Saturday, June 25, 2011

FROM RUNWAY MODEL TO ROLE MODEL:

Fashioning A New Life for
AIDS Orphans in Kenya

This former fashion model (seen above with her daughters) is now a role model for the well-to-do mommies who buy her handmade children's clothes in New York and their counterparts who are struggling to feed their children in Kenya. 

Siamanda Chege achieved worldwide success then went home to Kenya to start an orphanage and a children's clothing company to support it. It's a remarkable biography:

Siamanda, the eldest daughter of a homemaker and a missionary, grew up in Nakuru, Kenya with 8 siblings. After starting college in the US, she received word that her father was ill and she must become the breadwinner.

Blessed with both beauty and brains, she moved to New York City and became a runway model, sometimes working in Paris and London. She single-handedly supported her family, helping her parents buy rental properties for steady income and putting her siblings through college.

With her own family taken care of, Chege turned her attention to her community in 2004. On a visit home to Kenya, the new mother was devastated by the toll AIDS had taken on her country. The HIV/AIDS rate is above six percent and an estimated 1.2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS.


"After I had my first baby, it hit me really hard," says Chege, whose daughters are now 7 and 5. "What would happen if my baby had no mother and father? What if I was that woman who could not feed her kids?" She remembers thinking, "We're so blessed we have to make a difference."

Her father, a local legend named Rev. Patrick Chege who died in 2002, had always opened his home to orphans, and the AIDS epidemic had grown so quickly that many children were homeless and parentless.

Siamanda, now 39, knew immediately that she would focus on orphans too. Not satisfied to just raise funds to start an orphanage, she leaned on her keen fashion sensibilities and created BébéRavi, meaning "baby's delight" in French, a mission-driven company that sells adorable knit and crocheted baby clothes. A portion of the proceeds from Bébé Ravi now benefit the Patrick Chege Memorial Orphanage she founded in honor of her dad in 2005.


The kids aren't the only ones who are helped, though. About 100 women in Nakuru are employed to make the items sold by Bébé Ravi. CEO Chege designs everything and ships in high-quality Italian yarn and the women crochet year-round. The collection is then sold at high-end stores in the US like FAO Schwartz, Barney's and ABC Carpet and Home.

The employment is literally life-changing for Chege's Kenyan employees. In an area where the unemployment rate can reach 40 percent, these skilled women, many of them heads of household, have found fulfilling and lucrative work. They're paid about double the average local wage and given nourishing meals.


"Most of the women are widows. Most are illiterate," Chege explains. "The last four years they've been able to do so much because of the income they get. Now they can take care of their children, their relatives, their relatives' children. Being able to feed their children every day and send them to school, they are very empowered." And they know that a portion of the proceeds from their handiwork (seen above) goes to the orphanage next door.

The Chege Orphanage now houses 26 children, ranging in age from 1 to 17, all orphaned by AIDS. Kids find their way into the welcoming environment after a local church and school tip off orphanage directors that they're all alone. Chege said that a religious school will sometimes report when a child has been absent for awhile; often the child is found at home trying to fend for him or herself after parents pass away.


The orphanage provides shelter, food, healthcare and helps heal their psychological and physical wounds. Perhaps most importantly, it also emphasizes education, doing everything from requiring piano lessons to sending the kids to private school. Siamanda would like to keep all the children together until they are ready for a technical school or university, so that they may know what it is like to have a stable home full of love.

It is a nonprofit organization that relies on private donations of money, books, clothes and more. Now some donors choose to sponsor one child for the entire year. Whatever is lacking is made up for by Bébé Ravi and Siamanda Chege.

Pointing out that the orphanage also grows its own crops and maintains its own cows, Chege says, "I wanted to do something in a sustainable way. To create a company that can support itself, which is different than just asking people to donate all the time."


OUR WEBSITE IS:  www.BebeRavi.com

We are a mission-based company. We specialize in hand-made children garments. Our products are hand-knitted and crocheted from the finest Italian Yarns. Our wool line of sweaters and blankets are made from 100% extra fine merino wool that is machine-washable, whereas our cotton products are from combed Egyptian cotton. All our products are manufactured in Kenya. Our stockists this and past seasons in include ABC home and carpet, Barneys, FAO Schwarz, Sweet William, Flora and Henri among other very high-end boutiques.


Bébé Ravi (the name means 'baby's delight') produces exquisite, hand-knit clothing made of the finest Egyptian and Italian wool for infants and children. Sizes range from 0 to 6 years old. Styles bear Swahili names for animals like 'simba' for lion, 'twiga' for giraffe, and 'tausi' for peacock.


The company employs 100 women from rural villages in Kenya, which has been devastated by HIV. By providing jobs, exceptional working conditions and above average wages to the women of Kenya who are mostly the bread-winners in their homes due to the AIDS epidemic, Bébé Ravi is helping to transform whole East African communities.  We also support the Patrick Chege Orphanage that is a result of the AIDS epidemic, as well.

For more information, visit:
Bébé Ravi and the

To make a donation, visit:


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Siamanda Chege, a former fashion model from Kenya, founded her mission-driven company Bébé Ravi in 2004 because she wanted to give back to her Masai community in a significant and sustainable way. Bébé Ravi (the name means 'baby's delight') produces exquisite, hand-knit clothing made of the finest Egyptian and Italian wool for infants and children.




















1 comment:

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