Chappaqua Mom To ‘Empower’ Kenyan Women With Pillowcases

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Michelle Campbell, founder of the Pillowcase Project, and some of the orphans in Kipingi Village.
Michelle Campbell, founder of the Pillowcase Project, and some of the orphans in Kipingi Village. Photo Credit: Provided
Kari Weis, left, and Lori Norman are longtime friends from high school who will be doing the Pillowcase Project together.
Kari Weis, left, and Lori Norman are longtime friends from high school who will be doing the Pillowcase Project together. Photo Credit: Provided
The Pillowcase Project will aim to empower women in Western Kenya.
The Pillowcase Project will aim to empower women in Western Kenya. Photo Credit: Provided

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – Chappaqua resident Kari Weis will join 15 other people in September on a trip to Western Kenya in an attempt to “empower women and give them ownership of their lives.”

How the group will take on such a challenge might come as a surprise: pillowcases.

“We will be hand delivering dresses made out of pillowcases to the girls in a small village and, more importantly, we bring them additional pillowcases with supplies and teach them how to make and sell the dresses themselves,” said Weis.

Weis said the group’s goal is to bring 200 pillowcase-dresses for Kenyan orphans in the village, along with 80 bags of pillowcases and supplies. Altogether, the final tally about 1,800 pillowcases, 1,200 packets of extra wide double bias tape, 80 packets of sewing needles, 80 sewing scissors, and various other sewing supplies.

Weis stumbled upon the “Pillowcase Project” in a recent high school reunion, where her friend Lori Norman—an American Airlines flight attendant—informed her of the trip. Norman learned of the project from its founder Michelle Campbell, who is also an American Airlines flight attendant, and also an orphan until she was three years old.

“The moment I heard about it, I knew I had to be part of it,” she said.

The Pillowcase Project is in its “early stages,” as Weis noted the group is still in the midst of applying to become an official nonprofit. Fourteen women, including Weis, and two men will all be paying their own way to Kipingi Village and Bugo Village, in addition to many supplies.

But the hope is their communities lend a hand as well.

Weis knows Chappaqua is no stranger to charities and has been encouraged by early collections. Local merchants Dawn Greenberg of Aurora fair-trade gift shop at 1 King Street, and Jodi Levine of Jodi’s Gym in Mount Kisco, both have put out baskets for the project.

“They are both collecting pillowcases, sewing supplies, and even hand drawn pictures that are brightly colored for the kids over there to look at,” said Weis. "They're both awesome."

Local merchants aren’t the only ones pitching in.

“My second grade daughter asked for donations in her class at Westorchard Elementary and I’m pretty sure she’s already collected more pillowcases than I have,” she said.

Weis said her biggest goal of the trip—and the project—is that it becomes a gift that keeps giving, even when the group returns back to the United States.

“This project is about empowering these women—giving them the tools and skills to take ownership of their lives and be self sustainable. That’s why I’m doing it,” she said. “We’re not just taking aid and leaving it there. This goes beyond that.”

And she knows her network in Chappaqua is a great resource to support such a cause.

“What I love about this community is that even though we are all so blessed, we all love to give back,” she said.

To learn more about the Pillowcase Project and how you can get involved, visit its Facebook page and its Amazon wish list.

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Comments (11)

bernie78 said it best: "A child is a child..although they may come from a different background, race, country, religion...it all comes down to us bleeding the same color and having the same wants and needs."

Support whatever projects you like, but just be sure to keep giving. Even small amounts add up. And try not to knock the projects you don't want to support. Thankfully there are many generous people in the world doing a lot of good in many different countries and for many different purposes.

