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Meet Julie Phippen of Sewpportive Friends in North Shore

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Phippen.

Julie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
While preparing for my family’s third journey to Zimbabwe, I researched items to pack for two new villages we were going to be visiting. It was then, I learned that a young girl not properly equipped for the menstrual cycle, aren’t allowed to attend school.

Buying manufactured products is not an option for these girls; the products are expensive and families cannot afford, nor are there any stores within a short drive, let alone walking distance. Proper disposal is also an issue.

They often use feathers, newspaper or animal dung to manage their menstrual hygiene. Without proper hygiene, these girls miss significant amounts of school, most often, may be forced to repeat grades, and many drops out of school altogether. And as one may imagine, these hygiene methods pose health risks such as infections. My heart was heavy after learning this fact and thought we needed to help. With continued research, I decided to sew washable reusable feminine pads for these young women with healthy, environmentally friendly fabric. I ordered a sewing machine, created a pattern and that was the beginning of our story.

Within three months, and the incredible kindness, talent, and support of family and friends, 108 kits were delivered during our trip to Zimbabwe. Shortly after our return to the USA, our volunteer group, Sewpportive Friends, became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

It was our following trip that we delivered another 100+ kits and also organized sewing classes providing fabric, sewing needles, thread, scissors, pens, patterns, to teach the village girls and women how to sew the feminine items for themselves. These women created sewing groups and continue producing Sewpportive Friends feminine products. One high school we are working within a rural area of Matopos has made this project part of their sewing class curriculum.

Today, our focus is on continuing to help the rural communities who have limited or no assistance with their feminine hygiene needs by teaching sewing, providing washable kits, be a resource and friend. We also collaborate with other African organizations who inquired about incorporating these types of sewing groups for their communities.

It has been an incredible journey of compassion, learning, friendship, inspiration, and empowerment. I pray for all our Sewpportive Friends, and most importantly, the girls and women we’ve been blessed to meet and assist. It takes many hands to make a real difference. I am so truly grateful for the support to our mission.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It is our goal to be able to purchase the sewing class supplies in Zimbabwe and other African countries we assist. We want to support the local economy but it has been a challenge finding local suppliers. Internet is not readily available to our African friends and many businesses do not have a website. Some of our local contacts are helping us try to find quality and affordable suppliers.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Sewpportive Friends story. Tell us more about it.
Sewpportive Friends is a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit grassroots organization. We provide washable, reusable feminine products to girls and women in need in rural villages of Africa, with our current focus on Zimbabwe. We also teach them how to sew these items for themselves.

Our Wash-Pad kits (feminine kit) cost approximately $15 to produce and include:
3 – Padlets
9 – Pad inserts (3 per Padlet)
2 – Pair of underwear
2 – Ziploc freezer bags (for carrying soiled items and for washing)
1 – Knapsack (for carrying kits discreetly)
1 – Instruction pamphlet

There are a number of organizations that manufacture washable, reusable feminine pads. Our priority is healthy, environmentally friendly fabric. The fabric we use that touches the body is dye free. We use hemp and/or bamboo fleece and Eco PUL.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’m not sure if I would call it luck, I like to say our journey has been Divinely directed. We have had challenges to work through, but our path has been an incredible learning experience and continues to unfold in wonderful ways.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Chibbon Coholan, Julie Phippen

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