Posts from 2014

A Different Way to Give…

The Holidays are upon us. We’ll sit down to a plentiful Thanksgiving dinner with our family and friends. We’ll shop for big sales at our favorite retail establishment or online. We’ll bake too many cookies for one household to possibly eat. We’ll forget to be thankful, we’ll buy things we don’t need, and we’ll throw out our excess without a thought.

My challenge to you, this holiday season, is to not do anything that doesn’t make you think: how has this helped someone? How has it made someone’s day? How can I alter my intrinsic actions to better a part of someone’s life?

Beza Threads helps to make those differences in someone’s life, and there’s more to it than just buying a scarf. The organization has no doubt made a name for itself in the Des Moines community, and it’s time to reach further.

Like you, I have a closet full of scarves. I’ve gifted them to as many family and friends as I can think of, and I’ve asked them to do the same. Under no circumstances do I need another scarf, but that’s not necessarily the point. It’s the easiest thing to do: choose a scarf, give your money, walk away. It helps, and Beza Threads is thankful, but what if you want to do more?

My husband recently enlightened me to a new way to give to a non-profit organization. (In the process, he also successfully justified his online shopping habit. Nice work, husband.) Amazon has launched a version of their e-commerce site called Amazon Smile, which gives 1% of every purchase you make to a charity of your choice. It might not seem like a lot, that 1%, but it’s a start, and it could consciously change your purchasing habits. If you have the option to spend your dollars through a website that gives back to your favorite charity, why wouldn’t you?

Amazon even redirects you if you go to their normal web address after you’ve selected a charity to contribute to through smile.amazon.com. Could they make this any easier? Sometimes it only takes small adjustments to our everyday lives to create change.

Another avenue to pursue is giving through your employer. Many companies will match a gift to a charity at a predetermined percentage. I would venture to say that this benefit goes unused more than it should. When you have a minute, take a look at your benefits package, or talk to your HR representative and see what your options are for philanthropy through your employer. Whether you give to Beza Threads, or another worthy non-profit organization, you know that your dollars will make a difference.

As we go into the jumble of the holiday season, take a minute to reflect on your spending habits, and the small alterations you can make that will make a big difference.

Visiting the Freedom School

A particular four-story, concrete building is set apart in one of the most dangerous and poor neighborhoods in Addis Ababa – Ethiopia’s capital city with nearly 3.5 million people. The tallest structure in the neighborhood is a school, built and run by Hope for Children Ethiopia. Every day it serves 1,400 students between the ages of 5 and 16. Without it, most of these children would never receive a formal education; and for half of them, it’s their first step out of slavery.

More so than any other place in Ethiopia, our time spent at the HCE Freedom School reminds us that hope, restoration and change is real and tangible. Roughly 700 of the students at the this school are current or recently-rescued victims of forced servitude, living in 12×12 foot sweatshops. The small mud huts are their prison, where they eat, sleep and work for abusive shop owners.

Our brief visits to a few of these shops were enough to make us queasy, and many of the thousands of slave children in Ethiopia know no other life. But the Freedom School is changing that with radical action.

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We’re headed to Ethiopia again!

I’ve turned on my “out of office” at work and I’m preparing to check out of the real world as I know it.

About once a year, I have the amazing opportunity to pack my bags and head off to Ethiopia. Each time I have different expectations, excitements, and questions. Each time I come back excited to conquer the world in efforts to bring freedom to the enslaved and grow Beza Threads.

Our team is making final preparations before leaving on our trip Sunday evening. We’ll travel for 30 hours, arriving 2 days later, and have to adjust to telling time differently. (Seriously: Ethiopians tell the time of day differently, and according to their national calendar it’s currently the year 2006, so it’ll take us Americans awhile to adjust.)

Team Members

Josiah (me) – Accountant by day and Beza Threads founder, director and intern by night. This is my fourth trip to Ethiopia.
Autumn – AmeriCorps member, graphic designer and professional volunteer.  Co-founder and Beza Threads board member.  This will be Autumn’s fourth trip to Ethiopia.
Brent – Husband, dad to six, pastor, techie (especially Apple gear) and passionate follower of Jesus Christ wherever that may take him. This is his first trip to Ethiopia.
Scott – Home builder to pay the bills and servant to please the soul. This is his first trip to Ethiopia.

(Of special note – Brent and Scott are members of Ashworth Road Baptist Church in West Des Moines. The Ashworth congregation has been a huge supporter since the start of Beza Threads. We are so excited to have them join us and help us tackle this adventure.)

So I wanted to share with you our plans for the trip. If you follow us on Twitter or “like” us on Facebook, you’ll see our updates throughout the trip. We’re planning to post a few times a day, so you’re going to see a lot of activity from us!

Take a tour: Our first 1-2 days will be dedicated to visiting each of the programs of our partner organization, Hope for Children in Ethiopia. This includes the programs that we support directly as well as many others. For example, they have a team of cooks that make meals for everyone in their programs.  They  have 1,200 people to feed 5 days a week! They operate a school for in the poorest area of the city.  They run another school for kids younger than 15 that have been rescued from slavery. The tour is one of my favorite parts of the trip as we see how Hope for Children in Ethiopia is changing the city to bring hope and justice.

Face the issue: Beza Threads is centered around fighting injustice. Being halfway around the world, we sometimes get disconnected from the issue. While in Ethiopia, we make it a priority to visit the prostitution district, sneak into a sweat shop, and see the people we are trying to free.  These moments bring frustration, anger, and heartbreak. This renews our passion breaking the bonds of slavery and drives us to keep doing what we do for another year.

Collect stories: A big part of our trip is listening to and recording the stories of freedom from the rescued boys and girls, including the girls rescued from forced prostitution and the boys rescued from sweatshops.  We get to hear where they came from, the tragic ways they were enslaved, the chance encounter that led to their freedom, and their hopes and dreams for the future. We also talk with the Program Directors to hear about the process of rescuing and rehabilitating, and the stories of victory in their fight against slavery.

Product work: A critical part of the trip is putting in our annual order for scarves and planning for the fall/winter season. I’m especially excited this year because instead of an accountant (me) designing the scarves, we’ve formed a Product Team with members experienced in fashion, photography, and design. They’ve developed some pretty awesome scarves for this year, including our first line of scarves for guys. Not only does the product team design the scarves, but we work on the shipping process, handling of defects, and minor manufacturing process changes. While guy scarves might sound exciting, we are also kicking of our first few leather products!  I won’t spoil the surprise, but this is going to be the start of something awesome.

The boring stuff: As with any organization, there are budgets, finances, and other less-exciting items that are important to keep business moving. It’s important to work through these items face to face with our partner organization. Working through a language barrier is hard enough in person, let alone trying to do it all via email!

Best of all: While the stuff above sounds great, truly the best part of the whole trip—hands down—is just getting to hang out with the teens in the programs we support. We share food, play silly games, and try our best to speak the few Amharic words we know. By the end of the trip friendships and closer bonds have been made. In the same manner you’d go out of your way to help a close friend in need, during the next year we know the people we’re supporting. We remember their laughs, smiles and stories as we sell their scarves. Our hard work seems like such a small thing once we meet those we are helping.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m excited to share our adventure with you over the next 12 days! Again, watch for our updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Egzi’abher yibarkih! (God bless)