Introducing… Maria

The last of the 4 women we met in Durres was Maria. She met us outside her home with a beaming smile, kisses on the cheeks and incredible warmth and excitement. It immediately felt like we were welcome, and like we had known her forever. She had just picked fresh figs from her garden, and she made us all (Noah included) eat 1 or 3 before we were allowed to begin talking. Fresh figs are delicious, as it turns out, and Levi ate a ton.

Maria was full of joy and life, and her laughter and smile were infectious. As she began to tell us the story of her life we became more and more amazed that such joy could come from a woman who had suffered so much.

Maria’s husband is an abusive man, and a drunk, like most of the other husbands of the women we met. He spends all the money in the household on alcohol and is a very difficult man to live with. Maria has only daughters, and one of her daughters is now old enough to move out, get a job, or marry. Because of the financial situation, Maria’s husband has threatened to sell his daughter in order to relieve them of having to care for her, and to get some money for her. Unfortunately desperation often leads to trafficking in Albania, and most parents are uneducated about where their daughters could end up.

Maria had previously had 2 sons. One had Encephalitis, and one Down’s Syndrome and a heart condition. They both required a lot of care. Maria told us that she was on her way to get a surgery on her son’s heart when her other son died at home. He was 12 years old, but was the size of a 5 or 6 year old because of his condition. Her other son also died from his health issues, and he was only 5 when he passed away. Maria was obviously devastated by these losses, especially in an Albanian culture where men dominate, and male children are so highly desired.

Maria has also suffered through many health issues. She has had 5 surgeries in her adult years. Because of where she is from, and her economic standing, she has not received proper care or good surgical procedures. She told us of medical instruments being left inside of her, and lots of complications from her surgeries. While we were there she told us of another surgery that she needs that she can not afford, and so she suffers every day.

Despite all of this heartache and struggle, Maria lives with joy. She told us excitedly about how the work with Dawn has given her ability to work from home despite her medical situation. It is keeping her daughter from being sold because there is money in the house and Dawn has been helping her keep her daughter safe. She has hope and inspiration again because of the work she is able to do.

Maria’s daughter (the one at risk of being trafficked) has also been inspired to dream. Maria told us of her daughter’s hope to open a home for abused women in their community where women could be safe and get the counseling and tools that they needed to cope with what they had endured. It is an amazing dream, and so necessary there.

In the process of eating figs, both of our boys got a big mucky. Maria had provided a nice white towel for us to wipe sweat when we arrived, and I caught Levi about to wipe his hands on it at one point. I asked him not to stain Maria’s nice white towel, and after Dawn translated what I was saying Maria laughed. “I have a washing machine now, thanks to my work for Dawn” she said proudly, “please use the towel.” It was a brilliant picture for us of the impact of the work these women were doing on their everyday lives.

As we look at the products we now have in stock it is easy to see a knitted headband, fingerless gloves, a cowl, or boot cuffs. But now when we look at them we see the faces of these 4 brave women that we met, and we think of their stories. They aren’t just accessories to help you look great in the winter and stay warm. They are an opportunity to participate in stories of hope. They are an opportunity to participate in protecting children from trafficking. They are a statement that says that my purchases matter for real people in real places with real stories. And that is exciting.

Here are some of the items Maria has been making being modelled
Here are some of the items Maria has been making being modeled

Introducing… Amelia

On our second day in Albania we met Amelia (as with the others, we changed her name for this blog). Like the others, Amelia had found hope and purpose in her work knitting for Dawn, despite terribly difficult circumstances. She greeted us with joy and welcomed us warmly into her home, and her 2 children took very good care of our boys while we were there.

Amelia’s story was difficult to hear. Her husband, like Helena’s, drinks a lot and is abusive towards her. He spends most of his time and most of their money drinking. Like Helena’s husband, he travels abroad to try and find work. He is often in Greece trying to find a job, and most of the time he does not find any work, as Greece is a struggling nation these days as well. Amelia told us it is actually easier on her when he is away because there is peace in her home.

