Our Roots – Global Wonders History

Today we have an extra-special post about the history of Global Wonders – join us as we reflect on the long, winding road of our history, paying homage to those who helped us along the way and remembering how it all began.

First let us review a little bit on how the SA foundation began its Nepali adventure! Naomi returned to Canada from Nepal in the year 2000 and desired to be involved with a program that was dealing with sexually exploited young women. It was at this time  the SA Founder was transitioning from her project development in Calgary. She was going to come to the Foundation that she had started in 1995 to develop, with Carla, (at the time her right hand) the World Services Division of SA.

The SA Founder had been a live-in servant for eleven years and was passing on the torch to Naomi. During this process, Naomi suggested that the SA Foundation begin a project in Nepal, and it happened that she knew the right people to do so. The SA Founder, Carla, and Naomi, went to Nepal and co-founded (with three Nepali people that Naomi knew) the Nepali Project. This was the Foundation’s first project in a developing country! Since the SA program model includes the development of SA Social Ventures, it was natural to start a social enterprise to teach valuable transferable skills to young women who had little education or means to support themselves.

Many of you already know Naomi, our sales representative in Alberta. Naomi was sent back to Nepal by the SA Foundation as their project coordinator, and with the SA Founder, was a pioneer of Global Wonders before it even had that name! Here’s her experience:

Beginning in Nepal in 2003, the handicraft program started with macramé bags and 6 ladies. I knew nothing about macramé and was amazed as the ladies themselves showed me how many patterns and styles they could create with string. These bags were very strong yet fashionable and sold well in Canada.

At this time, the Recovery Home and Handicraft Centre was located a harrowing 8 hour bus ride away in southern Nepal! I dreaded this drive as there are no rules on the roads in Nepal, buses are packed inside and on top with people and livestock and the seats are not made for comfort. On top of that, many times we were stuck on the road due to avalanches, political protests or accidents. It was very difficult transporting the raw material and finished goods back and forth (not to mention quality control) but we managed this way for several years.

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In 2004 we began to make wool toques and scarves – For some participants knitting came naturally. The fast ones could make 1 ½ toques a day. Others really struggled to complete a toque in a few days and often these did not meet the quality inspection. We had to be creative in how we paid our girls fairly and how to keep each person busy all day. The best part of the handicraft business though was the camaraderie that naturally occurred during the times the women worked side by side. Just like other Nepali ladies at the village water tap, the Handicraft Centre was a place for sharing, crying and encouraging one another. The goals of our Recovery Program were occurring naturally from one woman to another. It was beautiful.

rcjIn 2005, I gave the Handicraft business the name Rungi Chungi Jindagi (RCJ). It means “a colourful life” in Nepali, which carried a lot of meaning for me personally. It symbolized the kind of life believers should have,vibrant and attractive. In the Message, it says “you’re here to be light bringing out the God-colours in the world” (Matthew 5:14). Lastly a Rungi Chungi Jindagi was the life we wanted for our dear participants – vibrant, colourful, rich and full.

I must introduce our wonderful Director in the early years of our Nepali Program. Suresh was a teacher who came to work with us. He had a great laugh, gentle heart and was a dear Nepali brother to me. He was IMG_0930 (1)also a gifted communicator. At times when the bus driver was driving madly zig-zagging across the highway, putting everyone’s lives at risk, Suresh would go up and sit with the driver and before long be telling jokes and stories, relaxing the bus driver and inevitably slowing the bus down. He saved my life many times and worked very hard to get the handicraft business off the ground. Many times he transported gigantic loads of wool on his motorbike.

In 2007, we received our biggest order: 2,250 pieces for West 49. This order almost killed us. We had just hired our Handicraft Manager here, Reshma. She was in

training as she helped me oversee approximately 30 women in over 4 different Recovery Homes in 3 cities. It was very difficult and I returned home halfway through to have our first child. Reshma – having just finished her training – was alone to complete our biggest order! She really rose to the occasion and went above and beyond to ensure this order was completed properly. We were amazed and relieved when the order was received, inspected and approved for sale by West 49.

plastic

Also in 2006, we began making baskets out of used plastic garbage. This was a tremendous amount of work for the ladies and quite labor-intensive – though great for the environment! Back home, many supporters loved the baskets but not enough. We stopped production after a couple years but I still use my fruit basket every day and love it!

In 2006 we made our first attempts at jewelry, which were truly atrocious as you can see for yourself! It is a miracle that these sold. We are extremely grateful to our customers as they purchased jewelry those first few years. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never made a piece of jewelry in my life! I had no problems shopping and buying the beads but I did not know what to do from there. I was very overwhelmed and stressed as the beads began to pile up in my living room!

Ruth (right) was also very gifted at bargaining. Here she is with another dear volunteer Jenny (left).

