The Leaky Boob, responsibility, India, sex trafficking, hand sewing, and transforming communities

In the rural south east agricultural area of A.Konduru, Andhra Pradesh, India, a group of women came together and decided to change their community.  They started simply doing something they already knew they could do well, enlisted the help of a woman with experience starting and running a business, and launched an endeavor called a.ku designs.  Their goal?  Start a school for their children.  One that was in their community, that wouldn’t require sending their children away and would include English language instruction, the business language of India.  A school that could help stop the cycle of poverty their community has been steeped in for generations.  A school that could offer their sons options instead of being bonded to the brick factories.  A school that could step in the gap as a way of preventing the sex trafficking of their daughters into brothels in the cities of India.  This school was their dream.  Their hope.

With the average income at $2.00 a day, job creation would break the cycle of poverty and provide hope for the future.  For these low caste families, many live in a round mud hut with a thatched roof and a dirt floor. The caste system has been banned but people still practice it. This prejudice holds people back from reaching their social and economic potential.

The women created a 5 year business plan for a.ku designs and got to work sewing and selling.  Their product made it to the other side of the world and with it their desired goal to the ears and hearts of a few people.  And instead of 5 years it took just one.  The A. Konduru village school opened on June 10, 2013 for grades 1-3 with 50 students, 30 of which were on full sponsorships.

Ride for Refuge International Teams

When a group of determined mothers come together amazing things happen.

Every once in a while I have to awkwardly look at The Leaky Boob and ask “is this really what I want it to be?  Am I being responsible with what I’ve been entrusted with?  Can I do better?”

More often than not I’m unsettled by the answers to these questions.

It is an incredible honor and a privilege to be a part of any aspect of your life and your journey, even if for just a moment, one article, or one Facebook post.  There are times where this is overwhelming and I want to run away and shut it all down.  Not only is it time consuming, it can be completely intimidating and at times, exhausting.  I have been attacked, mocked, questioned, and have discovered a political side to all this I had never anticipated.  I’ve even been accused of distributing child porn (AKA breastfeeding images) and called a pedophile (for breastfeeding my daughter past 12 months).  Sometimes I really want to quit.  But The Leaky Boob is also deeply satisfying and when I step back from my own insecurities and headache I see something I believe in and love.  I even think it’s important.  There’s no way I could walk away.  No way.

But can I do better?  Oh yeah, much better and I am grateful to have wise counsel and good friends that have become a team advising me how to do so.  Am I being responsible with it?  To an extent, yes but not enough.

I believe The Leaky Boob can make a difference, in fact, I believe that in the 3 years since starting TLB, it has made a difference.  Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined the impact the little blog I started would have in encouraging and supporting families starting out or in being a voice to normalize breastfeeding.  Now, even I can’t deny that is the case.  I have no idea why and I’m an unlikely candidate to be in this position yet here I am.  With you.

This isn’t about changes coming to TLB, though there are some on the horizon.  This is about something else close to my heart because while I love supporting breastfeeding moms and the people that support them, I’m also very passionate about making a difference in the world as a voice for the voiceless and I want to use the voice I have here to invite you to join me.  Outside of The Leaky Boob I work with an organization leading a global movement to bring artists together to speak up for the oppressed.  As part of that movement I share these stories and opportunities with you because I know first hand just how much influence a determined group of mothers can have.  As a mother I unite myself with these mothers because I know their heart and just as I’m deeply connected with the community of TLB because of breastfeeding, I’m connected to these women as their desires and determination resonate in my mother’s heart.

a.ku designs women at sewing machines

The mothers of A. Konduru inspire and humble me.  When two of my children were sexually assaulted I wanted to run away and hide with my children forever, getting through each day was overwhelming.  These women come together, risk it all, and make their world a better place in the face of oppression that would crush me.  They are my heroes.  They are not cowering, they are changing their world.

What does it look like?

Today with the help of supporting organizations, A. Konduru has a plan to transform their community even beyond the school.  This transformation will come from the community itself by intentionally working with government leaders, social workers and pastors in the community. Developing local business opportunities and education opportunities; bringing jobs to the community, lifting many from the oppression and poverty they live under daily. These efforts are enabling families to obtain proper food, receive needed health services and to live farther from the marginalized edge of hunger, sickness, slavery, and prostitution. a.ku designs will put back into the community using their profits for education in Grace School, taking a lead role and model community transformation.  Change will also come through community education in vocational, business and wellness training.

I have no doubt they will continue to succeed.

I want to be a part of it.

Do you?

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In January, 2014, The Piano Man, Earth Baby, Sugarbaby, and I are going to see first hand with a group of artists the transformation happening in A. Konduru.  With a group of artists we are going to celebrate the school, encourage the faculty, connect with the community, and gather stories to share.