Several years ago, Amelia had a terrible fall from a second story balcony and broke her back. She was forced to move back in with her parents as she was bed-ridden and unable to care for her children. She lay flat on her back in that bed for over 3 months before she met Dawn. Dawn heard about Amelia’s situation, and even though they had never met she came to Amelia’s bedside and prayed for her healing. Miraculously, 3 days later Amelia got up from her bed and began to walk around.

Unfortunately, Amelia’s back has not healed properly, and she lives with constant pain. There are things she can not do around the house, and she is forced to rely on her children to help her. Also, her medical bills have created debt and with the lack of work for her husband and her inability to work things have been difficult.

However, amidst and despite of the incredible pain and difficulty of Amelia’s situation, she has found hope in her work. Working for Dawn has allowed her to work from home at her own pace while looking after her children and her back. She also told us that before her job working with Dawn she had no oven, fridge, or washing machine, and now she has all three in her home. Knitting is putting bread on her table and offering a brighter future for her family.

As we prayed with Amelia and cried with her over the things she has endured it was very clear to us that there is injustice and brokenness in the world and in peoples’ lives, but that God is also present and that he cares deeply about his children and wants to bring wholeness to them. If we can participate in one small way in that by bringing Amelia’s beautifully knitted goods to the marketplace in order to support her and others like her, it is worth spending our last penny and scrap of effort to do so. When people buy her goods they aren’t just purchasing a scarf or a headband or gloves or a boot cuff, they are participating in the story of hope and justice.

An example of the kind of work Amelia is doing
An example of the kind of work Amelia is doing

Introducing… Helena

As we started with Lydia in our last blog post, we want to introduce you to each of the women we met in Durres. These stories are incredibly important to us and to why The Intersection exists. There are real people in real places who are impacted by the decisions we make about what we buy. The stories are difficult to tell and to read, but they are true, and that is why the hope that is found in each one is so inspiring to us, and hopefully to you as well.

The second home we visited with Dawn was the home of Helena (whose name was also changed for this blog). Helena has 5 children under the age of 12 and when we arrived they swarmed our two boys, hugging them and squeezing their cheeks and kissing them on the head. It was an incredibly warm reception for kids that they’d never met. We found throughout our time in Albania that the kids are very good at caring and looking out for those who are younger than them.

Helena’s story and her life were full of incredibly difficult circumstances. She was married off to a man she didn’t know through arranged marriage (not that uncommon in Albania) when she was a young woman. She left the house she had lived in with her family and moved into her new “home” with her husband. It turned out to be little more than a shack in the middle of a swamp. Her husband has had no work for a long time, which is unfortunately also a common story in that area. Like many, many Albanian men, he drinks a lot and is very abusive toward Helena.

To find work, Helena’s husband goes to Italy for 3 months at a time twice a year. For 6 months of the year Helena is left at home alone with the 5 children. It is very difficult for an Albanian to find work abroad, and so most of the time her husband doesn’t find work in Italy and does not bring home any money to his family.

Helena’s family now has a proper home that they live in, but the going is very tough. While we were there visiting her she had no running water, and was unsure when her supply would come back. This situation was not uncommon for her or others in their area.

On top of all of that, Helena has epilepsy. She often seizures in dangerous situations such as when she’s over the fire or near the stove. Several times her children have had to pull her out of harm’s way during a seizure, and she has been badly burned more than once.

Despite all of the struggles she faces, Helena also has joy and hope. She told us that the knitting job (which she can do at home while watching the kids) has saved the lives of her family. Her opportunity to work has given her a sense of purpose, as well as providing food and clothes and other things for her family. She had great pride in her work, and she showed us some of what she was currently working on while we were there.

When leaving Helena’s home it was hard not to marvel at her strength to have endured all that she has in her lifetime. It also made us feel more determined than ever to bring Helena’s work to the world in order to both keep her employed and also to provide that same opportunity to others in her community.

Photo Credit- Kyson Morgan
These are some of the fingerless gloves Helena has been making
This is an example of the headbands Helena has been making
This is an example of the headbands Helena has been making

Photo Credits- Kyson Morgan Photography

Introducing… Lydia

As we mentioned in the last post, it is our intention to introduce you to each of the women we met who are working with Dawn in Durres. We had the privilege of sitting in the homes of each of these amazing women and hearing their stories. These stories are the reason The Intersection exists. They are difficult and sometimes full of unimaginable suffering, but they are true, and they are inspiring, because in each there is hope.