In that same year, God sent me the first of two amazing women who would help me along my journey; Ruth, a Canadian missionary in her 60s who’d been in Nepal over 30 years. Ruth not only was fluent in Nepali and knew how to make jewelry, in truth she had an extraordinary gift. In a city of over 2 million packed into a small area where roads are not marked, houses have no numbers and shops do not have names. Ruth could find anything! She was the only one in the city who knew where every piece of raw material was available and how to get there. This was often down narrow, dark filthy back alleys full of garbage and rats. She found us critical pieces and tools as we delved deeper into the world of jewelry production.

This was the year that our SA Founder gave the handicraft business its new name, “Global Wonders”, while working in Nepal with Naomi on the Nepali Social Enterprise. The name was developed with a purpose: to keep in mind future projects, programs, and products. Global Wonders became an umbrella term to encompass our vision: wonders from around the globe, coming together to raise awareness and help women who have escaped from human trafficking.

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In 2010 the Nepal Program staff and I proudly opened a retail store in Kathmandu to sell jewelry alongside our sales in North America. This shop was a crucial place of training and self-esteem for our girls. We named it Koseli which means “the perfect gift” in Nepali. For us the name said it all – the gift of life. That’s the perfect gift!

Around this time, Ruth moved back to Canada. I was panicking once again as production and sales were increasing and so was our inventory. That was when God sent me the second amazing woman, Karen, from the U.S. Her and her husband were in Kathmandu serving with another mission. On the side, Karen volunteered her gifts as a jewelry designer with several organizations. Under Karen’s guidance our designs reached a whole new level. Finally, in 2011 my family and I left Nepal once again to have our second child. I have continued to stay involved with Global Wonders in Canada on the sales side, but my heart is still in Nepal sitting side by side with the women laughing, sharing stories and creating the real “global wonders”!

When Naomi left, she left us with the wonderful new “Cherish” line. Her designs have inspired countless classic pieces throughout the years. It’s incredible to see how many people, volunteers, and supporters helped shape the line into what it became over those early years. Thank you, Naomi, for sharing these beautiful stories and images with us!

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Naphtali, our current Global Wonders Manager and Designer shared her experiences with us as well:

By 2013, I had been involved with SAF for a few years helping out at Global Wonders sales and fundraisers as well as working part time in the Vancouver day program, when the SA Founder asked if I would like to design some samples a few hours a week. I’ve always loved working with my hands and creating things so pairing that with my heart for justice was a natural fit!

From there, I was trained by the SA Founder in Business Management,Production, Scheduling, etc so that my role could include coming up with new collections, managing productions, processing the shipments and getting the pieces ready for online and house sales, working with girls from our Vancouver program teaching design and warehousing skills, and the list keeps growing!

But I must say, without Steve’s support in developing and maintaining the warehouse, inventory systems and distribution to all our sales points in North America and Europe, I would have been lost. I love working with Global Wonders – every day is something new and challenging.

Global Wonders has changed in so many ways over the past several years! Our jewelry lines have evolved over the years to stay on trend – we’ve even added volunteer design nights to help us stay fresh and new. We moved from just house sales, church parties and fundraising events to also add online sales! Becky, our new SAF operations manager, has been an invaluable asset in developing a social media presence so that our online engagement and sales will increase greatly. Just over a year ago we had our first professional photoshoot, all made possible because of an amazing group of volunteers, (thanks to Sandra L for putting the team together!) and we haven’t looked back since!

I’ve traveled to Hong Kong with the SA Founder and Steve to purchase the beads for a year’s worth of production to help combat the problem of limited raw materials in Kathmandu – it was an amazing trip and one I’ll never forget. Then bringing all the beads into Nepal ourselves in our millions of suit cases (only 9!) was quite the event! Being able to go to Nepal for the first time and to meet our new handicrafts manager Reema and the girls who make my designs come to life, to share with them the impact they’ve had on my life, to laugh and cry with them as we created together is something I will always hold close to my heart.

While we’ve changed and adapted to the world of online sales and social media, we’ve remained the same where it counts the most. At the heart of Global Wonders is, and always will be, hope. We are an organization that cares more about the transformation of a life, restoring dignity and hope to another woman, than we do about profits! Our goal for Global Wonders is to one day support all of Nepal’s project costs with the revenue made from sales.

One of my most favorite parts of working in Global Wonders is working with the girls one-on-one and teaching them jewelry design and other transferable skills. It is amazing to watch their confidence grow as their skills increase; and to see their faces when their piece gets chosen for production and we get the shipment from Nepal – it’s priceless! There is something so special about the connection the girls have in our Vancouver program with the girls in our Nepal program – shared stories, shared pain and shared hope. It is amazing how something as huge as hope and restoration can be represented in something so small like jewelry.

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As you can see, the development of Global Wonders is full of rich history and touching experiences. It was by no means easy, but extremely rewarding. Over time we have had the precious opportunity to see many women thrive and begin their own businesses with the skills they learned in the handicraft program. Global Wonders wouldn’t be where we are today without the amazing people who helped us succeed and make a difference. You, our supporters, are a huge part of that success. We thank you for coming alongside us and cheering us on as we endeavour to enrich the lives of women around the world.

As always, Happy Shopping! – Your Global Wonders Team

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