So Much More than a Cheque

22 May

In looking at poverty, and at the amazing results of grassroots social movements of the poor in combatting it, I tend to think about what we who are lucky enough to live well can also do to help find solutions. One thing that I’ve learned from the GSMs is the importance of relationships, among the poor themselves and their local governments — and with those who want to help. I’m not crazy about the notion that we can simply “cure” poverty with a cheque. Yet it isn’t easy either to form some kind of relationship with people who live so far away.

So I was really pleased to learn about an endeavour to connect with the poor recently undertaken by a couple of friends of mine. I’ve known Chris Tyrrel for more than 20 years, and his partner, Jim Searle, for almost as long. The pair are wonderful fashion designers with an atelier called Hoax Couture near my house in Toronto. Their main clientele? Women wanting luxurious gowns for special occasions. Yes, lace, silk and sweeping decoletés are their main area of expertise. It may make their engagement with destitute Africans suffering the consequences of HIV/AIDS somewhat ironic – yet nonetheless significant and admirable.

Last October, Chris and Jim decided to set up Dare to Wear Love – a fundraising fashion show during Toronto’s Fashion Week with proceeds going to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. It accumulated and then donated impressive $40,000 to the SLF’s various projects to fight AIDS and help those who have been affected by it.

But going a big step beyond that, Jim and Chris also decided to visit some of the places where the Foundation is working. They travelled to 5 countries, including Zambia, where they visited a residential girls school in Lusaka. It had been set up a local grassroots organization and offered its often traumatized young wards an eduction, training in sewing and knitting (how apt! Maybe they can contribute ideas and skills to Canadian designers) and psychological support. Even more impressive, the girls themselves  help run the school.

I know that while Jim and Chris have often travelled in Africa, this visit must have touched them in a particular way. It shows the resilience of the poor and of an entire continent. It shows all of us how wonderful it can be to extend a hand and have another hand grasp it, to see our own humanity and desire to do good reflected back in the eyes of another. This project is great in the sense that it teaches average people that they can connect, they can make a difference and they can learn from those they are helping.

Another really interesting project I recently heard about? Wyclef Jean’s farming project in Haiti. Bringing the struggle  against poverty back to the land, to the basics of organic agriculture, and to people who can help themselves if given half a chance. 

You can read more about Jim and Chris’s trip here. People can learn more and even donate by visiting the Dare to Wear Love website.

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