Follow the Clothes, Part Two: The Purge

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It’s been closet-cleaning season at the Tresch house this week. To begin with, last Tuesday I filled two huge bags with clothes and hauled them to Goodwill, which lends itself to an amazing story, but be patient. Then, last night I went to that pesky book study again that I love/hate. This week we are examining ALL our possessions to see just how tied to them we really are. Of course, I already knew my answer: too much. Not only do we discuss our personal issues with possessions, but we talk about what Jesus has to say about all this stuff-love. Ouch. And then, as if that weren’t enough, we are supposed to come up with a plan for what exactly we’re going to do about each week’s excess. This week, three of us decided to purge 30 items a day. And yes, I willingly signed up for this.

So, here it is, Day One. And what did I decide to purge? Clothes, of course. Honestly, the purging thing is kind of addictive, but you must be careful that you don’t get on such a roll that you start giving away things that you might need (want). I’ve learned this lesson before, and my mother used to chide me for being too “eager to evict.” So I am going to be careful and particular with what goes into my 30-things-a-day pile. Especially particular.

I’m bothered by the idea that we’re giving away clothes that people in developing countries are paying for. My friend Brian did make some good points in the comments section of last week’s post, but I still tried to choose clothing that won’t add to the giant cubes that are making their way to Latin America and Africa. I really want to concentrate on what we (as developed countries) can do to encourage and sustain growth in the market sector of these (developing) countries. That seems fair, right?

But not easy.

I chose 30 pieces of clothing that were good quality and that I hope will be enjoyed by someone else. But here is what I realized as I purged: I must give careful thought to what I purchase at the outset, so that I avoid the cycle of buying cheap sale items on a whim that I don’t really care to keep. This is my problem, and maybe it’s yours. Ladies, do you shop at Target and find great deals you simply can’t pass up? Do you buy several of one type of clothing in various colors because it fits? Do you hit the sale racks at 80 percent off and not even try on the clothes because they are such a bargain? If so, chances are those clothes rarely stay in your closet longer than a year. Or if they do, you don’t wear them because you didn’t give your purchase careful thought and consideration. Do you know where your clothes were made? Some countries have lousy labor practices and the person who stitched your adorable tunic might work 14 hour days with conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

So while I am committed to purging my clothes and getting educated about where they end up, I’m also going to make a promise to myself  that I will stop being ignorant about the process of purchasing clothes. I will find manufacturing companies that treat their employees well, and I will start by spending some time on the Free2Work website.

But as long as I still have this closet full of clothing, I will continue to purge. Maybe great stories like this one will come out it:

Last week, we lost one of our seamstress apprentices in our ACEF Women’s Sustainability Program, and we needed to replace her with another apprentice so that we didn’t interrupt sponsorship. Unfortunately, we needed $100 to pay for the new apprentice’s entry fee. This all transpired on Friday morning, the same day I took my two overstuffed bags of donated clothing to a good home. The good folks who sort clothing there were going through the donations, and they came across a pair of jeans that was in one of my bags. I was volunteering there on Friday, and one of them came out holding up my jeans.

“Are these yours?” Jonalyn asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Guess what we found in them?” she asked, and held up what was in the back pocket.

Two $50 bills.

Folks, this does not happen to me. I almost never find a stray dollar in any of my pockets because I am cheap, cheap, cheap. And so $100 in a pocket of my jeans simply does not compute. But this morning it made perfect sense. And if I had not been doing that pesky book study, I would have never cleaned out my closet. And because those jeans are a size I will not wear again, I would have never had occasion to look in the pocket.

And now, Francisca, our new apprentice in Ghana, has started her apprenticeship and is on her way to a new life. By the way, she is 17, has lost both her parents, and lives in a one-room dwelling with her grandmother and five siblings. I think she needed that mysterious $100 way more than I did.

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So I’m thinking that there is a lesson here. has something to teach me as my friends and I work our way through this study: Give it the crap away. You’ll be fine without it.

Well, I’m not going to purge it all, but I am unloading 30 items a day for one week. And I’m expecting more great stories as I continue to unload my excess.

Shop Differently: Krobo Bead Bracelets

I don’t like to be the one to say it, but this a good time to start your holiday shopping. There are 49 days left. And if you have a mother, wife, daughter, aunt, et.al (females), then I’m going to shamelessly tell you that I have something for you to purchase and give them.

I’m not much of a jewelry girl, so I only wear pieces that have a great story behind them. Of course, I wear a ring my husband gave me as a symbol of his commitment to me in marriage, and believe me, that’s a great story. I have a beautiful butterfly necklace that my cousins gave me on the day of my mother’s funeral, because we all knew that – finally – Mom was freed from the cocoon of disease. I wear a pair of earrings that my best friend found on a mission trip to Peru that were made by women in fair trade markets. I also wear a necklace with tiny wood beads (they still smell woodsy) that I purchased on our birthland tour in China last year. On that necklace, I have added a small charm with the shape of Africa on it. These two places – Africa and China – are settled deep in my soul. And now, I wear a bracelet that is strung with beautiful, rustic African beads made in Ghana.

