Why We Go: Ambassador Kelli Magee’s Rwandan Adventure
One of our favorite things is witnessing the connections that form between women from different parts of the world when they realize that no matter where they’re from, they aren’t so different after all. This summer we took three groups of Ambassadors on trips to meet our artisan partners in Guatemala and Rwanda to find those moments of connection. Earlier this week, we interviewed Lisa Foster about finding purpose and connection in Guatemala. Today we’ll hear from Kelli Magee, a Noonday Collection Ambassador from Burke, Virginia, had the chance to travel to Rwanda in July. We asked her to share some of her experiences and how this trip has changed the way she thinks about her Noonday business.
So Kelli, tell us how you first heard about Noonday Collection and how you decided to become an Ambassador.
I first learned about Noonday from a fellow military wife and Noonday Ambassador who lived in my hometown for a while. After seeing the products and hearing the stories behind the pieces, I wanted everything Noonday for every occasion. I officially became an Ambassador in November 2013.
I was drawn towards becoming an Ambassador because Noonday is the perfect mix of things I love. I have a master’s degree in health promotion and I’ve always wanted to work with populations of vulnerable women, but I’ve never been able to reconcile that with my love of fashion and jewelry. With Noonday, I can do just that! I love getting to use all of my passions as an Ambassador to help bring opportunity to others. Plus, I’m so thankful that my work with Noonday allows me to stay home with my three kids while earning an income.
Tell us a little about what you were thinking as you prepared to travel to Rwanda.
Honestly, I was really anxious about going to Rwanda. I have three small children and I had never left my youngest even overnight before the trip. Since I stay at home with my children, I struggled with feeling like I was shirking my “real” responsibilities by going. Plain and simple, I was scared. Africa has never been on my radar before this trip, so I feared, even as the plane touched down in Kigali, that I would be homesick the whole time. But as I was able to share with Noonday’s founder, Jessica Honegger, on her last morning with us, it was all worth it and more. I had an amazing experience in Rwanda. The people are warm, inviting, loving, and accepting.
Now that you’re back home, how has the trip has affected you, both personally and as a Noonday Ambassador?
The trip to Rwanda really changed everything for me and my Noonday business. I was completely shocked to be invited to go on the trip, since I had only begun as an Ambassador late in 2013. So needless to say, the confidence boost that the invitation alone gave me changed my thinking about Noonday. I went from considering my Noonday business as a little side hobby to a legitimate business with which I could make an impact.
Then, putting my feet on Rwandan soil, smelling the fire in the air, and singing and dancing with the ladies in the Umucyo sewing co-op changed me forever. After going there in person, sitting at Mary Sunshine’s sewing machine, visiting with Junus’ family, sipping tea in Esperanza’s house, I learned that we are all in this together. We are all the same and want the same things out of life. We want the world to be better for our children and we want to feel like what we do matters, whether in Kigali or DC.
Do you have any favorite memories from your time in Rwanda?
One of my many favorite moments of the trip was visiting the home of Esperanza, one of the seamstresses Noonday works with. She is 23 and unmarried (“Just a girl,” as she describes herself), so she lives with her parents and sisters. Her mother prayed for us and our country while her sisters served us bread, peanuts, and tea. We had the incredible opportunity to go on lots of home visits in Rwanda and they were among the greatest experiences of my life. I could talk for hours about them. Particularly memorable was what Astrida’s husband shared with us during a visit to their home: “Noonday has given us a new day.”
It sounds like you really connected with the Artisans you were able to spend time with. What was it like meeting up with the other Ambassadors on the trip?
I can’t talk about the trip without gushing about the other Ambassadors who came along for the journey. There were 23 of us and I kid you not, we got along the whole time. We encouraged one another, switched seats on the smelly bus when one of us was a little motion sick or had been in the rumble seats for too long, laughed, and cried a lot. These women are part of me now; they’re in my heart. We still all post on the Facebook page for the trip a good bit to keep in touch and share favorite memories.
Talk a little about Kigali itself—what were your favorite parts of exploring Rwanda’s capital?
One of my favorite experiences was exploring the Rwandan markets—they were incredible! The first day we went to a market to buy fabric, it was a bit overwhelming. There were wall-to-wall stalls, floor to ceiling with the most amazing Rwandan fabric I had ever seen. We all bought fabric and the sweet Umucyo co-op ladies graciously made us lots of bags, skirts, key fobs, and even dresses. The talent of these ladies cannot be stated enough. Seeing them in action has only invigorated me to share their stories and skills with women in my community!
It sounds like you really soaked up all the sights and sounds of Kigali! Do you have any advice for Ambassadors who are considering going on an Artisan trip in the future?
My best advice to Ambassadors who are invited to go next year is, “GO.” Look your fears and obstacles in the face and just do it. You will not regret it. Get ready for the best avocados and mangoes of your life, but bring snacks and all the hand sanitizer you can. And, be ready to get dirtier than you thought possible and love it.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Over a month later, I still struggle with how to “sum up” my time in Rwanda. Someone on the trip Facebook group put it this way: “How can you consider a place you only spent 9 days home?” I think that’s how we all feel. When I see a pretty sunset, I imagine what it might look like over Kigali. I am changed forever because of this trip, this place. And that change has given me the drive to advocate for Noonday’s talented Artisan partners is a fresh, new way.
Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your favorite Rwandan memories and how they have changed you, Kelli. If you want to take a trip to visit some of our talented Artisan partners, consider becoming a Noonday Ambassador in your community!