To support these efforts and help raise awareness and funds to support these inspiring mothers on the other side of the world, I’m joining them as I can right now by getting on a bike and riding to raise funds and awareness, as I shared before.  Come join me outside of Chicago on October 5, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. with your bike (or stroller and walking shoes) at International Teams, 411 W River Road, Elgin, IL 60123 and ride with me then hang out for lunch after.  If you can’t join me you can ride where you are that same day and time, share this post with others, and/or contribute and help me reach my goal of raising $18,000 as part of the Initiative 31.8 Ride for Refuge team.  Go HERE to sponsor me in the ride.  All funds raised go to support the work of International Teams bringing people together to help the oppressed.

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 a.ku designs model

a.ku designs brown bag

a.ku designs two bags

a.ku designs green and black floral bag

To help me reach my goal of raising $18,000 with the Initiative 31.8 Ride for Refuge team (and hopefully surpass it), The Leaky Boob is giving away 3 a.ku designs bags.  (Please note, items are handmade, each unique and imperfect.  The bags pictured in this post are just a representation of the work, the bag each winner receive will be unique.)  Use the widget below to be entered and hurry, this giveaway ends the night of Monday, October 8th.  Sorry, at this time, entries only available to those within the USA and Canada.

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Bamboobies’ Valentine’s Day Giveaway

TLB sponsor, Bamboobies, would like to wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day!

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In a recent conversation with Kerry, creator of Bamboobies, we both admitted to having a soft spot for this particular Holiday, and with her staple heart-shaped breast pads, what better way for Bamboobies to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a giveaway!  And if their heart-shape isn’t enough to inspire you, consider this: Bamboobies are manufactured by women in the US and are fair-trade to boot.  That’s enough to warm my heart.  Kerry shares with us about her breastfeeding journey in a short interview below, followed by your chance to enter this heart-filled giveaway.

Jessica and Kerry

TLB:  When did you start Bamboobies and why?

Kerry:    When I had my first baby, I was a BIG leaker – and was quite frustrated with the pad options available but didn’t think to do anything about it for several years…  I was very frustrated by the bulkiness of washable pads  – and I often leaked through them. I used disposables when I really wanted to be sure I didn’t leak but hated the scratchiness, chemicals, and what a waste of money they were.

When I had my second child three years ago I discovered the amazing softness of bamboo fabric in her cloth diapers. Strange as it sounds – and it was – I began stuffing some washable bamboo velour wipes in my shirt!  They were super soft and didn’t have have the cold and clammy feeling of cotton when wet.  My “A-HA” moment came when I thought of the funny name for a better bamboo pad – I trademarked the name Bamboobies at midnight after thinking of it!

The name came easily but it took many months of trial and error to create a really good product.  I wanted to source locally and make something that wouldn’t leak or show through – all big challenges, but I persevered!  I didn’t want to build a company around a gimmick – I wanted to help other women like me and  to create a great product.

Three years ago this March we sold our first pads in a local retailer here in Boulder and our product line has now grown to 5 products and our pads and nipple balm are sold in over 800 stores, primarily in the US and Canada including all US Babies R Us Stores.  We still run our business out of my basement and garage and Bamboobies pads, nipple balm, bras and nursing shawls are all made here in Colorado in fair-trade facilities.

It’s been a really fun and creative process building the business, products and team to this point and getting so many great notes from women all over about their love of our products.

TLB:  Every year you do a freebies giveaway that just costs shipping, that must cost you a lot, why is this so important to you?

Kerry:  It’s fun – and it’s important to get our samples to women who need them.  Our products are expensive because they’re made of very high quality fabrics that are certified organic or sustainable and they’re made in the US in fair-trade women-run facilities.  They also just ‘seem’ expensive because they’re being compared with yucky disposable paper and chemical-filled disposables. When women see and feel for themselves how much better our products are, we hope they’ll do the math and see that buying a high-quality reusable product over a disposable one makes economic sense…  We’ve just launched our products in Babies R Us across the US and so we’re making this month’s giveaway twice as big as we’ve done in the past to try to create more brand awareness.  We typically process 10 retail orders per day – we’ve gotten over 4000 orders in 3 days – Wild Times!

TLB:  The heart shape is fitting for this month of love but it’s also a wonderful design for your breast pads (I wear mine upside down), how did you come to that?

Kerry:  A clothing designer friend suggested it – the dip in the top of the heart acts as a dart to dynamically cup your changing boobie size.  It’s cute but functional too: I didn’t like the lumpiness and circles visible through my shirt when I wore the thick cotton washable pads. We also don’t use a thick edge stitch in an effort to avoid having hearts show through your shirt!

TLB:  You’re so laid back and easygoing, Kerry, how does that carry over into your business?  How about your parenting?