These are Krobo beads, and of course, there is a story behind them.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, then you know that I’ve become connected with this amazing African village, Ankaase, Ghana, where the dirt is red, the air is muggy, the needs are overwhelming, and the people are so gracious and friendly that it turns everything I know upside down. Somewhere between May and October, God wrecked me for this village and the people. I’m now wrapped around six children and their families, a village school, three women who want to become seamstress apprentices, and – truth be told – the rest of the people in Ankaase that I have yet to meet. I don’t have a good way to explain this. I feel as if I’ve been picked up, moved over, and and set back down.

I discovered these beads when my friends Peter and Anna brought me a gift on a visit to Tulsa last July. It was a Krobo Bead bracelet strung with these funky African beads that jumbled together perfectly to create something beautiful. I slipped the bracelet on my wrist, wore it every day, and then decided to do some research.

Here’s a quick course in Krobo beads: They are made in Ghana by artisans who have been handed down the craft through the generations. These artisans create the beads, not inside factories, but using an outdoor oven usually hand constructed from mud. The process goes like this: gather old glass (beer or Milk of Magnesia bottles or Ponds cold cream jars work well), crush the glass into a fine powder and mix it with ceramic dye to make a mixture that is then poured into small molds. Insert a stick from the cassava plant into the middle of each mold mixture, slide the molds into the clay oven with a large spatula, and fire the mixture into a putty-consistency. Then, slide the molds back out, carefully remove each bead from the mold, remove the cassava stick, let the beads cool, wash them, and then begin the paint process. Each layer of paint must be fired, so this is a long, detailed process. The designs are highly individualized, so no two beads are alike.

So Alison and I are making Krobo bead bracelets. We use beads I have purchased in Ghana, and also beads that my friend Melody sells through her sustainability organization in Somanya, Ghana. And we’re selling the bracelets for this purpose:

Here is the SDA School

Here are some students in the SDA School

The government of Ghana mandates that these students take a course called Information and Technology, which focuses on learning computers. That’s a good thing. Every young person, whether they live in Africa or North America, is going to have a better chance to move forward in the world if they have a working knowledge of how to use a computer. Duh. The not-so-good part of this story is that the government of Ghana does not provide schools with computers, so the instructors were teaching computers using a blackboard. Students would sit like this and watch a teacher scribble computer lessons with chalk on a board and these same students had never put their hands on a computer.

How hard can it be to acquire some funds and computers for this school? As it turns out, it wasn’t so difficult. When people learned of the need, they gave, and in three weeks ago we packed six computers in an action packer and hauled them to Ankaase, Ghana. The entire village was pretty excited.

And very grateful.

But also realistic.

They need more computers. They need printers. They need modems (quality IT education must include teaching students to navigate the Internet for additional learning opportunities and research). They need a computer lab that every student in the school can utilize, and a lab that is also open to the entire community. That’s our big dream. And it’s possible.

That’s why we’re selling Krobo Bead bracelets. We want to continue to build this computer lab. The beginnings of this small lab are beautiful.

Here’s a news story that aired last Friday on the computer lab celebration. My friends will tell you I hate the camera, but I did it for the kids.

We don’t want to stop here. If we believe that the children in our U.S. school communities deserve the best resources for learning, then we must believe these children in Ankaase, Ghana are deserving of the same. Ask a child – any child – in this village what school means to them and they’ll be able to tell you. It means the chance to have a better life. They don’t take it for granted. This truth is embedded deep within them and school is where they want to be. For most, it’s their only chance.

So would you consider purchasing a Krobo Bead bracelet? Every cent of this $20 purchase will go toward completing the computer lab. Every 14 bracelets sold will fund a computer. Every 7 bracelets sold will fund a printer. Every 5 bracelets sold will fund Microsoft Office 2010 for a computer. Every 2 bracelets sold will fund a modem for a computer. And every 1 bracelet sold goes toward the purchase of one of these items. I’m scrambling to get these on a store for easier purchase, but for now you can find them here. We’re doing business the old-fashioned way for another week, and then they will be available on StoreEnvy.com where you can pay with a credit card through PayPal. The bracelets come boxed for gift-giving (or if you buy it yourself, take it out, put it on, and save the box for something else). They also include a card to explain that all proceeds go toward the completion of a computer lab for the children of SDA School. These bracelets are a perfect holiday gift and a way to shop differently this holiday season.

And this is not the only product we’re selling to help you shop differently. Stay tuned for another opportunity that has a great story behind it. In the meantime, however, go shopping!