The story of 20 Oak Park-area boutiques partnering to sell scarves made by Kenyan refugee girls is the story of two women organizing change, both abroad and right here at home.
First, meet Anne Sweeney, an graduate and former River Forest resident, who now lives in Chicago. She's the co-founder of Heshima Kenya, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and comprehensive support services for east African refugee girls in Nairobi, Kenya. Scarf sales from this weekend's boutique event will benefit Heshima.
Girls served by Heshima make the scarves as part of the organization's Maisha Collective, a program that teaches business skills to girls who have completed tailoring and financial literacy training.
Sweeney calls the group a “springboard into self-sufficiency.” Of the 60 girls currently served by Heshima, 18 participate in the collective and 10 of them are now self-reliant.
Just how 20 boutiques in Oak Park and Forest Park came together to sell the $40 scarves this upcoming weekend is a story in its own right.
Jessica Mackinnon, an Oak Park resident and communications director at , organized the partnership, despite having no direct connection to Sweeney or Heshima. The pair met two years ago, when Mackinnon approached Sweeney after a speech about the group at the school.
At the time Mackinnon had been reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn's book Half the Sky, which details efforts to combat sex trafficking, gender-based violence and maternal mortality in the developing world.
“There were so many examples of women who were doing great things around the world but they were so far away,” Mackinnon said of the book. “Anne was somebody I could reach out and touch. She was a role model, but she was real.”
So Mackinnon volunteered to host “scarf parties,” or Heshima fundraising events — first at Oak Park's in December 2010, and then this May at American Artworks Gallery in Forest Park.
Her latest scarf-selling project, this weekend's “It Takes A Village” boutique sale, is the biggest scarf event she has organized yet.
“It's women helping women who have had lives that most of us can't even imagine,” Mackinnon said. “The scarves themselves are beautiful too.”
Sweeney says anyone can host a scarf party — her sister threw one at her house — and scarves can also be purchased online.
Buyers at this weekend's event, which runs Friday through Sunday, are encouraged to use cash or checks to eliminate credit card transaction fees.