Francis + Benedict Team visiting the Prefecture du Zio village
A little over a year ago I had an awakening experience. The weird thing is that I didn't even know I had been asleep. I realized that for the last several years, I’d been going through life in a fog. I call it my divorce fog. I then started to notice that other people in my life were in a fog as well - some in a child raising fog, others in a work fog.
Too often we find ourselves on this merry-go-round of life and we don’t realize our need to pause, reassess, regroup and refocus. My fog came in the form of a creative block, depression, and the feeling of being lost, all while getting up, getting dressed, meeting with people, telling myself, “smile and fake it until you make it, Kelly!”
My Journey to Enlightenment
Last August I was working on a photo shoot with my good friend, Julianne Taylor, founder of home décor brand Taylor Burke Home, when she told me she was going on a trip to Togo, Africa to help Francis + Benedict, a non-profit organization that empowers Togolese seamstresses by providing them with dignified and sustainable employment. I told her it had always been a dream of mine to teach women around the world how to make jewelry so that they could marry for love and not for financial survival. I saw my grandmother and mother stay in relationships for financial reasons, and continue to see so many women doing this today.
I’ve always been passionate about being financially independent which is why I went to pharmacy school. I knew that my success as a female entrepreneur and business owner demonstrated to the world that it was not only possible, but it was possible while doing something you loved (which is why I quit pharmacy and created Moon and Lola).
When Julianne suggested that I go to Togo, I told her that I wasn’t in the financial position to travel across the world. She lovingly argued each and every excuse I could come up with to not ask for financial support - I told myself I didn’t deserve it, my business was very much in need of my attention, my Mom was sick and needed me home, and the list went on…
But with Julianne's encouragement I decided to start a fundraising campaign and I was blown away by the generosity I received and the people who showed up for me and made financial contributions. It was incredibly humbling to say the least.
Asking for and accepting help has never been one of my strengths but my Togo experience taught me that asking for help was not only okay, but it actually feeds the souls of those who love me and want to support me. The amazing people who sponsored my trip were on that journey with me and I will forever be grateful for their gifts.
So, one month later I was on a plane to Africa that would change my life forever!
Arriving in Togo
Meeting Francis Avoyi and, his wife, Benedict was amazing. Francis had lived on the streets of Togo from the age of 7 to 17 and now he helped so many people around his home, village, and country. In 2015, he met Katie Walters who was on a mission trip to Togo and later went on to found Francis + Benedict, an organization whose profits are used to resource community leaders in Togo, enabling them to continue projects that benefit orphans, widows, and those suffering in poverty.
Katie was not only talking about doing something impactful - she was doing it. I remember feeling like I wasn’t good enough or deserving enough to do this, but Katie humbly shared with me some of her trials and tribulations, which helped me see that I didn’t have to be perfect to make a difference.
Francis, Kelly and Benedict in the Togolese village
The Togolese villages were similar to those we see on TV and we think to ourselves people don’t really live like this in the world today – in mud huts without electricity and adults and children walking around barefoot. One thing that really hit home with me was that these beautiful people had never even seen their own reflection in a mirror – they didn’t know what they looked like. We had Polaroid cameras with us and took pictures of them so that they could see themselves.
Let me just say that seeing someone see themselves for the first time was an incredibly moving experience that forever changed me. We brought the villagers flip-flops as gifts and they were received which such joy and gratitude.
Togolese children with their Polaroids and flip-flops
The amazing seamstresses that we met were so excited to simply go to work each day and do their sewing in a garage with other women who had become their dear friends. They lit up when they saw one another. The power of these women seeing each other gave them strength and life, which gave me strength and life too. Francis told me that when the seamstresses first started, they never even cracked a smile. Now we were witnessing laughter, singing, love and hope in that garage.
Vintage sewing machine used by the Togolese seamstresses
I brought my jewelry tools and supplies and I was able to teach a handful of women some basic jewelry making skills, but my trip was too short to make the kind of impact I wanted. So I wondered, what if I could bring home some of the scraps from the gorgeous fabric skirts and incorporate them into a new jewelry line Moon and Lola could help seed the efforts to provide the skills and jobs to more women in Togo and beyond? So, with the blessings of Katie, Francis and Benedict, that is what Moon and Lola has set out to do!
When I boarded the plane to go home, I told my friends that I had never felt so safe. I told them there was no way that plane was going down because I had so much to do when I got back to Moon and Lola! I knew that I must live my life with more purpose and help support women and children in need.
Kelly with her new friends, the twins Bernard and Bernadette
Our New Mission
So, I’m officially transforming myself, and Moon and Lola, to focus our efforts on our new mission and journey to support women and children. I’m accepting my beautifully messed up self and all of my good intentions and trying to be more real, more vulnerable, more accepting and less judgmental of myself and others. I am making Moon and Lola a true women for women organization that loves, supports, uplifts, and encourages women near and far. We have so many ideas and plans in store for how we can work towards this new mission.
We are so excited to invite you to experience the first chapter, the Togo Collection. Enjoy and let us know what you think.