Member Since 2011
Name: Elizabeth Long
Location: New York
Profession: Director of Sales and Business Development, Same Sky
During her freshman year in college at NYU, Elizabeth Long visited Rwanda and after the trip she knew she had to do something to help the country. Three years later she met Francine Le Frak, the founder of Same Sky, and discovered their shared passion for Rwanda and uplifting those who had suffered from the genocide.
How have women in Rwanda become such a force and the leading voice for peace?
After the 1994 genocide where nearly a million people were killed in 100 days, Rwanda was left with a population that was 70 percent female. Of these women, more than 250,000 were raped and, of the survivors, approximately 70% were infected with HIV/AIDS. As a result, the Rwandan Government under Kagame’s rule put forth a tremendous amount of effort in supporting these women and integrating them into the peacemaking process. Today, Rwanda is the only country in the world where women hold 56% of the national parliamentary seats.
What is the meaning behind Same Sky?
Francine LeFrak, Founder of Same Sky came up with the name Same Sky as all women look up at the same moon and same stars in the sky. Same Sky encourages a movement of connecting and empowering women everywhere.
How was Same Sky started?
Francine, who is also an award winning film maker, spent 8 years making a film on the Rwandan genocide that never proceeded to fruition. However, Francine still wanted to shed light on the genocide and especially lend her support to women survivors. A friend introduced her to the idea of fair trade and suggested she come up with jewelry products for women to create as a way of making a means. The glass bead bracelet, a design inspired by a renowned artist and HIV/AIDS activist Mary Fisher, became Same Sky's signature product and symbol of women empowering women. The rest is history.
How do the women interact with each other at this job?
The women are very supportive of each other. They’re like family. They work in a collective where they can relate to each other as HIV positive genocide survivors. They sing and dance together.
What social issues are they discussing and why is it so important for these women to have a place to talk and work?
The women talk about social issues such as domestic abuse, proper nutrition, HIV/AIDS, etc. It’s so important that they have this open forum so they can speak their minds and get feedback from their peers. One of our artisans Speciose was mute for a long time as a result of the post traumatic stress she endured from the genocide. Today, she is no longer mute and not only talks but sings! She no longer feels alone and has used the forum to regain her confidence and voice.
What jewelry do you sell? What is the technique for making the jewelry?
We have four different collections at this time- glass beaded bracelets, glass beaded necklaces, fabric wrap bracelets and the new Prosperity Bracelets. The glass beads are crocheted on a non stretch cord. The necklaces are extremely unique and special as each one is hand sewn. Beatha, one of our artisans acquired this technique on her own and her talent is truly above and beyond what any beader could imagine. The fabric wraps are braided local textiles with a few glass beads braided into the bracelet. The closure is a simple loop hole where two glass beads on the end fit into the closure. The Prosperity Bracelets are also crocheted with very small glass beads.
How are the glass beads special?
Each glass bead is individually hand blown. Each bead is unique and one of a kind.
How long do women work for you? What do they after?
Part of our mission at Same Sky is to give women sustainable employment. That said, artisans who have worked with us since the beginning are still with us today. We have increased in the number of artisans we are employing and have expanded into two additional collectives. We hope to give these women work for many years to come and ultimately educate them on how they can carry these skills into their own marketplace.
Do you have a particular Same Sky success story you could tell us?
When I learned that one of our artisans, Solina was able to buy a plot of land I was so happy. Today she is using the land as a garden to feed her family until she saves up enough money to build her own house.
What have personally learned from your involvement with Same Sky?
I have learned so much on so many levels working for Same Sky. We call it business school on 57th Street. Personally though, I feel I have really learned to push myself and to embrace all challenges.
How do you pick the women who participate in the program?
Francine really wanted to reach out to those women who were the most vulnerable and the most left-behind. In this case, it was women living with HIV, who had survived the most traumatic episodes during the genocide. In expanding into two additional collectives, we have chosen to employ widows and orphans from the genocide and HIV positive women in Zambia.
What are your goals for the future?
I hope to continue what I’m doing in helping to make a difference in some way. I also hope to start my own social enterprise some day. As for Same Sky, my dream is that all of our artisans will completely come out of poverty and live a comfortable, happy and healthy life, and that all their children will go to university and become change makers in their communities.
Why have so many celebrities purchased the bracelets?
Francine’s passion for Same Sky is infectious and when she tells our story, you can’t help but want to listen and learn more. The bracelet is a show-stopper as is so when you find out that it actually impacts a woman’s life in Rwanda, you have to have one.