Kerry:  My low blood pressure is genetic but I do generally have a very positive outlook on life. I also try to blow a lot of things off – I choose my battles.  I’m very very lucky – that’s a fact but also a belief that I work to manifest.  Sound too hippie? It is – but it’s also true.  I’m a very determined person and I’m focused on the underlying goodness of people and I think this helps in business and with kiddos.  I have 3 children aged five and under so my patience gets pushed to its limits pretty often, but I try to focus on the good and the things I can change.

TLB:  What do you <3 about breastfeeding?

Kerry:  I love that it’s an amazing discovery that women have to look forward to – a surprise they didn’t know was coming when they were getting close to their due date. Some parts of this new experience can be painful physically and emotionally in the beginning but the sweet, close and bonding parts are amazing.

After I had my first I had a lot of difficulties getting started nursing because I had enormous supply and overactive letdown. I didn’t think I’d last a week but I’ve nursed through two pregnancies and next month will start my seventh year straight. I hadn’t changed a diaper before having my first baby – I knew there was a lot to learn about children.  I’d certainly never nursed but I didn’t even think about the alternative until it was difficult.

I’ve learned so much about my children as individuals through nursing – and about myself.  This has been a big surprise – and a wonderful one to embrace.

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For the giveaway, Kerry would like to offer one of three special prizes to seven lucky Leakies! ~ winner’s choice!

Giveaway winners will be able to choose one of the following $30-$40 prizes:

1. Bamboobies Brahhh! It’s a really comfy lounge bra.

Brahhh.3pts

2. Multipack of Bamboobies Breastpads and organic Nipple Balm.

LeakyBbMulti+Nip

3. Chic Nursing Shawl.  NEWCNSImage

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Bamboobies products are now available at their website, at 250 great  locally-owned boutiques in the US, Canada and Australia, AND Babies R Us stores (all stores in the US).

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Good luck to everyone!  Please use the widget below to be entered.  The giveaway is open from February 12, 2013 through February 18, 2013.  A big thanks to Kerry and Bamboobies for their ongoing support of TLB and all breastfeeding women; please be sure to visit their Facebook page  or follow them on twitter  (@bamboobies) and thank them for their support of TLB and this giveaway opportunity.

 

This giveaway is restricted to U.S. & Canada residents onlysorry: our website can’t process other shipping.

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Advocating for mothers and children around the world

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Typically I talk about boobs, breastfeeding, babies, birth, children, parenting, and other related topics here.  This post is going to be about more of the same, it just won’t look like it.  To be really up front and fair: I have an agenda with this post.

In my comfortable first world lower middle class status I have to admit that I have experienced very little true oppression.  I’ve had rough times and I’ve struggled but I don’t have a complete grasp on true suffering.  That’s not to say I haven’t suffered, because I have, and as a mother I’ve experience great heart ache, specifically when 2 of my daughters were sexually assaulted by a close friend.  So I know pain, grief, suffering, but I am really only familiar with it in the context of the first world setting where I live.

Still, when going through difficult and dark times, the care of others, even people I didn’t know, made a difference.  It is because of that support that I choose now to find ways to support others in difficult and dark times, even if they are half way around the world.

In the years that I’ve been active on the internet I have seen people create community, developing global communities where people find friendship, support, information, and the gift of knowing they are not alone.  Babies whose mothers have died have received milk from other mothers.  Families grieving the loss of a child have had funeral expenses covered.  Friends that have never met face to face have journeyed to be with someone during a bitter relationship breakup.  Auctions held to help families that have lost a parenting partner and cover medical expenses.  When my own family went 2 weeks without power following hurricane Ike, my online relationships virtually supported me with tangible gifts of care.  The global community found online extends support where, for some, there would be none.

I am confident that if my brother took my daughter from me and used her for his financial gain there would be national and international attention and online outpourings of support.  I guarantee you, if my child was taken from me by a relative or friend and forced to work harvesting cocoa pods using a machete and having no access to schooling, there would be an organized effort not only locally but internationally by my online friends.

If that community was aware that their favorite chocolate brands used cocoa they were aware could have been harvested by my child there would be letters of outrage, Facebook posts and tweets of fury, and massive calls for boycotts.  Moving beyond promises, without proof of accountability to be sure their supply chain did not contain cocoa beans my child was forced to harvest, these companies would feel heat not only from the media but directly from their consumers to proactively fix the problem.

If it was my child I would not be able to stomach even the thought of eating chocolate that may be a product of their suffering.

If it was your child, I doubt you could either.

If it was our children we would want the world to take note, to stand with us, to fight for our children.

If these things happened we would not be able to stand it.

These things do happen.  For us to have cheap chocolate, this woman’s son was taken from her.

child slavery cocoa, human trafficking, mother human trafficking

And it happens for coffee, sugar, vanilla, cotton, and so much more.  I’m struggling because even the very computer I’m using to write this is suspected of being made under unfair labor practices.  Many products that are staples in the comfortable lives of people through out most of the world have passed through the hands of a working child in dangerous conditions, interfering with their education, and too often through slavery.

