To make a difference for one

I feel so blessed, I get to combine so many of my passions.  Both my family and the organization I work with are incredibly supportive and understanding of how important The Leaky Boob is to me giving me time to write, speak, and otherwise advocate for moms, babies, and families. One of my biggest supporters is Anna, my boss at work.  I asked her to share why she believes so deeply in the work we do with Initiative 31.8 and I’m honored to share it here.  While you’ve never heard Anna’s voice in the context of TLB before, her wisdom and passion have been influencing this community for over a year as she has mentored and encouraged me.  Reading this piece helped me better understand why she so freely supports my involvement with The Leaky Boob, her heart is in supporting women.  Meet Anna, one of the most influential women in my life.  ~Jessica

Have you ever had a moment in your life that you knew would forever change you?

That happened to me several years ago during a trip to N’Djamena, Chad in sub Saharan Africa.  Ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world and harshest places to live as a woman, its beautiful people and land have found a permanent place in my heart.

One evening near the end of my trip, I went to visit the home of a young woman in her early twenties named Sarah*.  Sarah wanted to show me where she lived.  As I stood on the dirt floor of her tiny room, I listened as she described her life to me, a life of hardship, suffering, abuse, and loneliness. Her room had barely enough space to spread out a mat on the floor. There was a curtain serving as a door for privacy, and she had a small shelf against the wall, holding a bowl, a bar of soap, and a change of clothes.

She didn’t seek my sympathy, but rather we were two women sharing a private moment.  And yet, I saw how hungry she was, being given just one meal a day by the extended family that had taken her in. I saw how trapped she was by her life circumstances, desperately trying to get an education and find work. I saw how much she sought meaning from empty pursuits, relying on harmful relationship after relationship to survive. Even though our lives are so very different, we connected on a deep, soul level.

As my heart broke for this new friend, I knew in that moment that I wanted to devote my life to being part of the answer for people like her.

Through my work at International Teams, I have found myself in the company of many more people who want to take part in transforming lives of people like Sarah, of seeing communities become a place where no one is invisible.  Where a young woman in hunger, isolation, and powerlessness can build a life of opportunity.

I am just one person, and there is so much hurting and hardship in this world. But if my life can be part of seeing change in the life of just one person, then it is worth it. I would do it for Sarah, and I know she would do it for me. By joining together, we can all make a difference.

If you knew that you, just one person in a world of great suffering and injustice, could make a difference in the life of just one other person, would you do it?  As mothers we’re drawn, compelled to invest in the lives of our children and know first hand the meaning that comes from doing so.  It is in our nature as humans to feel compassion for others, even those that don’t call us “mom.”

You can do that right now. Saturday Jessica and I will be hopping on our bikes to ride to raise funds for the oppressed in the RIDE for Refuge.  Jessica thinks she will be sore and barely able to walk after. Possible, but I just smile and know the great sense of accomplishment we both will feel after giving just a few hours of our lives to change the life of another.

We haven’t reached our goal yet, but it’s not too late! Will you donate to our sponsor page?

 *not her real name

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Have you ever had a moment that forever changed you?  Did it alter the direction of your life?  Did it develop new passions?  Has it inspired you to help others and make the world a better place?

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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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My kids broke me and now I have to change the world- ride with me

I became a mother nearly 15 years ago for the first time.  At only 20 years old it undoubtedly changed me and it would have no matter how old I had been.  Because having children does change you.  As we shape them, so they shape us.

Children Shape Us

My parents tell stories of how as a child I was always deeply burdened for others, I would cry and want to rescue every creature from the circle of life if I had the chance.  The hurt of others impacted me deeply.  Somewhere, probably sandwiched between being a little sister and being a big sister and surviving puberty, I hardened and stopped feeling quite so deeply.  Enough so that I thought I wanted to go into health care, sticking people with needles didn’t phase me and blood was cool while still appealing to my desire to help people.  I became calloused in many ways though, even the commercials of beautiful celebrities with children in drought stricken parts of Africa asking for money didn’t touch me and I was just annoyed at the pleas for money.

But then my daughter was born and suddenly, my tear ducts were broken.  I had leaky boobs AND leaky eyes.  Constantly.  I cried over everything.  The natural course of the circle of life didn’t bother me still but injustice, particularly injustice against children, could shatter me.  That and Hallmark commercials.  I kept thinking it would go away and get easier with time and I wouldn’t fall apart over the card commercials, holiday marketing, every news report involving a child, every issue brought to my attention that impacted children even those on the other side of the world, every billboard featuring a hungry child, and every art piece depicting a child with no advocate.

