GraceBag is a health access initiative that aims to make a ‘mommy and me’ difference in local communities. Their mission started in the tiny Mukhuni Village in Zambia. GraceBags are now making footprints into the rest of Africa. It’s a community project that our Petit Love team holds close to their hearts.
“Approximately 200,000 women die annually in Sub-Saharan Africa due to preventable complications in childbirth and pregnancy.” – The World Health Organisation.
This heart-warming ‘mommy and me’ endeavour is lead by co-founders, and couple, Joan and WJ Botha from South Africa’s beloved destination, Stellenbosch. These beautiful baby bags are handmade with cork leather. Cork leather is natural and vegan. Each time someone purchases a GraceBag, another is donated to a mom.
We chatted to this incredible couple to find out more about their desire to give back to moms across the continent:
1. What sparked your initial idea to create GraceBag?
As newly weds, and a new blended family, we wanted to create and build a business together. We wanted to support an authentic scalable mission, without making anyone dependant on us. Both of us lost our spouses while our boys were very young. It was from this place of understanding loss and appreciation of our second chance in life that the Gracebag idea was born. Our business model is to sustainably support through a unique for-profit business. For every Gracebag sold, a “Bag of Grace” is given to a new mom and her baby in a rural area.
2.Why was the Mukhuni Village the first location that you decided to grow this mommy and me initiative?
We decided to partner with established NGO’s with the relevant experience for our pilot project. We came across the Butterfly Tree NGO. They’ve been working in the Mukhuni village in Zambia for more than 10 years. They have great relationships with the mothers in the villages. So, it gave us immediate access to the local clinics, moms and babies. The Mukhuni village is our pilot project. If all goes well, we hope to duplicate this project to other villages in Zambia, and neighbouring countries.
3. Your initiative has gained the attention and support of many non-governmental organisations. How has this helped increase awareness and expand your footprint?
Our hope is that the “Bag of Grace” will act as a health access initiative. Contributing towards one of the World Health Organisation’s Sustainable Development Goals – to reduce the region’s maternal mortality ratio. We are talking with a couple of non-governmental organisations as well as local and international companies to partner with us.
4. Can you take us into a day of the lives of these moms who live in such remote locations across Africa?
We had the privilege of walking alongside a mom in one of these villages for a day on one of our recent visits. Her name was Sophia. A typical day in the life of Sophia starts just before sunrise to fetch some water for her family.
She then starts cleaning her yard, while boiling water and preparing food for her family. If she needs to go to the clinic for checkups or vaccines for her kids, she prepares to walk for up to 40km to get to the nearest clinic. Once she gets back to her authentic mud house, the cleaning and cooking routine starts again before sunset. Some of these moms join in the local trades such as burning charcoal to sell, making curios for tourist markets etc.
They are amazing women, responsible moms, and women with strong souls.
During this visit, I gained the utmost respect for these moms that will do anything for their families. They’ll even walk that extra mile (or 10 in their case) to care for their families.
5. What is the biggest challenge that these moms face when they’re pregnant or ready to give birth?
According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 303,000 women die annually due to preventable complications during pregnancy and childbirth. One of the biggest challenges for women in these rural areas is the lack of health access due to limited transportation.
This means that they don’t have access to regular pre- or post-natal checkups . They need to walk long distances to get to birth clinics for mommy and me check-ups. So, it’s easier to give birth at home. Thus, increasing the risks relating to eg blood-pressure, excessive bleeding and infections.
With this “ Bag of Grace” health access initiative we hope to create an incentive for moms to regularly visit the health clinics, despite their logistical challenges. Through working closely with our medical advisors, we hope to donate essential equipment to the local clinics to assist medical staff as well.
6. Can you tell us about one of your most memorable moments?
During our first visit, while handing out these “Bags of Grace”, there was a local dad that brought his child to the clinic for vaccines. WJ had the privilege of blessing this dad with a “Bag of Grace”. As WJ could relate with this dad while having raised two little boys on his own for a year, it was a gesture of saying “ well done”, “thank you” and “ you are doing a great job”, from one man to another!
7. Can you tell us bit more about the GraceBag designs, and why they’re so ‘mommy and me’ friendly?
The Gracebag we sell as part of the for-profit business is manufactured locally in Cape Town by experienced craftsman, inspired by the colors and culture of Portugal (our honeymoon destination) .
The Gracebag concept is uniquely designed for it’s functionality and versatility. You can effortlessly change your look without repacking your bag. It’s ideal for a mommy and me nappy bag. It’s spacious with multiple pockets, lightweight and naturally water and stain resistant. And, designed for the stylish mom who needs nappy bag practicality, but also wants to look fashionable.
There are currently 6 different designs available. So, without having to repack your inner, you can change the look and feel of your Gracebag by just changing your top part with the ease of a zip.
The “Bags of Grace”, on the giving side, are locally made by moms in Stellenbosch, from durable canvas fabric, containing essential items for the mom and baby. In the future, we hope to sustainably support these local communities by empowering women to manufacture the bag.
8. GraceBags are vegan and earth-friendly. Why was this important to you?
We wanted to create something fresh, something that’s fashionable and durable but also sustainable. We import our high quality cork leather from Portugal. Cork trees age between 300-500 years, There’s an estimated 14 million tons of CO2 retained annually by cork oak trees. The cork oak tree is about 40 years old before its bark is used for cork leather. The bark is only removed every 9 to 12 years. The process of using cork leather is very sustainable and eco-friendly.
9. What would be your biggest piece of advice to parents who are looking to get involved and make a difference in a mommy and me project like this one?
We realised ourselves that we can’t necessarily change the world, or a country, or a continent. But what we can do, is appreciate life and the life of others, to open our eyes to the people around us, and to realise that all of us deserve a chance in life, even a second chance in life. And in this way add beauty to the life of another!
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