Elliott, Dickerson working to empower women in Africa
By Robert C. Deming
Standard-Radio Post contributor
Jill Elliott is known in Fredericksburg as the owner of Haberdashery Boutique and Blackchalk Home and Laundry, but many may not know she is also a familiar face at the Homecare Retreat Center in Kenya.
Elliott recently returned from a two-week visit to Nairobi and the adjacent Kibera slum, where she is engaged with empowering women to get out of poverty, prostitution and slavery into sustainable, healthy lives.
She just completed her second visit to Kenya in support of the Tirzah International program with another Fredericksburg resident, fellow designer and Tirzah International President Kirsten Dickerson.
“Tirzah is a nonprofit which partners with global female leaders to create opportunities for marginalized women to discover their innate potential,” Elliott explained. “In Kenya, the group facilitates a holistic women’s empowerment program which raises women out of a life of poverty, abuse, and rampant HIV into productive and healthy lives.”
Elliott’s first trip to Africa was at 16 years of age, and she knew she was destined to return. The project she is currently working with uses her experience in design to help Dickerson turn the center into an economic engine that pays for the costs of the school and creates a market for local artisans in a fair-trade setting.
Tirzah International works with a Kenyan woman, the Rev. Judy Mbugua, who founded the Kenyan Ladies Home Care Fellowship in 1985. Their retreat center has 22 guest rooms and provides meals for guests. Elliott is using her home décor savvy to turn the center into a showplace for Kenyan artisans and craftsmen through both the furnishings and a co-located bazaar.
“I was a young entrepreneur here at 27, but I had a lot to start with,” Elliot said. “I wanted to support my family and take my children to work with me. These Kenyan women just strap a baby on their back and go to work.”
Elliott has also been working with another Kenyan artist to develop her own line of jewelry for the American market which is authentic to their traditional art. On her most recent trip, she created a jewelry line in brass and horn which will be sold in her stores. Elliott gives 20% of these sales back to support Tirzah’s programs for women in Kenya.
Anyone who would like to learn more about what Elliott and Dickerson are up to and find out why they are so passionate about it, is invited to come to Blackchalk Home and Laundry at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, or visit www.tirzah.org.