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Empowering women – with a bag!

Soroptimist East London has been empowering women with a bag!  It’s a simple, eco-friendly, shopping bag made of off-white cotton. And yet – this simple bag has empowered and connected women survivors of trafficking in London, marginalised Roma, Askhali, and Egyptian women in Kosovo, and members of Soroptimist East London. And, we did it during Covid-lockdown! To find out how and why Soroptimist East London empowered women through using a bag, read on ……

How did Soroptimist East London empower and connect women with a bag?

Here in London SIEL members volunteer with HERA.  It’s a great organisation that supports women survivors of trafficking and/or domestic abuse. In London, HERA run a summer school for women survivors. Held at Imperial College, London the summer school teaches HERA students business skills and entrepreneurship.  On graduating from the summer school each student is paired with a mentor to supports them in their continuing journey to housing and employment.  That’s where Soroptimist East London comes in. Soroptimist East London members mentor HERA students – giving emotional and practical support. It’s a huge learning experience for Soroptimist mentors as well as the HERA mentees, with both mentor and mentee navigating unfamiliar asylum, education, housing, and employment systems.

HERA and mentors normally provide support through regular “Wednesday Wisdom” in-person, meetings.  But covid lockdown meant this was impossible. So HERA decided to create monthly care packages for their students containing phone credit, stationery, masks, hand sanitiser and some sweets.

Soroptimists in East London knew exactly where to find the perfect care package bags……

Travel about 1,000 miles southeast of London and you’ll arrive in Kosovo. It’s home to another organisation with which Soroptimist East London works – Sa Punë (part of The Ideas Partnership).  Sa Punë  (meaning “She Works”) is a social enterprise of Kosovan women mainly from marginalised Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) communities.  They make beautiful organic lavender bags, soap, cards decorated with traditional silverwork and other lovely things. Everything is run by the women, who can join provided that they send their children to school. This enables the women to support their families, ensures their children are educated and reduces early marriage. It helps break the cycle of poverty in which so many from this community are trapped.  You can read more about what it means for women like Nafije, who had never previously worked outside the family here.

And yes, the women of Sa Punë make bags. They make simple, inexpensive, white cotton, eco-friendly shopping bags! Absolutely ideal for printing up with amazing images to turn them into very special covid care package bags for HERA students in London.

How did we do all this during covid lock-down?

With travel limited during covid lock-down, the women of Sa Punë have faced even more economic challenges than normal since its been difficult for them to sell their produce. But in a garage in the UK, another UK supporter had a whole load of Sa Pune bags made before lockdown.

A few phone calls later, and the bags were forwarded to Soroptimist East London. Normally Sa Punë can print the bags with a design, but covid made this difficult.  So, Soroptimist East London and HERA got designing. Using funds including money raised via Easyfundraising, we bought iron-on logos for the bags.  In a rare outing for Soroptimist East London member Mary’s iron, she ironed all 36 logos on to 18 bags and sent the bags on to HERA.   HERA filled them with useful items and treats for the mentees and posted them out as their monthly care package.  And Soroptimist East London sent much-needed money to Sa Punë to pay for the bags!

And the result?

You can see the care packages here!

Buying Sa Punë products really does help marginalised Kosovan women’s empowerment.  Providing care packages means HERA’s students can access the internet and feel more confident going out and about in covid-times.   And both actions let the women know that people care.

HERA summed it up: “This has been a difficult time for survivors of human trafficking, slavery and exploitation. Being forced to stay inside and not see friends or family has made many relive their past trauma. At HERA we set up our monthly care packages to be a branch of support to the women we work with but no longer see face to face. Having wonderful organisations like Soroptimist East London support this project with their generous donations makes everything possible. On behalf of HERA we are so thankful for the beautiful tote bags. Not only have Soroptimist offered support to women survivors in the UK but with the bags also supporting women vulnerable in Kosovo, it was a fantastic partnership. Thank you so much Soroptimist East London.”

So, mission completed! Much needed money was sent to the women of Sa Pune, useful items, treats and a super-useful beautiful shopping bag were sent to HERA students. With dedicated action by Soroptimist East London members Mary and Nathalia, support from the whole club, great communication with our partners HERA and Sa Pune (The Ideas Partnership) and ……..

hey presto ……….. Women in London and in Kosovo all empowered through one bag!

two women sewing as part of Sa Pune Kosovo

What’s next?

Soroptimist members are big supporters of HERA, Sa Pune and The Ideas Partnership. We’re running online English conversation sessions for Kosovan women volunteers of The Ideas Partnership helping them build employability and access information not available in Albanian. And, in September we’re contributing to their fundraising #BigIdeasWeek online – come along and join!

Interested to find out about Soroptimist East London or Join?

Interested to find out more, or join, Soroptimist East London CONTACT us.  We’re a vibrant and friendly group and new members are welcome.  If you’d like to support our work please nominate us to receive an Easyfundraising donation, whenever you shop online. There’s absolutely no cost to you and it helps us to help others.  You can nominate us HERE.

You can also read our blog What Does Soroptimist East London and check our activities and events.

And remember, you can keep up to date with our news by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

And to learn more or to help HERA or The Ideas Partnership/Sa Pune

To help HERA, you can sign up to help fund a monthly care package for HERA students, support them while you order a takeaway and there are lots other ways to get involved with HERA.

There are lots of ways to help The Ideas Partnership & Sa Punë, click on their names in this blog to go through to their websites – and follow Sa Punë on Facebook to buy – or contact us!