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Change, community, ideas, Possibility, Social Media

Send in Your Knickers! The Bra Bank Appeal

The mission of The Social Effect is: through the Internet and through Social Media platforms, to help each other connect, learn from one another, and share information to make change in our communities where and when it is needed.
Back in August I came across a Tweet from BraBankAppeal that said:
Determined to make a change for Africa’s females, arm them with bras and new found security need support and advice…
And so I asked BraBankAppeal, what they wanted to do exactly and to see if there was a way to help.
The answer?
At the moment I want awareness of the issue and of my Project so that when the time comes to start collecting underwear people will respond.
So I did a little digging and found out that there was a Facebook Page and what the Bra Bank Appeal is all about.
I also sent a direct message to Beth, the woman behind The Bra Bank Appeal, and we started to exchange emails. In learning what Beth was doing, I wanted to help if I could.
Here is an interview I did with Bethany Staff about her project The Bra Bank Appeal.

What is The Bra Bank Appeal?
The Bra Bank Appeal is a small project I started before I went to Uganda to work in an AIDS orphanage in July. It aims to collect underwear, the new and old, (the decent and the not so decent) to send to countries in the third world (Uganda to start with) to protect their women from sexual abuse.

Why did you start this project and where did you come up with the name?
A few months before going to Uganda I was desperately researching ‘what Uganda needs’ so that I could do my bit, no matter how small to take something with me… I managed to find a website which listed the order of which the containers (full of used goods) that are sent to Africa are emptied: shoes were first (I thought this was fairly obvious) then second was bras… I was intrigued by this and did some further research and found out that women who wear underwear are less likely to be raped. Also, bras sell for roughly three times the cost price (more than any other used item) and so were very much so a luxury item. So I spoke to my amazingly artistic best friend who designed lovely posters, I revamped card-board boxes I was given by local shops in to hot pink ‘Bra Banks’. I got the mums of friends to put posters in their work place and store bras in their car boot and posters and Banks placed all around my college, local schools and the local tourist information office, I had an advert in the local newspaper, I was mentioned on peoples twitter accounts, I walked around local clothing outlets and begged for help and I just watched the message spread. The response was phenomenal!
The name, I knew it would be the bra … something! So I rattled around a few ideas ‘Bras for Uganda’, ‘The Bra Box’ I finally settled on ‘The Bra Bank Appeal’ as I felt it was simple, like the cause, nothing fancy – it’s a necessity that we take so for granted and sexual abuse is a subject close to every women’s heart. So it simply had to succeed! Well, that’s what I had to tell myself during the first few quiet weeks!

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I am 18 years old and I am studying the International Baccalaureate in Cornwall (UK). I hope next September to go on to study Economics and Spanish at university. My ultimate dream is to forge links between western governments and successful organization and those in South America to try to improve their economies and give advice to businesses. Basically when I was little, I decided I was going to change the world, now I’m just trying to climb that ladder!

It looks like you want to affect change in our world – why?
This question looks complicated but it’s actually very easy! Someone has to, so why not me?

Do you think this is everyone’s responsibility?
I think everyone should try to do their bit, even if saving the world isn’t on the top of your priority list, there are so many things that you can do to help! For example, it astounds me every time I get on public busses how very few people will give up their seat for the elderly or a child anymore! Little things you do can just keep the world ticking over a little more smoothly.

Is changing the world your goal?
In an ideal world – of course! In reality, so I don’t feel like I’m not achieving anything, I’d prefer to say that making a difference is my ultimate goal. Whether that is to one person or to an entire country, it’s still an improvement! If I protected one girl/woman from a sexual attack with the underwear I took with me then I will sleep easy! But there’s always more you can do…

What do you find most challenging about your project?
I’d have to say before I went to Uganda, were the critics. I know every notion of change will always face criticism, but people said that I was naïve (which with my age, I expected), that I had not researched this enough and that by giving the Ugandan women and girls underwear I would encourage prostitution and rape and men would see it as ‘an exciting challenge!’ Needless to say I was outraged and informed the relevant people that I was incredibly and personally offended that someone would accuse me of encouraging the very thing I set out to prevent!
Today it is the day to day running of the social networking, juggling this project around the floods of college work, a family life, a social life and working part-time is a definite challenge!

Tell me about some of the people you have met doing this that have had an effect on you.
Being in Uganda itself was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life! For me the most memorable people along the way were some of the ladies I gave underwear to, I asked all the orphans of bra wearing age, the ‘mamas’ (a women is in charge of each orphan house on the village) their daughters and the women of the village to come and choose themselves some underwear one afternoon when we covered our ‘Mission House’ with underwear. The women who were unable to attend that afternoon I invited to come any time before then. One girl who was my age came to me excitedly one afternoon, bringing with her, her mother and the mama who had been cooking for us during our stay. I showed them all to my room and opened some of the massive bags of underwear, the mother stripped off down to her knickers and proceeded to try as many bras on as she could, the mama looked down at her chest then grabbed my boobs, thought for a second then said: “Yes, I think I’m your size help me find things that would fit you!” And the girl burst into tears and told me that God had finally had mercy and that may I be blessed. Unforgettable!

