In a U.S.-Uganda Corporate Partnership, Mothers and Babies Benefit

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By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
Posted on 6/8/2016
women with child

Kathryn Wiley, who owns Rockin’ Baby, a children’s clothing company, visited Uganda to donate clothing for children through ChildFund’s programs. While there, she came up with an idea to locally produce cloth slings for mothers to carry their babies.

Like so many of us, Kathryn Wiley didn’t know what to expect when she traveled to a country where she’d never been — in her case, Uganda, in eastern Africa.

“You picture Africa, and you picture beautiful textiles, but that’s in the more affluent areas and in the cities,” explains Wiley, owner of Rockin’ Baby, a children’s clothing company that also produces cloth slings and pouches so women can carry their babies against their bodies.

Last year, Wiley visited rural Uganda to donate clothing for children through ChildFund’s programs. While there, she noticed that mothers used sheets, towels and even jackets to carry their infants because they didn’t have beautiful — and, more importantly, safe and strong — fabric.

“Women in villages can’t afford to have those nice wraps, but they would definitely like to have those wraps. It’s a need, but they can’t afford it, so they use things that are unsafe for the babies,” Wiley says. 

When Wiley purchased Rockin’ Baby in January 2011, she started her one-for-one donation practice: For every item sold through Rockin’ Baby’s website, the company donates a piece of clothing or a baby sling to a woman in need.

The catalyst was the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which led to an outpouring of support. Wiley, too, wanted to help, but she had a lot to learn about how to donate items responsibly so they fill real needs on the ground and also have a way to get to people in need.

woman designing a sling

Betty, a tailor in a rural Ugandan village, works on a design prototype for a new baby sling that 10,000 new mothers will receive.

“Rockin’ Baby wants to be very mindful of where we give. We want to ensure it’s a need in a state-of-emergency country,” Wiley says. After working with small nonprofit organizations serving different countries, she realized she needed to partner with a larger organization to distribute clothing for children.

Wiley lives in Richmond, Virginia, where ChildFund is based, and a friend of hers suggested that she contact us. The partnership has led to clothing donations for ChildFund-enrolled children in Sierra Leone and Uganda, as well as an exciting project for the future: a new baby sling based on a prototype being developed by mothers in Uganda.

woman with child on back

Women in many African countries have carried their babies in wraps for many generations.

During an earlier experience with a different organization, Wiley learned that most women in Africa use wraps with two ends, instead of a ring-shaped sling like those she sells in the United States. If she simply distributed the ring slings in Uganda, women would have to learn a whole new way of wrapping their babies, which didn’t make sense, Wiley says.

In a rural Ugandan village, she met women who were working together in a ChildFund-supported initiative to save money and find ways to raise income for their families, and the seed of an idea was planted.

“What if we found two or three of these women’s groups and set up a pilot program to make 10,000 wraps?” Wiley asked herself. Over the past few months, one of the women, a tailor named Betty, has been working on a prototype, with cooperation from other mothers in her group and ChildFund staff. The first draft of the new sling was a bit too complicated for practical use, so it was back to the drawing board.

“They’re coming back with another prototype, and then we’ll be moving on. We are going to do a pilot of 10,000 wraps and put them in the mama kits.” Mama kits are packages of birth supplies that ChildFund makes available for new mothers, to help promote safe childbirth under professional care.

Several women are designing and creating samples, often for the first time in their lives. Sharon Ishimwe, of ChildFund Uganda, says the women “talked, described, agreed, disagreed, illustrated, even drew.” At first some of the women were nervous to hold pens and put them to paper.

This project will give the mothers paid work for at least a few months and perhaps into the future. After the pilot is finished and the wraps are distributed to new mothers, Wiley plans to assess how the products are received and how the process can continue.

In any case, she and Rockin’ Baby are committed to helping mothers and children around the world.

“In my mind, I’m envisioning something that is beautiful but wrapping a baby in the way they know how.”