It didn’t really get easier though, my tear ducts are still broken.  Today, stories of human trafficking overwhelm me, children sold into the sex trade, little kids the same age as my kids being forced to harvest cocoa beans so we can have cheap chocolate, families in India stuck in a cycle of poverty and lack of education and no hope for their children to change it, boys and girls kidnapped and forced to serve as soldiers being traumatized and traumatizing, communities without access to clean water and disease running rampant and killing the most vulnerable, refugee women and children abandoned and penniless without hope far from home, orphans with special needs suffering in institutions being considered un-adoptable, and on and on.  I moved from just being sad to being angry and then to being numb until it turned into something else.

I haven’t stopped crying for these stories and many more.  But I’m not just crying about them any more.  Motherhood changed me, I couldn’t bring children into this world and not do my part to fight to make it a better place.  The needs are too big, I know I can’t fix it all, I’m not sure I can even fix anything but I can try.  Hopefully in the effort my children will be inspired to rise up and try too.  And as a mother, I have to try, if it was my family suffering I hope someone somewhere would try too.  It’s not enough that my children are privileged and safe, no, just as my children deserve a better world, so do the little boys forced to harvest cocoa beans (and I’m not talking a family farm here) and the little girls in the brothels.  That is why I’m participating in the Ride for Refuge.

Over the years how I’ve responded has evolved moving from awareness of oppression to education to doing one thing to participating in events and fundraisers to a career change working in nonprofit work to help the oppressed and now to getting off my butt and doing something about it.  Different stages of my life have afforded me different opportunities and ways to make a difference and today I have more resources, more time, and more conviction to do even more.  With my family, we’re getting up off our rear ends, getting on a bike, and riding for change with Ride for Refuge.  Then, in January 2014, The Piano Man, Earth Baby, Sugarbaby, and I are headed over to A.Konduru, India with a group of artists to learn how we can better speak up for the oppressed and celebrate the new school this community has this year.

That is why I am thrilled to be working with International Teams. We realize that everyone has the same need for food and freedom, but not everyone has the same access. By the year 2020, our goal is to be in 50 communities where no one is invisible and everyone has access to the basic human rights.

To help fund our vision, I am joining hundreds in Elgin, Illinois on October 5th, in the 10th annual Ride For Refuge.  This is where I ask you to go with me.  Maybe you can’t take a trip to India right now, but could you get on a bike?  Ride with me!  October 5, 2013 in Elgin, Illinois I’m the team captain for a Ride for Refuge team with Initiative 31.8.  If you’d like to meet me there, I’d love to ride with you and have lunch following our ride and hear about how your children inspire you to make the world a better place.  This is a family friendly event and the proceeds from this ride go to support the work of International Teams bringing people together to help the oppressed.  By getting on a bike and riding, you would be helping the oppressed.

Can’t join us in Elgin?  Jeremy and the girls will be staying behind in the Portland, OR area and while it’s not an organized event, they will be doing their own Ride where you are experience at a local park.  We’ll be announcing where within a week (actually, any suggestions?) but if you are in the area and wanted to join them that would be great.  Anyone, anywhere can organize a casual Ride Where You Are Ride for Refuge event and Leakies from all over could participate, get together, and work to help the oppressed.  And if you can’t ride, you can sponsor me to.  Be it $1 or $10,000, every cent counts and goes toward work such as the school in A.Konduru, helping refugee families find hope, work to end slavery, and helping child soldier victims in Uganda find a new life.

I’m passionate about this, as passionate as I am about helping moms and babies reach their breastfeeding goals and to help change societal attitudes about breastfeeding and women’s bodies, I’m even more committed to speaking up for the oppressed.  Alone I can’t make too much of a difference, but with you, my community of mothers, I know we can change the world.  Our children certainly deserve for us to try.  Having them broke our hearts for a reason, we can’t accept the status quo.  The Leaky Boob has taught me many lessons, the sheer power of mothers being one of them.  We can change the world.  We already are.

My fundraising goal was initially huge, then with moving I aimed for a more modest number.  Now though I just don’t think that’s acceptable.  We’re thousands, a few hundred thousand read this site monthly and our Facebook page has over 110,000 followers.  Even if only a handful of you ride with me, if the rest can donate $1 we can easily raise $100,000 if not more.  Let’s do this, we’ve got a bunch of kids and a world to change with them.

Will you sponsor me to ride?  This is the link to my sponsorship page so you can do so quickly and easily online.

This is the link to sign up to ride with me in Elgin, Il or to do a Ride Where You Are experience.

Let me know if you’ll be joining me at the ride outside of Chicago, I’d love to meet you in person and thank you for helping to make this world a better place with me.

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What moves you?  How has having children impacted how you interact with the world and what you care about?  What are you doing to make a difference and how are you involving your children?

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