

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Every Wednesday the women from the community come down to the center to make bags together.

They took a break from singing so that I could capture a few shots of the process.

They took a break from singing so that I could capture a few shots of the process.

Children’s handprints on the walls of Chikumbuso.

Children’s handprints on the walls of Chikumbuso.

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Another mixed medium beach bag.

A little holder for odds n ends.

A little holder for odds n ends.

Bracelets!

Bracelets!

Bracelets and a few necklaces.

Bracelets and a few necklaces.

Handmade wine bottle holders.

Handmade wine bottle holders.

Emeldah Chiwala, singing and crocheting.

Emeldah Chiwala, singing and crocheting.

Mean-muggin’ for the cam.

Mean-muggin’ for the cam.

But all smiles here for Maureen Tembo, the Secretary of Chikumbuso.

But all smiles here for Maureen Tembo, the Secretary of Chikumbuso.

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Nile Nahar-Brown is working out of Lusaka, Zambia, with fintech entrepreneur Zoona on product development and marketing strategy.

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4 Responses to “This.Is.Awesome.

  • Nile, you are doing such good work and I am so happy you care. The crafts/products are so beautiful and so are the people. Keep up the good work. We are all proud of you.

    • 🙂 Thanks Norma! I’m going to try to snag a few bags before I head back to the states.

  • Nile, loving your photos! Sounds like a great opportunity to visit an inspiring community.

    • Thank you! It was awesome. I hope to get back there in the next few weeks.

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