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The Sparrow Studio



A Typical Tuesday

Annie Phillips

Guest Post by Kristy Marlin


Kristy Marlin spent several years pouring into the women of the More Than Sparrows co-op in Kigali, Rwanda.  We're thrilled to share this insight into a typical work day for them with you!  

At the More Than Sparrows co-op in Kigali, Rwanda, the women work hard many days, but somehow Tuesdays became a mandatory day.  A typical Tuesday, for me, meant walking down the hill just before 8 am.  If I was lucky, I'd meet one of the ladies in the street and we'd banter one-on-one about family, weather, current projects- anything I could produce in the local language as we walked together to the co-op.

When I arrived, there was always a greeting of laughter heard, even at the gate, from the handful of women already there and hard at work= some on goods and some on the housekeeping.  Everyone greets everyone, so I'd make my rounds hugging each lady on the right, the left and then the right side again, checking in with "what's the news?" and "I'm so happy to see you."  Some lingered in the hug, and I knew not to pull away.  This one action of a hug spoke so many words to them.  Love.  Acceptance.  Forgiveness.  Joy.  Peace.  

With pride, one by one, they hold up their work, seeking either affirmation they're doing it right or tips for changes so it will 'make the cut' later that day.  

After all the greetings, I'd head to the rear of the building to the stock room and begin going through their finished products.  They liked when I came early, because It often meant they could make changes before the day officially began.  This is the time I would select the majority of the items we would purchase that day- for The Sparrow Studio orders or for our little shop there in Rwanda.  

I still remember my first day visiting the co-op, how kind yet nervous they were with me, and how much the struggles to produce anything.  After some time, it was not like that anymore!  I don't think a Tuesday passed that I didn't have to pause in awe of the skills they were learning!


After some time, we would start the day.  Those women know how to sing and they LOVED to dance- giving all the praises and glory to God!  We'd spend a good amount of time doing this before we settled in for a study.  Studies varied week to week as we tried to leave them with practical things to take home to implement into their lives.  My favorite part was when we shared praises and requests.  There is a saying that Rwandans have 1,000 faces and they let you see the one you want, meaning they are rarely open and honest with others.  This, sharing, is very unusual in the Rwandan context, and yet these women were willing to lean on each other as they drew closer to God!  We'd spend time listening to each who wanted to share.  We'd take as long as they needed.  "My children are all in school!  Hallelujah!!!"  "I was in the hospital visiting m neighbors second cousins nephew when..."  "Sales are steady!  Hallelujah!!"  "Rent is due."  "I was witched this week because my neighbor is jealous of the co-op."  Then we'd pray and praise God together.  In the beginning it was hard not to be surprised by the things they shared.  In my time with them, I'm sure I went through several phases of feelings- pity, empathy, numbness, doubt.  Towards the end of my time with them, it was more personal though.  I knew each of them by name and had sat in many of the their homes.  I'd seen the faces of the families...their neighbors... I'd been asked to be a stand in mom or grandmother for several who had none.  If you asked, I could tell you specific things about what they were going through and how you could pray for them.  I miss that!


For a while, the women were cooking together to ensure each was getting at least one good meal that day.  They would tally up who wanted to eat and each chip in a bit.  For most, I believe that was the best meal they ate all week!  On days they didn't cook, they always seemed to muster up a friend of friend of a friend who sold potatoes on a stick (delish!) or sambuza (a fried dough with potato and sometimes other vegetables inside).

We'd "talk shop" each week, to see how they were doing with orders and new ideas- if they had questions or needed more explanation on anything, often having to make adjustments on colors or supplies according to what Africa could produce that week.  We like to have new ideas for them each week too!  The women are visual learners, so we often had spent time during the previous week preparing samples of new products for them to feel, measure and grasp the foreign concepts we were teaching them.

I was usually in charge of the books and making sure we agreed on what we owed for that day.  I wish I could say this was an easy task, but when you're buying in large quantities and across languages, there are bound to be some hiccups!  We always agreed eventually.

On a smooth day, one we agreed quickly on the above and the translations were smooth, and there are not tons of life problems to help solve, we'd wrap up around 4-5 pm.  

Just as you greet everyone when you arrive, you say farewell to each as you leave.  I'd make the same rounds as before, only this time to all 34 women.  I'm not going to lie, in ninety degree weather (hotter under the tin roof of the house), with 34+ women crammed into every nook and cranny of this little house, after a full day of working and my brain being on overdrive from hearing and trying to understand the language, I was always exhausted by the end of the day, but my cup ran over!

Help Hope Rise in Haiti

Annie Phillips

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It's time to come alongside artisans in Haiti.

Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti and left us wondering how to help.  The Sparrow Studio has considered working with a cooperative in Port-Au-Prince for several months, and now its crucial to place our first order.  The co-op director for Haiti Design Co, Chandler Busby, encouraged us in this way: 
"Relief efforts are underway and many wonderful organizations are working hard to prevent the spread of cholera, alleviate hunger, and provide clean water and shelter during this time. The road to recovery is going to be a long one. At this time we feel it is vital to remember to give with discretion and think of the long term impact we will have on communities. The Haitian economy is going to be one of the biggest keys to supporting recovery. When you invest in job creation, you're investing in opportunity for people and families to provide for themselves. Job creation provides stability. Stability for families means savings, education, health care, and the opportunity to be prepared for the future."

We need your help.