What do you do when you are not working on the Bra Bank Appeal?
Generally, college work! I do also work in a wine bar, sing, meet friends, play the guitar, spend time with my family spend time with my boyfriend. To be honest I’m just your average teenager!

Is The Bra Bank Appeal full time?
I wish it could be but I’m strong believer in education and it being the key to everything else I want to do with my life.

What networking do you do to help get more goods?
I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I’m probably a disappointment to my generation but I really don’t know where to start with these things! My heart’s in the right place though!

Did you have a strategy when you started this project?
Ha! This is where I wish I could regurgitate some very complex strategic plan to you… No I really didn’t at all, it was a cause that I believed spoke for itself so just went for it and kept my fingers crossed! (This probably is not recommendable to others thinking of starting something similar!)

What is your greatest fear?
Failure. Failure in anything and everything, when I choose to do something I put so much of myself into it, I really put my heart and soul into everything I do!

What is your mission?
To have done everything in my power, to arm as many woman and girls with underwear, to help to protect them in the never-ending battle against sexual assaults.

What is your goal?
To forge links with organizations that are able to help me to transport bras and knickers across the globe, safely and directly into the hands of those who need them most.

What has been your greatest challenge so far?
Besides carrying home bin bags full of underwear (which are very heavy I’ll have you know) every day? Definitely dealing with the criticism, I remember bursting into tears when I was criticized, it makes you doubt everything you are doing!

You had an idea to help others, what gave you the push to take that first step, what would you suggest to anyone else who had an idea to help others?
Definitely, having a brilliant cause for doing it! If I had an obscure issue that not many people could relate to then it would have crashed and burned. My advice would be to do your research, be able to fire back answers to any questions you could be asked and above all else, have a damn good cause that you are passionate about – and don’t be ashamed to show how important the cause is to you, people will follow a worthy cause!

Do you ever feel like giving up?
Not give up, but not bother to do more… yes everyday! We all feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day and have a seemingly never-ending list of things to do, but then I remember the overwhelming feeling of crying with woman after woman while they pray and thank the lord for the underwear I brought them. I have never been a theist myself but their faith was astonishing. Also I remember playing with a tiny little boy on a woven mat; his mother was kicked out of her home after falling pregnant due to being gang-raped on the way to collecting water for her family. She was 14 years old. So no, I won’t let myself give up.

What do you consider your greatest achievement (s) so far?
Getting over 2000 items of underwear to Uganda without exceeding baggage allowances!

Who are your heroes?
The 14 year old girl I have previously mentioned who had to mature beyond her years to live alone, caring and providing for her little boy. She is a beautiful mother.
Also an elderly woman I met in Uganda who has a paralyzed torso and walks on her toes and knuckles, she cares for her four grandchildren in a small mud hut. All of her children died due to AIDS.

What would you like to be remembered for?
For helping people when they needed help, for making people happy when times are hard, for giving, advising and for being someone that people would turn to.

Where do you see The Bra Bank Appeal in 6 months or a year from now?
I would love for ‘The Bra Bank Appeal’ to be a flourishing charity with underwear being sent all over the world with various organizations who would offer to help. Not making a penny but making a difference.

The philosophy at The Social Effect is it only takes one person to affect the world and that person is each one of us. We must make a cultural shift to see the possibilities we each hold and to learn first to give and to help each other, which in turn will help those around us. Beth and her project illustrates this perfectly. Thank you Beth for all that you are doing to help others.

If you would like to help Beth and her Project I would encourage you to ‘LIKE’ The Bra Bank Appeal Facebook page, click here.
If you are on Twitter, follow the BraBankAppeal, click here.
You may also contact Beth at ourbras@hotmail.co.uk

(All photos are the property of The Bra Bank Appeal)

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About Simon Tooley

I was born in Winnipeg, moved to Montreal to study economics at McGill University and then studied fashion design in Paris. I worked in the fashion business for 20 years until I gave it all up to find the answers to life. I learned of course that there are no answers and so I decided to do what I always wanted to do and open a little shop. The shop is called Etiket and we sell the best beauty products and perfume available and a candle or two. I continue on my journey and I will see where it will take me. Part of the journey has always been writing, creating and giving. "Your soul doesn't care what you do for a living - and when your life is over, neither will you. Your soul cares only about what you are being while you are doing whatever you are doing." Neale Donald Walsch

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