Here is a short history on how THREEafrica came to be, written by Eileen Roberts, THREEafrica's founder
I feel that I am a fortunate woman whose life has been blessed. I feel that I have an obligation to pay it forward to other women who have not been given the opportunities that I have. In May 2012 I had the opportunity to visit Malawi with a woman who owns a fair trade company. The company functioned by paying local women a fair wage to sew garments and accessories, which were then sold abroad and advertised as fair trade products from Malawi. During this trip I was able to get a first hand glimpse of the inner workings of an international fair trade business – a business that I feel is not always straight forward.
It was a fascinating experience. The process was very hands on. Although complicated and not without metaphorical and literal bumps in the road the process consisted of three basic steps. First, my friend and I had to buy the fabric (locally called chitenji) in the Old Market district in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capitol. We then had to transport this fabric, as well as other sewing supplies, to a town called Kasungu, roughly 200 kilometers north of Lilongwe. Once there, we supervised the sewing of various garments and accessories and often helped out by teaching some sewing techniques. I loved everything that my friend was doing and I left Malawi with a strong desire to somehow get more involved.
In September 2012 I found myself, through a series of coincidences, with another chance to visit Malawi, this time with a representative from MicroLoan. MicoLoan provides small business loans to women in Malawi that they can use to invest in start-up materials that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. We visited villages where women, using a loan, had set up their own diverse set of businesses: selling second hand clothing, buying and selling bags of beans, and even opening small restaurants where they baked and sold scones (Malawi use to be an English province, hence the popularity of scones).
These women were so proud, strong and happy to be able to do something to improve the lives of their families. There is a 90% loan pay back rate, and once the loan is repaid they can take out a larger loan to grow their businesses. Getting to know these women and having the chance to see what they were doing was awe inspiring. I now felt very strongly that I needed to get involved with the women and especially involved with helping to send girls to secondary school. Throughout my time in Malawi I learned that education is free there up until the 8th grade, but a tuition is required to attend secondary school. Many boys have the opportunity to continue their education yet very few girls get that same opportunity. This sort of gender inequality is an issue in many parts of the world and many believe that providing education and opportunity to women will be a huge part of alleviating poverty in developing nations.
During the last few days of my September stint in Malawi we revisited the women in Kasungu that I had met earlier in the trip. I asked them what I could do to help to make their lives better. They all said that they did not have enough work and were lacking a stable income. Immediately I started thinking how I could create more work for them. I did not want to step on the toes of my friend and have the women make and sell the same items offered by her company. A huge interest of mine is sewing and knitting. I have extensive experience sifting through catalogues and internet sites exploring different styles and fabrics. When I first saw chitenji in Malawi I immediately recognized it’s beauty and uniqueness. I also noticed that all of the products I had been dealing with during my time in Malawi were designed for adults. I got the idea that children’s clothing could also be made from chitenji. I had previously come across elegant and simple designs for dresses for little girls. The dresses called for three separate pieces of fabric. I decided to keep this a theme in my start-up fair trade company. In addition to the three pieces of chitenji used in each of the dresses, the theme of THREE also extends to our mission statements. Our goals involve a three step process:
Engage local Malawian women with employment opportunities and fair wages.
Educate (or rather provide access to education for) young Malawian women by using our profits to establish secondary education funds.
Empower Malawian women through fair work, education, and opportunity.
For more information on exactly what we do here at THREEafrica, please visit the Why THREEafrica Exists page.