One child would be bad enough for public outrage.  An estimated 284,000?*  Are there even words?

About 10 years ago my husband and I became aware of the issue of human trafficking.  We learned, to our shock, that many products we used daily were grown, harvested, and manufactured in dangerous settings by people treated poorly and compensated inadequately.  Worse, some were in a form of slavery.  Still worse, some of those were children.  Children working as slaves without access to education and in dangerous environments were part of the manufacturing line creating products I thought I couldn’t live without.  How we had been ignorant of this harsh reality was a combination of never asking and nobody ever talking about it.

This knowledge would eventually change our lives, how we spend our money, and even how we celebrate holidays or interact with others.  Because we were talking about people being abused, not simply a different standard of living, but the oppression of others.

An oppression that we benefitted from.

Once aware, turning a blind eye was not an option.

At the time of this writing, I serve as the director of a global initiative that brings artists together to speak up for the oppressed.  I see over and over again the ongoing suffering of families ripped apart by the greed of others.  The issue is complex, far more than I am prepared to go into here, but as a family, our personal choice is to not be a part of the chain that enslaves children.  We started by doing just one thing, all of us can start with just one thing.

Please understand, I know that in some cultures, in some settings, child labor is a necessary part of the family’s survival.  What I’m talking about here is child slavery and child labor that violates the standards of the International Labor Organization, child labor that is truly dangerous, forced, and interferes with access to education.  The worst types of child labor.  I’m not talking about a child working on their family’s farm when they get home from school.  No, this is kidnapping, forced labor, restricted or no access to health care, no education, physical and psychological oppression, and controlled movement.

For us, we do with less so that what we enjoy or take for granted won’t cost a child so very much.  We choose to spend our resources on products that at least make traceable, documented, and third party audited steps to not use child labor at any point along the way.  It costs us more.  A cost we would rather absorb than to place on a small child that should be safe with their mother, able to play, and attending school.

It has taken time for us to make this shift and there has been an adjustment period.  Financially we can only afford so much so we started with the big ones: coffee and chocolate.  Shopping at thrift stores for our clothing and other textiles, we feel at least we aren’t buying brand new and can support local charities to some extent with our purchases.

We’ve accepted that less is ok.  In our land of entitled overabundance, we don’t need as much as we think we do.

Could avoiding chocolate produced with unfair labor practices and enslaved children actually create more problems?  Should we wait until there is a viable solution in place?  I don’t think so.

Without pressure that impacts their bottom line, there would be no reason for chocolate manufacturers to create change.  Some of these companies have claimed they are taking steps to ensure their products do not involve the worst forms of child labor but refuse to comply to 3rd party audits and employ diversion techniques such as charitable giving in other areas or launch a fair trade line.  But real progress in their supply chain is not evident.

Chocolate that contains the sweat, lashings, and crushed spirit of a child slave simply does not taste as good.  So we choose to buy fair trade.  Fair trade isn’t without it’s issues and controversy and there is valid conversation about direct trade, and other verification options.  Within an imperfect system we are trying to make the most responsible choice we can buy purchasing chocolate and coffee items that we can verify their labor practices or display one of these symbols:

Within the breastfeeding education and support community there is a strong push back against Nestle and other formula making companies that disregard the Code of Ethics for marketing artificial breastmilk as set out by the World Health Organization.  There has been outrage from many regarding the underhanded marketing of formula in communities where extreme poverty, contaminated water sources, and lack of information highways result in vulnerable infants suffering without breastmilk, sometimes even leading to death.  It is a despicable business practice.

So is abusing humans, enslaving people, endangering children, and prohibiting children from receiving an education.

There are many causes in this life, issues of injustice and importance and none of us can pick up all of them as advocates.  We don’t have to advocate for every cause though, sometimes it is enough to explore how we can respond on a personal level, changing ourselves.

I told you at the beginning of this that I had an agenda with this post and I was serious.  My goal in writing this is to challenge you, to make you uncomfortable, and to take the platform that I have here to raise my voice to speak up for the oppressed.  My agenda was for you to hear it.  What you do with it, how you respond, and if it makes any kind of impact on your choices is completely up to you but I will be able to enjoy my chocolate and coffee just a little bit more knowing I have tried.  Not for you, not for me, not even for my children.

I have tried for another mother’s child.

Will you?

*International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast

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I appreciate Kristen Howerton over at Rage Against the Minivan for writing about this issue, sharing more information and links, challenging readers to be aware.  The resources available are growing, I encourage you to explore this issue for yourself, watch videos, read reports, and connect with organizations aiming for fair trade practices.

 

 

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