About SJ Boutique
SJ Boutique stands for Sydney Jean, named after and by our daughter by the same name. This small shop is in partnership with Azizi Life and the Abumurava Cooperative (“People Striving for Excellence” Cooperative) in Rwanda.
The Abumurava Cooperative was begun by a core group of women in October 2007 as a forum for working together in order to provide mutual support, development, and increased standard of living. Through the group, the artisans have been able to use and improve their skills in weaving sisal fibers in order to better provide for themselves and their families. The weavers hope to find new markets for their creations in the coming year. In their time weaving together, the members of Abumurava support and encourage one another in many areas of life.
Through an Azizi Life micro-finance project, Abumurava weavers have bought stoves for personal use that use much less firewood and as a result protect the environment. The cooperative welcomes visitors for Experience days, and they dream of a future where they have a cooperative house and a plantation of sisal.
The women of Abumurava Cooperative provide most of the jewelry provided here at SJ Boutique.
Why SJ Boutique
In October, 2019, Trillia Newbell (Sydney’s mother) went to Kigali, Rwanda with the wonderful organization HOPE International, a microenterprise development organization that partners with individuals and churches to provide loans, discipleship, and more. During that trip, Trillia and a group of women visited the Abumurava Cooperative through another organization, Azizi Life. Trillia has tried to stay away from the clichés that many say after trips like this but it was indeed life-changing or as one friend said, Trillia was gloriously ruined. It’s been hard for Trillia to put it all into words but meeting women from Rwanda, passionate about Jesus, working diligently and caring for their families was convicting, encouraging, challenging, and inspiring. Women like Primitive (who became a fast friend) and beautiful Speciose (pictured on the homepage) are women she knew she wanted to support.
Upon coming home and sharing about the women, their dignified work, and the relationship that she quickly built with them in just one day, her husband, Thern, wanted to get involved. As they sat at their dinner table, Thern developed the idea of supporting the women through their work, helping them expand their market reach so they can have greater financial stability to provide for their families and communities . But they wanted it to be a family adventure, one where they could all learn about Rwanda and support the Abumurava women together. Thern came up with the idea of allowing their daughter Sydney to “own” the shop.
SJ Boutique serves several purposes. It allows the Abumurava Cooperative to get their products into new hands, which has been a prayer of both the women and Azizi Life. A prayer that Thern and Trillia were unaware of until after they approached Azizi Life!
It also allows Thern and Trillia to teach their children about poverty alleviation in a way that they pray will help and not hurt. From everything that they are learning, simply sending money is not the way to best serve the Abumurava women. By purchasing their products, they are teaching their children about the value of work and in turn supporting the economy in that village. Sydney has been involved in every aspect of the development, allowing her to learn leadership and management skills as well as use her very creative gifts and imagination. Their son will help with shipping, inventory evaluation, and cheering on his sister.
This is not a big business. It is a small shop where you can purchase handmade goods online as they are available, mostly jewelry to start. On a personal note, we are thrilled about this opportunity to partner with Azizi Life and the Abumurava women. Trillia has the joy of speaking at an event in Rwanda in 2021 and the goal is to visit the women as a family.
SJ Boutique is for-profit and a portion of all sales will go to the continued work of HOPE International, where Trillia has been involved in various capacities since 2014.
More about The Newbells
Thern and Trillia live in the Nashville area with their two children Weston and Sydney. Thern is a real-estate appraiser and Trillia is a writer and speaker. They enjoy being outside as much as humanly possible, attending small group at their local church, history, cultures, and travel. Oh and Sydney would be dismayed if they didn’t share about their puppy, a goldendoodle named Violet.
Azizi Life’s vision from their website: To participate in local initiatives for the development of Rwandan communities, working towards physical and spiritual wholeness for all.
Azizi Life is committed to paying an agreed-upon fair wage to the artisans as soon as they receive their products. The additional income from the sale of their art allows the craftspeople and their families to afford many things that they struggled to get before: Medical insurance – improving health, school materials for their children – improving education, soap and other cleaning products – improving hygiene and more.
As Christians, they at Azizi Life believe that God cares deeply about our physical wellbeing and our relationships with one another, as well as our relationship with Him. They see the brokenness of the world- in the West as well as there in Rwanda- and believe that it is only through a relationship with Jesus Christ that true healing and wholeness – and development – can be found.
The foundation of everything that they do is based on the principles that are shown within the Bible. In all of our interactions and activities, they strive to work with integrity and to show God’s love and truth to the people around us. This extends not only to the artist groups and communities here in Rwanda, but also to our customers and supporters around the world.
Although Azizi Life is of course open to working with people of differing faiths, many of their artisans (like the majority of Rwandans) are Christians. It is their privilege to regularly offer them encouragement and prayer- and to receive their prayers for them as well!