USC retailing student is Clothed in Hope
Twenty-one-year-old Amy Woodell, a retailing student who aspired to a fashion career in New York, made a career U-turn after spending last summer (2010) in Zambia on a mission trip.
Struck by the widespread poverty, the number of women who were the sole wage earners for their families and the scarcity of jobs, Woodell saw a way to connect her fashion skills with the needs of the women in Lusaka, Zambia. After returning to USC, she launched a non-profit called Clothed in Hope, with the ambitious goal of providing hope to widows of the Ng’ombe compound in Lusaka by teaching them how to sew and helping to alleviate poverty at the grassroots level.
Woodell said that the lack of men in the village forces women to be strong, ultimately having the greatest impact on their culture.
“I believe that hope means much more than financial assistance. By empowering widows through life-skills training, I want to play a role in renewing their confidence, impacting their culture and inspiring women across the globe.”
Woodell’s life made an about turn last summer when a mission trip with Campus Crusade, a university organization, to South Africa fell through. Woodell took the second choice, Zambia, even though she didn’t know where it was.
“So, first thing I did was look it up on the map, and said, ‘OK. I guess that’s it! Zambia is Sub-Saharan, two countries above South Africa, landlocked.”
As plans for the trip came together, Woodell proclaimed it as a “sign” that this trip was meant to be. Financial support came pouring in from family, friends and sorority sisters whom she hardly knew, donated to her mission.
Little did she know how life in this tiny impoverished African nation would lead her down a completely new career path. She arrived with a group of other Campus Crusade women she didn’t know, in a foreign country and immediately felt at home.
“It was really cool from day one. I felt, this is where you’re supposed to be, this is what you’re supposed to be doing and this is who you’re supposed to be doing it with, and I couldn’t have asked for more encouraging people to be around.”
Instead of the frenetic hustle in a large U-S city, Woodell settled into the simple, slow pace of the village, sitting and talking with the women about their lives, painting the fingernails of the little girls and playing games with the children.
What she witnessed during her stay in Lusaka, stayed with her when she returned home to Raleigh, North Carolina, at the end of the summer. Her head may have been at home, but her heart was back in Lusaka. Soon after, she announced to her parents that she would be moving permanently to Zambia---with a plan.
With support of family and friends, Woodell will be leaving behind the creature comforts of home, and returning to Lusaka after graduation from USC in 2012. She’s confident that her heart will be lifted in her new home when she returns to the Ng’ombe compound next year.
Ahead of her return, Woodell is laying the groundwork for the move. Clothed in Hope is raising funds to pay for a house where some of the women can live together and support one another and learn about public health and safety issues, including AIDS and water-borne illnesses.
“Women who are widowed are oppressed people due to a Zambian law passed in ’89 that only gives Zambian widows 20 percent of their deceased husband’s estates, and the husband’s family can take everything from the widow,” said Woodell.
“I feel so blessed…I’ve been given so much. It’s my responsibility to use this life I’ve been given to help others. That’s where we are as humanity, to help each other and pull each other up.”
To support Clothed in Hope, Woodell has set up a Web site selling T-shirts and totes that she has designed.
“Women in these impoverished conditions are the same as we all are inside,” Woodell said. “They want to be loved and accepted in spite of their insecurities. It’s just on a different scale, instead of longing for a David Yurman bracelet, it’s food and shelter for their children.”
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