If you were to journey across the ocean to Uganda and enter a lively artisan workplace filled with the sounds of chatter and fluttering fingers rolling colorful paper beads, you would meet Olivia. Olivia’s story is not unlike those of other women in the room. Just two years ago, Olivia was a single mother unable to find consistent employment. Out of sheer desperation, she was on the brink of sending her beloved daughter Rachel to an orphanage. Herself an orphan and survivor of exploitation, Olivia felt that she had no other options that would provide Rachel with the care and education she needed. It was in her moment of greatest despair that Olivia met Jalia and Daniel, the couple that leads a group of Ugandan artisans who partner with Noonday Collection.
Noonday Collection is committed to offering dignified jobs to artisans in vulnerable communities around the world by providing a marketplace for fair-trade handcrafted jewelry and accessories. From its headquarters in Austin, Texas, Noonday collaborates with 29 artisan groups by offering them interest-free loans to launch their businesses and helping them design unique products that reflect their respective skills and traditions. Artisans’ products—and the stories behind them—are shared via a network of “Noonday Ambassadors” who host trunk shows with their respective networks of friends and customers throughout the United States.
While customers are enamored with the on-trend jewelry and fair-trade business model, it is Noonday’s commitment to strengthening families that forms the heartbeat of the company’s mission. Jaclyn Dowdle, Noonday’s Marketing Manager, explains: “We believe in creating dignified jobs that help empower families to care for their children, helping ensure that children are not orphaned or abandoned because of poverty.”
This approach is consistent with research results from the Faith to Action Initiative and others, which reveal that a majority of children living in orphanages do have at least one living parent but were separated from their families due to lack of economic or educational opportunities. When families have access to fair and stable income-generating opportunities, they can afford food, medical care, and educational expenses for their children. The process of equipping families with resources to prevent family separation is known as “family strengthening.” Faith to Action’s newest publication, Transitioning to Family Care for Children: A Guidance Manual, explores the various means and methods of strengthening families. These may involve networking with government, nonprofit, or community-based groups that offer loans, income-generating opportunities, after-school programs, counseling, parenting classes, and other services that allow vulnerable families to care well for their children.
For Noonday Collection, the company’s commitment to family strengthening extends even beyond the provision of meaningful jobs, as they have also collaborated with other faith-based partners to offer additional family support services such as child care assistance. Furthermore, a focus on helping artisans develop sustainable business models through no-interest loans allows families to find economic stability and resilience even in the face of vulnerabilities.
Let’s return to Uganda, where Noonday first began partnering with artisans who make the paper beads that continue to be a high-demand component of Noonday’s jewelry collection. Olivia’s job with Noonday’s partner artisan group earned her enough income and financial stability to keep her family together. She was even able to send her daughter Rachel to school. Upon her recent visit to Uganda, Jessica Honegger, Founder and Co-CEO of Noonday Collection, commented, “The weariness I saw in her eyes when I met her two years ago has been replaced with pride.”
With meaningful work comes dignity. And that dignity—coupled with income to provide for one’s needs—is what helps enable parents around the world to care for children within families.
Daphne Fowler has worked in the field of international community development for over 7 years, and earned her Master’s degree in Cross-Cultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. She and her husband most recently served with Mennonite Central Committee in Cambodia as Partner Advisors for Capacity Development for 3 years. They now live in Atlanta with their two little girls. Daphne is currently at home with the girls while working part-time as Grants Coordinator for ECHO, a Christian organization that provides agricultural resources for resource-poor farmers. She enjoys adventures, the outdoors, and dreaming of another trip to Nepal.