Sisterhood of the Traveling Sandals

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Rising from the darkness of an addiction, Jennifer VanderGalien recruited her sister, Tiffany Kennon, to found the aptly named Shining A Light — a nonprofit organization based in Tanzania that helps women reclaim their lives. Shining A Light was born when, following rehab, it was suggested VanderGalien take a mission trip to Tanzania — located in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda. While working with an orphanage there, she formed a relationship with the women in the area. With their condition weighing heavy on her, VanderGalien realized her involvement with the women of Tanzania couldn’t end with that mission trip. So she decided to create Shining A Light. Shining A Light has now been going strong for more than a year selling hand-crafted sandals, which provide a source of work and income for women in Tanzania. While VanderGalien is stationed there helping the women, her sister Kennon works diligently here in Lansing receiving the sandal shipments and selling them. “The women in Tanzania don’t have a very bright future,” Kennon said. “Due to circumstances beyond their control, they’re left to care for their children without means to support them. So, this training center we have set up gives them the ability to learn how to do the beading on the sandals, and Jennifer sends them to me, and I sell them. And that’s what pays their wages and the rent on the building.” When Kennon initially agreed to help out her sister, she wasn’t working and could donate a lot of her time to the cause. Now, however, she’s balancing work with Shining A Light. “Work helps pay the bills, but Shining A Light is my priority,” she said. “I love it, and it has really stretched my self-awareness. It’s always rewarding, and I’m glad to be a part of it. Once I visited (Tanzania) and got to meet the women, I knew who I was helping. Even somebody buying a pair of sandals is helping, too.” Along with selling the sandals, Shining A Light has also teamed up with the Make A Difference Foundation issuing grants to a preschool in Tanzania — one which used to run inside VanderGalien’s own home. They recently raised enough funds to give them their own space with classrooms. Even more important are the women who care for the children and ensure they have the proper means for parenting. Shining A Light currently works with 15 women making sandals, and so they require extra hands to meet the demand of sandals over here. The goal, Kennon said, is to have 100 percent of the production done by the women — getting that number of women the assistance they need. “We want this to [belong to the women],” Kennon said. “We want them to take charge of the training center. If we can get one woman on the right track, then we can bring another woman in. By empowering our women, we’re really affecting the whole village because it will trickle down, and they will see the results of their hard work.” For more information visit www.shiningalight.org.
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Tags: nonprofit, Shining A Light