What does connect the cities of Durban, South Africa, and Zug, Switzerland? Jenni Wallace, founder of Love on a Hanger, gives us a few insights on the new second-hand boutique in town that supports vulnerable children 8,880 km away.
The first thing that strikes you when you meet Jenni, apart from her bright blue eyes, is the confident smile that makes you instantly know that you will have a good, meaningful conversation.
This is the second time I meet her; the first time was during the Love On a Hanger Spring Market, the first event the boutique organized earlier in April to showcase its work and a few other local vendors of the region. I had sent a few questions online, and without hesitation she invited me in, gave me a tour of the place and made me feel at home.
This second meeting is as warm and cosy as the first; I came in with a smile and left with a bigger sense of understanding of what she had achieved, and what more can be done in the city to raise a stronger taste of community.
“Doing something, even something small, can make a difference”.
Growing and living in Durban, South Africa, Jenni has always been fighting against social injustices with her Christian faith driving her plans. She moved with her family to Switzerland 4 years ago and brought along a good share of touching stories about what she had seen in the streets: poverty, vulnerability and inequalities that one could not imagine seeing in any Swiss cities. These stories have set the ground to Love On a Hanger, and it is with a relaxing and inspiring spirit that she shares some with me.
“The number of abandoned babies in Durban was increasing at an alarming rate, and I wanted to do something about it. I knew we had to do something. So we opened a “babies’ home” to look after them until they get adopted. We didn’t want to open another orphanage where the children stay until they are old enough to leave. We wanted to give them care, medical attention, love…until they get adopted. This is why we started Domino Babies Homes 14 years ago, and since we started, 130 babies have been cared for and got adopted.”
“The other project we started was a feeding scheme to the attention of the children going to local schools. It started when our church community was fasting, and I realized that I could not focus on simple tasks because I was hungry. And it opened my eyes: how do you want starving children to go to school, focus, learn and be happy on an empty stomach?!
So I went to the nearby school to talk to the principal and I asked him to identify the number of children that were coming everyday without having a meal before. 60 children were found, and shortly after I found myself preparing simple peanut butter sandwiches in my kitchen! It wasn’t much, but at least they would have something in their stomach to start the day. Doing something, even something small, can make a difference.
This was only the beginning: schools started talking to each other to be part of the programme, and without hesitation our church got involved and installed an industrial kitchen to sustain the programme.
Today, the Feeding Programme distributes more than 4,500 meals every single day.”
Following these 2 projects, the main milestone consisted in the official creation of the Domino Foundation as a not-for-profit organization aiming at reducing social inequalities in local communities of Durban by addressing critical issues such as access to education and hygiene, human trafficking or sexual violence.
“True happiness comes from this spirit of helping each other.”
There is a clear difference between Durban and Zug, meant in a positive way: one will not find in the Swiss streets the social injustice that you would otherwise see in South Africa, as the government generally takes care of these issues. But when she moved to the country 4 years ago, Jenni was still fond to help. In Durban, she had brought her 2 now-adult sons to visit the Babies’ Homes and understand how fortunate their life had been.
“There is always someone less fortunate than you. True happiness comes from this spirit of helping each other. Do not focus on yourself only, there is always something for you to change and make change happen. Here, we are not exposed to poverty the same way as in South Africa, so it is even more important to educate not only our kids but also ourselves and share values of help and compassion.”
“It might sound like a small thing, but it is so important to make the ladies feel and understand that they can make a difference when they donate or buy clothes.”
Looking around her within the expat community in Zug, she noticed that the content of our wardrobes could be meaningful: instead of discarding clothing items at the recycling station, why not collecting them and giving them a new life through a boutique of preloved items?
Love on a Hanger was launched in February 2018, with the plan to donate 100% of the funds made through donations and purchases to a chosen charity supporting vulnerable children in the world. While Domino Foundation has been chosen as the first beneficiary, another organization will be picked in the future. As of today, 4,500 CHF have been collected and donated to the South African projects.
“It might sound like a small thing, but it is so important to make the ladies feel and understand that they can make a difference when they donate or buy clothes. The money we have raised is a lot, especially if you convert it in Rands, and you can do a lot of good things with it.”
The Spring Market that was hosted by the Lift International Church of Zug on April 20th gave a good exposure to Love on a Hanger (the Church already hosts the boutique in its facilities and covers daily utility costs) and other individual businesses. A Fall Market should be organized later this year.
“There is no harm in risking and trying. You lose nothing as long as you try.”
With a never-ending humility, Jenni drives me through the journey that brought her to become a very active member of the Lift International Church of Zug community. As I ask her what has helped start Love On a Hanger, she cannot repeat enough the importance to be surrounded and supported by the right people.
“I believe in team work. Having a team around you is vital to sustain your projects on the long term. I might have initiated Love On a Hanger, but it was pulled by others, too. Team work is necessary to collect ideas and help with all possible tasks, and I have been lucky to meet these great people. Having an incredible team around has protected me from making mistakes in my projects, which have become way bigger than I ever dreamed of back then.”
I took the opportunity to ask her for advice and lessons she had learnt from her South-African background and new experience in Switzerland: could she have done something differently or better?
“The first thing that comes to my mind is that I should work on my self-confidence. I always have to look back to see and appreciate the impact we have had so far. And when I do, I realize that it is always good to start something small at first to have then an influence, even a small one, on things and others. One needs to be self-confident in the belief that a project can have a big influence.”
And with the same warm smile on her face, she counts on her fingers the advice she would give to new entrepreneurs or to the younger generations who would want to “do their share”:
“Believe in yourself, believe that you can make a difference. Then, there is no harm in risking or trying. You lose nothing as long as you try.
This one might sound obvious, but start somewhere. And get a team around you, it might even be just one person to guide you”.
Contact Love On a Hanger:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Loveonahangerbaar/
Address: Sihlbruggstrasse 3A, Baar
Phone: 078 722 91 37
Wednesdays, 9am-12pm and Fridays, 11.30am-2pm
What can be donated:
Ladies clothes (no shoes!)
Accessories: bags, jewellery, scarves, gloves, belts and hats