The first home we visited was the home of Lydia (whose name we changed for this blog). It was fitting that Lydia was our first visit because she is the leader of the group of knitters. She’s the quality control lady and the most experienced at knitting. When she was in primary school she learned to knit in P.E. class and loved it. She has been knitting ever since. If there is a special project that needs to be done or a new concept to be tried out, Lydia is the one to do it.

Lydia is a single mother and has 4 children. She was married, but her husband died some time ago. After he died, she took a number of different jobs in an attempt to provide for her family. Several years ago, she was struck by a car and was terribly injured. She has plates in her legs from the incident, and is not able to walk very well. Because of this, she is unable to work outside of her home because the pain in her legs does not allow her to stand for very long. Where she and the other women live there is almost no work anyway, and so the prospects for her family were not great.

Lydia met Dawn at a daycare program for widows in the community. She told us that the work she has been doing for Dawn has allowed her to make sure her children were fed and able to go to school- especially her daughters, who in Albanian society are worth much less than males. Her situation is unfortunately a common one which often leads to young women being trafficked. Their parents are either unable to support them or unwilling, and when an offer comes in for their daughters to be purchased or taken away for “work abroad,” struggling families often take it. Most have no idea what might happen to their daughters. Lydia’s family is in no such danger.

Lydia is devoted to her family, and a very hard worker. There was an air of peace and contentedness about her as we spoke to her, and we could tell that the job she was doing had brought some stability and consistency for her. She also produces some very nice products, and we intend to keep bringing them to you so that she, and others like her, can continue to work in support of her family.

These are some of the products Dila has been making.
These are some of the products Lydia has been making.
This is some more of her work (this is not her)

Albania… the coles notes

Aaaand…. we’re back! Our time away was full- both in activity and emotion. There is and was so much to blog about, but we were so busy being there that we didn’t have a lot of time to write about it. That, and some patchy internet connections.

Our children travelled for the most part like absolute champions. They ate anything offered, they were great on planes, and they made us very, very popular. If you have any desire to intersect with the lives of others anywhere, take your children. A grin from Noah or a clever quip from Levi instantly opened up doors Meghann and I couldn’t with 15 minutes of conversation.

Our time with Dawn in Durres was amazing and inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. We met individually with each of the women working with her in their homes and we were able to hear their stories and the impact of the work that they are doing on their lives. Several times since I have tried to sit and write their stories and each time I’ve ended up crying and talking with God. Now that a bit of time has passed our intention is to bring their stories to you. We’ll write them one at a time because each one is worthy of its own attention. Watch this space because we will attempt to bring them to you soon.

Our time with the team in Sauk was also amazing. We helped run an art/Bible camp for children, a music/art camp for teens, spent time with the teenagers, prayed for the city, spent time with our hosts Klement and Xhevi, had an Albanian potluck, did traditional Albanian dances, ate lots and lots of delicious food, and generally looked for ways to support the ministry and be a blessing there.

Obviously there is MUCH more to tell, but we’ll spill our guts over time through this blog. Let this be a whetting of the appetite for what is to come.

Lights Flashing- Corner of Albania and Jaeger

We believe that there is a God and that He is heartbroken about the state of affairs in our world and the way we treat one another. We believe our heart for justice and the oppressed is a reflection of His heart. We believe that His economy is love and hope and life to the fullest, and that it is not slavery and oppression and bottom lines.

Because of that, we are part of a church called Southside Community Church. Southside has been going to a little country tucked away in Europe called Albania for 14 years. There is now a small church that meets in the community that Southside has been working in, and both Meghann and I (Dane) have been there to help and serve and be involved in the work that is happening. There is something about Albania that gets into your blood, and we have had a great desire to go back there again.

