Major Martha Wheeler smiled as she unpacked a box in her Philadelphia office that is full of treasures: sparkling bracelets, glittering napkin rings, colorful cloth wallets, beautiful baskets, and much, much more. As she pulled out each item, it seemed one was more stunning than the next. She laid them out one by one, each with a tag that read, “Others Trade for Hope.” It’s a project that is calling her to Kenya during the month of August.
“It’s really humbling. I feel honored to have the opportunity,” said Major Wheeler, Women’s Ministries Secretary, The Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.
“This is their livelihood”
Others Trade for Hope is a program of The Salvation Army that dates back to 1997 in Bangladesh. At that time it was called Sally Ann. Since its inception it has provided hundreds of women with limited opportunities – including trafficked and other vulnerable individuals with a skilled trade to find meaningful employment. Women in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Moldova and Kenya now earn fair wages to produce tablecloths, purses, baskets and furniture that are made by hand or with the assistance of small production equipment. The items are sold by The Salvation Army in the United States, Norway and Denmark, to name a few, as well as on the internet. Major Wheeler is among a delegation from The Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory traveling to meet the talented women behind Others Trade for Hope in Kenya.
“This is their livelihood,” said Major Wheeler. “This program allows the women to make better lives for themselves.”
“With this income the women are able to feed their families. Their children are now in school. They are able to plan for the future, because this allows them to save,” added April Foster, Others Trade for Hope Director, who is leading the trip to Kenya.
Meeting the women behind the Others program
There are five Others production groups in Kenya. The Salvation Army Eastern Territory delegation will visit four. The Makadara Corps is located in a high density suburb of Nairobi where more than 50 women make products from a variety of recycled items. The Kilome Corps is a 90 minute drive outside of Nairobi. Here women make cloth purses called Captain Mary Bags. In a rural area about two and a half hours from Nairobi, the delegation will meet with artisans and learn how they make paper beads and perform traditional basket making and dying. Back in a Nairobi suburb, the team will visit Noah, who makes beautiful banana fiber nativity sets and angels. There will an opportunity to visit the homes of some of the women producers, to see how their lives and the lives of their families are being impacted by their involvement with Others. In addition to visiting the production sites, the delegation will participate in worship at the Nairobi Central Corps, one of the largest Salvation Army corps in the world with more than 2000 soldiers in the congregation.
“The Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory delegation will experience Others Trade for Hope first hand in Kenya, and then incorporate the stories into their ministries when they return home to the United States,” said Foster.
Generosity and Blessings
With support from the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division, Major Wheeler raised $2,000 which will be presented to the local Salvation Army leadership to purchase much needed sewing machines, production machinery, fabric and accessories for the program.
“Our hope is to be encouragers to the women, to bless them, help them feel valued,” said Major Wheeler.
As she peered through the items in her Others for Trade box in the days leading up to the trip, she pointed out a tag where a woman’s name was hand-written. It was the name of the woman who made the bracelet: Juliana. Although Nairobi, Kenya is 7,400 miles from Philadelphia, the Others Trade for Hope program is certainly close to Major Wheeler’s heart.
“This is going to be amazing. I am so excited,” she said.