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Local Non-Profit Equips and Empowers

Photo by: Platon

Victims of sexual assault use their stories to drive change.

Photo credit: Platon

Photo by: Platon

Victims of sexual assault use their stories to drive change.
Written by: Communicator StaffApril 21, 2018

Written By: Nicole Winans

Creative Women of the World (CWOW) is different from most fair trade stores.

“We ask ourselves, what is the best way we can help people?’” Lorelei VerLee, the founder and executive director of CWOW, said.

Unlike other nonprofits that focus on finding solutions to people’s problems, CWOW begins by helping to identify the assets people already have.

“Rather than giving monetary charity, we equip them (women) with tools to create their own businesses.  When they see how effective they can be they are actually able to create sustainable solutions themselves,” VerLee said.

VerLee initially began by helping a small group of Haitian women start a greeting card business in 2007.

After discovering the women had very little market and access to jobs, VerLee helped train and connect them to the U.S. market.

Four years later, in 2011, VerLee founded CWOW, which has worked with 11 countries directly and sources products from over 50 countries in its downtown boutique.

Today women create a wide variety of products including, recycled cement bag gratitude journals from Haiti, abolitionist jewelry from several countries, pop tab purses from Honduras, recycled magazine bead necklaces and woven baskets from Uganda, metalwork jewelry and cruelty-free leather goods from India, mudcloth scarves and jewelry from Kenya, and recycled wire jewelry from the U.S.

These products are then sold both online at gocwow.org/catalog/ and in store at CWOW’s downtown boutique open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

“From the time I was a little girl, I have always wanted to help people through creative art,” VerLee said.

Women are trained locally and internationally through a six-module course in sustainable business practices so they can rise out of poverty, human trafficking and disaster.

The modules include a wealth of practical training, including asset identification, market development, financial management, relationship transformation, business growth and long-term sustainability.

After training in complete, CWOW leaves the women with a local leader to mentor them in starting and growing their businesses.

“Most of the women come from horrific circumstances, but we hardly notice the effect of that when we see their eyes light up, their shoulders go back and heads raise in confidence as they begin to recognize their true value,” as stated on the CWOW website.

Through CWOW’s training, women are able to provide for their families’ education, health and nutritional needs.

The cost of training one woman is $250, and it takes $1 a day to mentor one woman following training.

To help meet these financial needs, CWOW is hosting its fourth annual Empower Her World fundraising event April 26 6-8:30 p.m.

As the event continues to grow each year, it will be held for the first time at the Women’s Center on the University of Saint Francis campus.

The theme for the evening is Kenya and Beyond and will include an international style show, a world marketplace, entertainment, gourmet food and refreshments.

CWOW’s new spring line will be introduced from India, Nepal and Indonesia and will include dresses made from a mix of organic cotton and recycled water bottles.

Grace Mwangi, one of CWOW’s own artists, will be sharing her personal story and her experience with CWOW at the event.

Mwangi was one of the first women trained in Kenya and is traveling to America for her first time to attend Empower Her World.

Tickets for the event are $75 and can be purchased at gocwow.org/catalog/cmh3lec5eqn0s1vbm2jrieyw8gb2lb.

In addition to CWOW’s fundraising events, the organization also depends upon volunteers.

There are several volunteer positions with the most pressing needs being event and home party hosts, off-site show assistants, mentoring advocates, on-call volunteers and boutique storytellers.

“Storytellers in particular have a special position as it is their job to learn and share the stories of artisans with customers” said VerLee.

“It really is a celebration of the artists’ stories and their lives,” said VerLee. “When we share their stories, it makes us acutely aware that great things are happening.”

Those interested in volunteering can visit gocwow.org/volunteer/.

For more information about CWOW and Empower Her World 2018, visit gocwow.org, the @CreativeWomenoftheWorld Facebook page or Instagram @goCWOW.