Oureye, the woman behind it all

Allow me to introduce you to our friend Oureye, who is the inspiration behind Kayoong Community. Oureye lost her husband in November, 2010. With the loss of his income and without the support of an extended family, she was forced to surrender her sons (at the time 7 years old, 3 years old, and 4 months old) to an orphanage in southern Senegal where she knew their basic needs could be met. In 2011, she moved 10 hours north to the capital city Dakar in order to make a cash income so that she could send money for her children’s school fees and save up to purchase a property where they could one day all live together again.

Oureye is part of a widow support group. Women like her meet once a week to offer a shoulder, lift each other up, share ideas for making extra money, and pool resources to help each other through tough times and emergencies.

Oureye has amazing drive and determination. I don’t know how this woman has time to sleep! The only person I’ve ever met who comes close to her work ethic is my own mother, herself a widow who took on any odd job she could to make ends meet. Does Oureye’s face look a bit familiar to you? You have probably purchased her homemade tortillas! She is always coming up with ways to make a couple extra CFA to put towards her dream. She is also very humble. We knew she lived simply, but had no idea how simply until Oureye announced a few months ago, with a proud twinkle in her eye, that after years of payments she had paid off a piece of land, all on her own, and was one step closer to reuniting her family.

Now, Kari and I are partners in crime who are always dragging each other into one crazy idea or another. Some of them are awesome. Others, not so much. Last Christmas, I crocheted her kids some Christmas gifts. A few weeks later, I woke up to a text from her. “Oureye saw the gifts you made. Did you know that she knows how to crochet? And so do most of the women in her support group! Call me when you get up. We have an idea.” So Oureye, Kari and I started brainstorming for a crochet project that could help the widow group earn some extra money. Something new and different that wasn’t being done in Dakar. We threw around tons of ideas (I think there was even a coconut and crochet bikini at one point?), but kept hitting a wall. Toys and clothes required a yarn quality we would have to import. Kari and I could bring some back in our suitcases each year, but not nearly enough to keep all the women busy and earning money, and officially importing it would cut their profits down to nothing. For this to be sustainable, it had to be 100% locally sourced. And then we had it! We can crochet strips of wax fabric into rugs! And baskets! And tote bags!

Meanwhile, Kari and I had decided to become minimalists (this goes back to our crazy ideas) and follow and idea we saw online where we would give away one item for every day of Lent that could help someone else. We started going through our stuff and I asked if she thought I should give away my coffee table.

Kari: “Your treasure chest coffee table? But it is awesome!”
Me: “I know, but it is kind of big for my apartment. And I don’t ‘need’ it.”
Kari: “I’ll take it!”
Me: “But you don’t ‘need’ it either! What if I sell it, and set the price at a donation to a group of widows, and then Oureye and the women could use the money to buy crochet hooks? Think anyone would give me thirty-ish bucks for it?”

Fifteen minutes later, Kari invited me and many of you, to the “40 days for widows” Facebook page. This has become so much bigger than we could have imagined, and your generosity has blown us away. Within a few days, we had raised enough to order crochet hooks. A few days later, and we were up over two hundred dollars and Oureye started meeting individually with the other women to prioritize whose kids had overdue school fees and who was behind on vaccinations. And now…guys…we are so close to a really big milestone number. A number that could help the widows turn this into a real business that will let them more securely support themselves, help them reunite their families, and give their children real education opportunities. They have tons of great product ideas (baskets are just the first step!) and are motivated to get to work. They have no idea how much has been raised for them, so let’s make a final push these last few days and really knock their socks off with the love and generosity of strangers.