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Meet Jess Wiederholt of Crazy Love Africa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jess Wiederholt.

Jess, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
After adopting four children from Ethiopia and Uganda who were orphaned by AIDS, the mission to empower mothers living with HIV grew in my heart. In 2014 Crazy Love Africa was born. Our eyes were opened to the injustices surrounding women living with HIV in Africa. It wasn’t a pathogen within the blood that was killing these young mothers. Instead, stigma, poverty, fear, hopelessness was taking these women from their children.

And I knew we had to do something about that. I began pouring myself into the literature surrounding micro-business grants and ways to give women hope through empowerment and community. What started as a grass-roots movement for our family to empower a few women and keep our children involved in the villages where they were born has evolved into a global sisterhood that is strengthening entire communities. Through creating safe cooperatives, providing training, and teaching skills, our Crazy Love Africa sisters are now leaders in the villages where they live. We are giving women opportunities and elevating their voices.

Has it been a smooth road?
I am a homeschooling mom of seven children, my kids are 18, 16, 15, 13, 12, & 10. Nothing is ever totally smooth in my life. We expect challenges. This may be why I have been so equipped with the flexibility that is needed when working internationally, especially in rural Uganda. It gives me great joy to problem solve alongside my Crazy Love Africa sisters. How will we transport this large cow to a remote village 100 kilometers away? How can we get the needed health care needs to be met for this child? Who will care for her children while she is sick in bed? The house is falling down, how can it be repaired with so little resources? The challenges are each met as e think creatively and we work together as global sisters. This is where growth happens.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Crazy Love Africa story. Tell us more about your organization.
The mission of Crazy Love Africa is to serve, restore, empower, and strengthen women in western Uganda who are HIV positive, single mothers. As a result, we will touch the children in their care, through education, community, and sustainable job creation. By working alongside women as global sisters, we create change, while addressing inequality, strengthening families, and communities. Our initiatives build confidence in such a meaningful way in the lives of our sisters. We are able to address inequality while promoting economic and social transformations. This is giving women opportunities and elevating their voices.

Micro-business grants are an effective strategy for alleviating poverty and empowering women. Inspired by our belief that all people have the right, the will, and the capacity to direct their own future, we offer a hand up from poverty to possibility and build economic capacity.

Crazy Love Africa trains and supports our sisters within community cooperative groups. The sisterhood support circles meet at least twice monthly and create both a safe community and a model to promote motivation & success. The community reduces the stigma and isolation our sisters feel because of their HIV status thus bringing them confidence and hope.

Crazy Love Africa trains our sisters in artisan craft making. This skill provides an additional income for sisters outside of their personal business. Crafts are fairly-traded and benefit directly from the individual who created it. 100% of the proceeds of the crafts sold in the U.S. are poured back into our sisters. Locally in Denver, our Crazy Love Africa crafts are sold at local craft fairs and online at: crazyloveafricashop.com

Crazy Love Africa takes seriously our mission to empower women. We know that when it comes to one’s health that knowledge is power. HIV is a chronic but manageable condition. Our goal is to empower our sisters to manage their health well. By providing training around HIV, stigma, nutrition, and social aspects of their health we are giving our sisters confidence in living a long, healthy life with HIV.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I believe globally people are taking notice that purchasing products that are fair trade can reduce poverty, research is showing us that we can reduce poverty throughout the world by pouring resources into empowerment programs and sustainability projects for women. Crazy Love Africa’s initiatives are doing just that. We are building confidence in such meaningful ways in the lives of our sisters. We are addressing inequality while promoting economic and social transformations. This is giving women opportunities and elevating their voices.

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