I am in shock that some people automatically assume all these giving people are rich and that they are in their 20's. Where do you get your information? I actually looked into this when I first read about it. I see that some of the woman if not all are 30's - 40's. and if they have money (which not all do from what I read) so what?? They are helping children with NO CLOTHES and NO FOOD. They are helping the women of these villages to earn a living and feed and clothe their families and others. They are not asking for your money, they are asking for supplies. I also love the fact that children are getting involved and learning the wonderful lesson of helping the less fortunate. Instead of knocking these people let's give them a pat on the back for caring. Just because I like this cause does not mean I don't give to my own country. We as people need to help and get involved if and when we can . If you don't feel you want to give to this project, find one here, in your town, your city, your state, your country, but don't criticize these giving people.

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I respect what you're saying and i'm not here to get into a contest. But I have done work in a lot of those countries..including Haiti..and if you look at the "real" figures, you will also see that less than 3% of the money goes to the people who need it. I will stand by what I said earlier...I applaud anyone who is doing good work. I have received backlash in the past myself...but most of the people saying things are not doing anything. I can only hope that you are doing a lot of good work in the Appalachian mountains and those areas. If you are, I applaud you for what you are doing.

I just find it disturbing that people would take the time to criticize someone who is helping another person in the world. It's when I see things like this, that I lose all hope in humanity. Instead of dogging someone for what they are doing...go out there and do the work

I'm Lori and I am part of the team going to Africa,I agree that there is also need in my back yard and I also donate to those causes. I find in humorous that somewhere along the line; the idea that we are in our twenties and rich came up. Not sure how that happened. For the record we, Kari and I are in our 40's. As far as myself I am not rich but I bet if you asked one of these sweet girls we will be helping they would disagree. Everyone is paying their own way on this trip. Our mission is to give, not because we are rich or want the recognition. This rural village needs our help. I again agree, many Americans need help also and I don't dispute that fact. All I know is that we are not asking or demanding that anyone give anything; for those who do want to give we will show you exactly were you donations are going. None of us are doing this for profit and we are each paying our own way.
I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful journey and thank those who are sending us positive vibes. It is a beautiful cause.

What a great idea. Nice article!

Having been a foster child in the United States and knowing what it is like to go "without" I am deeply offended by these comments. I think this is a great article about everyday people doing something to leave their mark on the world. I have done relief work for 10 years..and YES I have done A LOT of work in the United States. Nobody should ever put down someone who is trying to do good...whether it be in their own backyard or across the world. A child is a child, it shouldn't matter where they come from. Also...the United States has the resources to take care of their people and children here. Having been to Africa myself...children are not valued there. Have any of you ever been to Africa? Have you seen the amount of orphans living on the streets (even at the age of 2) who have lost their parents to Aids? I am far from being rich...I am a normal person who makes very little money, but I have devoted my life to helping out the less fortunate. So you should not be throwing stones at someone who is trying to make a difference in this chaotic world. A child is a child..although they may come from a different background, race, country, religion...it all comes down to us bleeding the same color and having the same wants and needs. I have spanned the globe (including a lot of work in the US) and I am actually appalled at the ignorant remarks that were made here.

I hear what you are saying Bernie but when you look at the millions of dollars US Foreign Aid gives African countries - Tanzania receives $531 million/year, Ethiopia receives $580 million/year, Nigeria, $625 million/year, and Kenya, also $625 million/year - not to mention the extraordinary work and money poured into these countries by the Gates Foundation, The Bush Foundation and the Clinton Foundation, I have to remain jaded that a 20-something is doing this more for his/her own satisfaction.

I am glad we are raising socially conscious youth but their efforts would be better served making a difference first in their own town, their own backyard.

I agree that there is a lot of need closer to home, but if rich people want to travel to the other side of the world to help people, then good for them. Those people need their help, that's for sure.

I am at a loss for words when at all the young people I know who have started African charities - making bracelets, pencils, scarves, soap, you name it, I've been asked to give money for it. Its an epidemic among the rich 20-somethings. I said yes the first couple of times then I couldn't, in good faith, keep doing it. Now I say to them, How about doing something for the hungry in Appalachia, or right here in New York, Westchester County? I get met with blank stares.

Rich people are nuts.