OUR SRI LANKA JOURNEY...
In 2012, we entered the National Retail Federation's THIS IS RETAIL contest taking us on a wild ride as we shared our story about how retail gave us the power to give back and raise awareness for causes that mattered to us. 10th Letter Media worked with us to tell our story with the hopes that this video will be the catalyst for other businesses to know that they too could use retail as the platform for something bigger.
Fast forward a month and (what felt like) over a million votes! We rallied our way to the top and landed a spot in the top THREE. The winner would be announced at a ceremony held in Washington DC - so to DC we went! And you'll never guess what happened...
WE WON. WE WON. WE WON!!!
One of the coolest, most memorable #INSPIRECOMMUNITIES moments happened in Washington DC when Tanna met Tim Belk, CEO of BELK - a Southern chain of department stores. He had watched our video and because of what WE were doing as a small local boutique, Belk as a company committed to donating $1 MILLION a year for five years to breast cancer research.
He said, "If a small boutique in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can do this, so can we."
WHAT?!?? Yes. This is real life. We inspired!
SO WE WON $25,000!
And we committed to donating 100% of our winnings to an international cause. But who, what, where? Celebrities built water wells in Africa.
So we must build a well.
But then I met Jeff Power, Director of Partner Development with Global Hope Network International. After a lengthy Skype call (he lives in Colorado!), I learned that building a well was the LAST thing we wanted to do. He taught us about their TCD (transformational community development) coaching method that focuses on educating poor villages around the world on how to become sustainable.
So yes, there would be no well, but instead a five year commitment to help rise a poor village in Sri Lanka out of poverty.
With Jeff's direction, seven of us from Hawaii flew across the world to visit our village, called "Nallathanniya" in Sri Lanka. There were five of us from Eden in Love, our videographer from 10th Letter Media and our photographer Rachel Robertson.
24 hours, 3 plane rides and an overnight layover in Thailand...
WE FINALLY MADE IT!
In the village, we experienced first hand the poor living conditions of our villagers. The water was filthy and unsanitary. The majority of the children had skin diseases and all adults were working for the tea estate making roughly $1.50 a day... and this was in 2012. We knew that work would need to be done and that WE would need to help.
Then we met Jay and Celeste Pietersz, our Sri Lanka ambassadors. They were our link to Nallathanniya over the last five years coaching them through the five areas of transformation: food, water, heath and wellness, education and income.
The first focus? Water.
We started this project while we were in the village. We walked one and a half miles to see where the villagers would hike everyday to get clean drinking water.
The goal was simple. To get accessible, high pressure water to each home.
Why? Because water is the source of life.
Because of the lack of clean water in the village, the children would be tasked to walk up the hillside to fetch water every single day. This water? It was clean but not sanitized, causing many waterborne diseases and skin irritations. Because of this, many children were not able to attend school, forcing their parents to stay home from work, spiraling their family to go deeper into poverty.
While in Sri Lanka, we purchased pipe, cement and catchment tanks and saw the villagers come together to dig trenches from the top of the hill down to the block of homes. Celeste, a former engineer, taught them how to lay the pipes, upkeep and manage the new water system while Jay taught the water committee several ways to filter the water flowing to the village. One way was to fill up old plastic bottles with water and leave them on the rooftops so ultraviolet rays would purify them.
And today six years later? High pressure water is available to the school and every block of homes. Waterborne diseases have completely eradicated and children are no longer late to school because they don't need to fetch water for their families.
Water started it all but we've had major success in all five areas.
When we first started working with Nallathnniya in 2012, only 65% of the village children were attending school. Today, over 85% of the children are enrolled in school and the attendance for English classes taught by Jay have the classrooms overflowing. Even parents who take their children to English class sit in the back to listen and learn.
The villagers know English creates the opportunity for more work.
Because Nallathanniya is nestled on the hillside of a tea estate, tea plucking and production is the primary source of income. In 2014, when torrential downpours of rain came, it washed out the tea crops, leaving little to no work.
Jay and Celeste took this an an opportunity to coach the income committee on entrepreneurship through micro loans and interest free financing. Today, there are 24 small businesses in the village and 12 in the cue. These businesses include selling fish, sewing garments, harvesting fruits and vegetables and raising chickens and goats for eggs and milk to sell.
These small business owners are now making two to three times the amount of income they were making solely at the tea estate. This led to an increased confidence and a stronger sense of community throughout the village.
For the last five years, we've raised over $15,000 a year to support the transformation in Sri Lanka.
All of this has been possible because of our community.
Through our partnership with Hourglass Lilly, we raised over $18,000 in six months with our Palm Springs collection.
We learned how to leverage the power of consumerism by purchasing specific pieces with a portion of the proceeds going back to Sri Lanka.
We championed for Nallathanniya with our $10, $20 and $30 donation promotion.
We held a silent auction. We did a (re)loved clothing swap. We created our own products.
We did it all! And Hawaii stood with us every step of the way.
After hearing what we were doing in Sri Lanka, we were approached by shoppers, Shelley and Dayle - educators at Aina Haina Elementary School. They were following our journey on social media and got inspired to educate their students to become global citizens.
They wrote: "We would like our students to become international citizens with an awareness of other people and cultures. Hopefully we can use this as a learning opportunity to help them see what life is like for others."
For five years, Aina Haina students would draw and send pictures to the children in the village. And in turn, the children in the village would draw and send pictures to the children in Hawaii. This drawing "pen pal" program bridged the gap between Hawaii and Sri Lanka and shared a lot of love and aloha across the world.
The generosity didn't stop there! Together with the support of their administration and fellow teachers, Aina Haina Elementary donated over $1,000 from the proceeds of their annual Haunted House and book fairs to the village every single year.
THANK YOU AINA HAINA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!
And the inspiration continued...
After seeing the good work happening in Sri Lanka on our social media pages, the owners of LA-based brand Everly, reached out to see how they could get involved. We hooked them up with Global Hope Network International and they are now adopting their own village in Myanmar. Bravo Everly!
It took a village, but the journey was beyond our wildest dreams.
Six years later, it all came full circle as we wrapped up in Hawaii flying Jay and Celeste (their first time in Hawaii and Jay's first time in the States!) in from Sri Lanka and greeting Jeff as he joined us from Colorado.
We spent two days sharing the triumphs and challenges that our little (but big!) village faced. We shared our story with the community in hopes that others would spark an interest to adopt a village of their own. We celebrated with the original seven of us who flew to Sri Lanka, our extended families, new friends and supporters.
We laughed, we cried and we reconnected with The Heart of Eden.
In our quest to inspire our community,
we realized that the community inspired us.
Watch the journey to Sri Lanka here:
Video Credit: 10th Letter Media