When we started The Intersection, it was only natural for us to investigate to see if there were any fair trade or ethical trade expressions coming out of Albania. Through a number of connections, we eventually found a woman named Dawn who had been working in Albania for many years. She had collected a group of women and was teaching them how to knit. These women had either been trafficked and rescued, were at risk of being trafficked, or were living with workplace barriers or disabilities. We were captured by the story of Dawn helping to return to them dignity and hope, and we knew we wanted to be involved.

Through a long string of e-mails, we have established relationship with Dawn, and we have brought in small amounts of the goods her group of ladies is producing. It has become more and more clear that we need to go and meet these women and hear their stories and help develop their work even more. We don’t just want to sell their goods. We want to be able to introduce the buyers of their goods to the stories of those who made them.

So we’ve been waiting and planning. Waiting for a Southside team that is going, and planning how in the world we’re going to haul a 3 year old and a 1 year old halfway across the world to one of the hottest places we’ve ever been on airplanes that will actually have other people on them. Joking aside, the time has come. On June 21 we will fly to Tirana, Albania as a family and will spend several days with the women working with Dawn. We’ll then meet up with the team coming from our church and spend a week with the small church in the village we’ve been working in.

We are excited and nervous and full of anticipation. We look forward to our story intersecting with that of these women, and being able to see into their homes and lives. We look forward to serving with the team in Sauk, and being able to connect with kids, youth, and families. Watch this space, because here we will relay the tales of our journey and those whom we encounter along the way. At risk of stretching the intersection metaphor too far… the lights are flashing– corner of Albania and Jaeger.

PS- We do have a bunch of items available from this cooperative for sale- cowls, fingerless gloves, headbands and boot cuffs. All proceeds from the sales will go straight back to the women. Please contact us if you have any interest. And yes, we know it is summer. But you don’t HAVE to leave your Christmas shopping ’til the month of December!

So What’s Your Story?

We go to the movies. We watch the news. We read books. We read magazines. We watch youtube videos. We follow people on twitter and instagram. We watch reality TV. We do it all because we love stories. We love connecting to the stories of others, especially when they’re really good ones.

This blog is about a story. The story is about a family– our family– the Jaegers. We’ve been on a journey. In big and small ways, the journey began long ago with the shaping of our characters and the discovery of faith and the travel we embarked on to different parts of the globe. But specifically this part of the story started in a village in Kenya called Kithituni with a  group of women whose families had been ravaged by AIDs. When we met them they had found hope and income through the rolling of paper beads which they made into jewelry.

We loved the story of these women, and their workmanship, and so we bought a whole bunch of jewelry to bring back home to sell to our friends. As we shared their stories with our friends and raised some money to send back to the women we realized that this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to invest our time in connecting people in developing nations with outlets to sell their goods, and in turn connect the stories of people purchasing items with the stories of those who produced them. We wanted to create an intersection at which their stories could meet. We wanted to change the way people thought about what they purchase, and cause them to investigate the origins of their products, and the conditions in which the producers of their products work.

So we started a business. We called it The Intersection: Fair Trade. Our tagline is “At the corner of their story and yours.” Since we began, we’ve been introduced to many many more stories. We’ve found out that everyone knows someone somewhere who could use a platform for their story and their goods, and that there’s a yearning in peoples’ hearts to connect to something greater and know that they are doing good. And so we continue on with our journey, though the going is sometimes tough and we’re not always sure where to go next.

What we do know is that everyone has a story, and every purchase has an impact. We may not see it, but there is a ripple from any purchase made anywhere that affects real people in real places. We want to know that that impact is positive. We want ethical alternatives for every product on the market. Perhaps it is a lofty goal, but perhaps it is a worthy goal.

What we’ve also found is that the stories of fair trade/direct trade/ethical trade are stories of hope, of restored dignity, of rescued futures. We’ve encountered cooperatives made up of women who were trafficked for sex slavery and were rescued and given employment. We’ve encountered stories of communities getting water and access to health care through premiums paid back into their communities from the sale of their goods. We’ve heard of children getting a chance at education because there was finally enough income in their family so that they didn’t have to work. These are the stories we want to share. These are the stories we want to intersect with. This is the impact your purchases and ours can have.