About Jackie

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Back To Africa!

In 2001, I decided to travel through West Africa.  I had finished university, was ready for an adventure and I had dreamed of going to Africa since I was a child.  I started my trip in Paris, made my way down the Spanish coast, ferried to Gibraltar, crossed into Morocco, convoyed across the Sahara desert for 4 days through Mauritania, and on to 6 other countries – Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ghana.  Those six months were life changing for me.  Africa was now in my heart and I could not wait for the next opportunity (or excuse) to return.

It’s twelve years later and now I own and run Ambler with my husband, Christian. Last year we were introduced to Landis Wyatt, an Ambler employee before we owned the company, who was living and running Universal Outreach Foundation with her husband in Liberia (a west African country I did not visit on my 2001 trip because they were in civil war). Back in the day, Landis was sewing and selling bags and thought bags could be a good fit for Ambler.  Ambler bags did not pan out at the time but the idea of creating and making bags came full circle when I met Landis. Landis was excited to see if a partnership could develop for Ambler in Liberia.  I was very excited because I had been dreaming of having bags made in Africa.  My reason was part selfish, wanting any excuse to return to Africa, but mainly because I knew there was a need for social enterprises in many African countries.  Not only that, Africa has such unique fabrics and sewing is a skill many Africans already have.

I arrived in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on December 4th, 2012 with only a few other people, one being my friend Deb who I was travelling with.  Most people on our plane got off when we stopped in Sierra Leone, Liberia is not necessarily a destination for tourists.  Liberia has only been out of a civil war for 10 years and you can still feel and see the effects of years of war.  Approximately 250,000 people died during the war and now 85% of the population continue to live below the international poverty line.

As a tourist I was astonished at the prices!  I was paying more than I would in Canada for quite a few things.  I soon realized that it made sense since there is no electricity anywhere and everything is powered by generators which take diesel.  As you can imagine, imported diesel isn’t cheap either.  So either you do have the money to live comfortably or you make due with the little you have and live quite differently.

The reason why I went to Liberia is because relationships with the people we work with are very important to Ambler.  So I spent my time in Monrovia with our new partner, Jola House, a social enterprise trying to help generate income for Liberians.  It was wonderful to see where and who was making our new bags.  I also felt that it was reciprocated for the workers at Jola House to associate Ambler with an actual person who does care about them!

My time in Liberia was very intentional because I was only going to be there for a short time.  A week somewhat felt like a month because of all the things I got to do and see.  I went to markets looking for fabric, designed new bags, adjusted bags in production, worked on new product, ate Liberian food with Jola House staff, visited a beautiful Eco Lodge, swam in the ocean, rode motorcycles to get around town, talked with all sorts of people on the street, listened to church choir practices, danced with children playing soccer outside, experienced the daily difficulties of not having electricity to run sewing machines, learned more about tie-dye, listened to life stories and felt compassion for what Liberians have gone through.  Even through these huge trials, I am in awe of the abundance of joy, trust and hope Africans still have.

One of my favorite memories from this trip was asking people, “How da body oh (How are you doing)”?  The response was, “Praise God”, which means, I am doing very well.

Until the next time…

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To Be Loved and Cared For

Laxmi at work at PRC.

While I was in Nepal in March 2012, I had the privilege of visiting PRC for the very first time and met Laxmi. She had just returned from court that day…

 Laxmi’s Story

Laxmi grew up in a very poor family in western Nepal. At the age of 13, her father died and her mother ran off with another man, leaving Laxmi with a brother, age 6 and sister, age 8. Since her family was very poor, they lived in a very small thatch/mud house and her parents had done day labor to put food on the table. Laxmi had no means of income so she and her siblings resorted to begging for their food. A neighborhood man took note of their dire circumstances and one day came to Laxmi saying he knew of a babysitting job for a wealthy couple that she could do to bring in money to feed her family.  He said he would take her there and she would be able to come home at night. Laxmi went with him but instead of going to a rich family’s home she ended up in a room in a city in India with 17 other girls. The first night they were given injections and in the morning they woke up naked, sore and not knowing how many men had used them during the night. This went on for 3 months. During that time, the traffickers were preparing false passports for the girls.  After 3 months Laxmi was sold to Saudi Arabia. From there she was sold to Kuwait. While in the brothel in Kuwait, Laxmi became ill, so she was checked out by a doctor who did a blood test and found her to be HIV+. She was immediately kicked out of the brothel to fend for herself on the streets. An Indian man found her wandering and had pity on her. He paid for her ticket to return to India. However, when she arrived in India she still had no means to support herself so was living on the streets trying to find a way back to Nepal. A Nepali who knew about Peace Rehabilitation Center’s border monitoring office found her and made a phone call to the border office. PRC staff then went to India to bring her back to Nepal.

She was brought to PRC’s rehabilitation home outside of Kathmandu where she was given the opportunity to enter into the 6-month to 1-year program involving counseling, literacy and skills training in a family atmosphere. Laxmi still wasn’t well so she was taken to the doctor. Through blood tests they found out she WASN’T HIV+ but she was pregnant. One of the strongest aspects of PRC’s recovery program is the tender loving care shown to the girls by the staff.  PRC helped support Laxmi with this difficult situation and gave her a safe environment in which to make a decision. Over the next 7 months, their demonstrated love slowly chiseled away at Laxmi’s deep-seated anger and pain. She decided she wanted to have the baby and give it up for adoption if possible. She learned how to read and write and the skills of jewelry making and knitting.

After the baby was born, PRC staff and Laxmi traveled to her village area to testify against the neighbor who trafficked her to India. Through her testimony, the man was sent to prison. While there, she searched for her brother and sister and found out they were living with a relative in another village.

Laxmi returned to PRC’s rehab program and she started to take an interest in caring for her baby. She has come to love her baby very much and wants to be a good mother. Laxmi continues today to live at PRC. She shares that she finally knows what it means to be truly loved and cared for because of the amazing support of the PRC staff.

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