We've mentioned over social media a few times lately that we placed our largest order EVER with our friends in Rwanda, in order to help the mothers afford school in January for their children.  We are SO GRATEFUL for the ways you've already shopped this Fall to help us with that goal!  Because we're still doing the work required for that order, we need you to PRE-ORDER about $450 worth of Haitian product for us to be able to place that order.  And to make it FUN, we are offering some of their STUNNING handmade leather bags at 25% off (that's $50 off the Classic Leather Tote)!  We will not permanently offer their bags, so take advantage!  Your orders will not only enable us to place this initial order, but help us gain the capital needed to make this a long term relationship.  And with that comes more orders for Haiti Design Co and the opportunity for us to design CUSTOM product for YOU.  It's the perfect time for you to email your Mom, Spouse, generous Aunt, and ask for one of these killer totes for Christmas!  And the most adorable Pineapple Horn Bowls are the perfect hostess or teacher gift this season!  We need your orders to be placed (through our website- click Shop and look for Haiti) by October 31 for you to receive these in time for the holidays.  Team Sparrow, we are confident we can all work together to hit this goal of $450!  

For added fun, place an order on the website for any of the Haitian products and we'll ship you a FREE Slender Bangle!  Yall.  Seriously.  Don't miss out!  (And don't forget to sign up for our Newsletter, The Bird Beat, for even more good deals!)

Give Away a Little Love (a giveaway)

Annie Phillips

Hello!  Annie here, and I want to introduce a lovely friend of mine- author and mother, Desiree Thompson. Desiree and I share a desire to love others well, and one of the ways we both do that is through advocacy and truth telling.  Most of the women in the cooperative in Rwanda whom I work with are HIV positive and live with all the stigma that is very common in both Rwanda and the US.  I've wanted The Sparrow Studio to share a blog post for a long time to increase awareness of the facts and myths surrounding HIV and to do our part to reduce stigma and help each other love better.  Please read Desiree's beautiful and vital story (below).  And after that, stick around for a giveaway of things for you to keep and share. 


by Desiree Thompson

It was a rainy spring day and I was driving downtown to see my bestie.  She was in the area for a conference and although we would see each other in less than 25 minutes, we were chatting and catching up, before hanging out.  She was talking about a book that she had just finished for her adoption education, a requirement from our state.  Since I was just starting the process she had a ton of recommendations but this one “was a must.” 

What I remember from that conversation was not just the book, There is No Me without You by Melissa Faye Greene, but what she said afterwards.  Mandie told me that she felt God was leading her to adopt a child with HIV.  They were already in the process, and the boy they were matched with was not positive; but Mandie felt strongly that God was opening her heart to adopt a positive child in the future.  Being her best friend she confided in me, and I was shocked.  

How long would a child live with HIV?  What would their health be like?  Would they always be sick?  Could Mandie get sick? …… 

These were some questions I thought of right away.  Being that my bestie was destined for this path, or so she thought, I started to learn more about HIV.  I wanted to be there for Mandie if this was something she and her husband really felt like God wanted them to do.  I wanted to be the friend who understood, even though the initial thought scared the crap out of me.

I started researching HIV statistics and looking up stories of those who had adopted positive children. The more I researched, the more I learned; and the more I understood some basic truths about HIV.  I learned that: 

HIV is spread in three main ways. 

1) unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who has HIV or AIDS. 

2) mother to child transmission during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding if the mother has HIV or AIDS AND IS NOT on ARVS. (Transmission during this time goes down to less than 2% if the mother is properly taking medication). 

3) sharing needles or syringes with someone who has HIV/AIDS.

Fact: You cannot get HIV from any normal living arrangements, such as hugging, kissing, sharing a cup, sharing a toilet, etc. 

Fact: People with HIV/AIDS can live a normal lifespan, when on ARVs (medication).

Fact: There is no cure for HIV. The medicines can lower the amount of HIV in a person to an undetectable level but that doesn’t mean they are cured. 

In looking for ways to help my friend, God showed me that HIV was not something to be afraid of.  He opened my heart to a world I didn’t even know existed and showed me that I could support my friend if she chose this path.  I learned that many other families were adopting children with HIV and that it wasn’t something to be feared.  In researching this topic to be a friend, God opened my heart to the possibility of doing this myself someday in the FAR future.

A few weeks later, after my husband and I had our home study approved, I saw a little boy on a waiting list.  He was waiting because he was HIV positive.  Knowing the facts of the disease I started to pray for him and his family, wherever they may be.  I started to pray for his family to open their hearts wide and not be afraid. 

One night while praying for this little one I asked God, “Why are you not opening up any homes and hearts?” Asking God that question felt like a slap in the face… it really did. Immediately I felt God asking me the same thing.  That night my husband and I knew. We were being called to be stretched into the world of adopting a HIV positive child.  We were being asked, by our Creator, to enter into a world we had a few weeks earlier never even considered.

It turned out that I was praying for myself during that short period of time.  Praying for my heart to be opened further.  For my husband's heart.  For our families. And friends.  I was praying for God to use me. 


That was nearly four years ago, but seems like it happened a lifetime ago.  Our family has grown so much in that time, both in numbers and knowledge.  Over these past few years we have learned even more about HIV. We have learned that stigma surrounding the disease still exists, and is often the worst part.  We have learned how to speak up for our family and for others who deal with this chronic disease.  

These past four years we have faced a lot of stigma, and each time we ask God why; yet each time we see Him working through us to teach others the facts.  Each time stigma happens we see it as an opportunity to share our story.  That doesn’t mean I welcome stigma into my life; I don’t. It’s painful. It isn’t something I like to encounter. It hurts.  I often get defensive, I rarely say the right things at the right time, I often cry after each time it happens.  However, I do see God using me when it happens and for that I am thankful for each opportunity. 

If you want to learn more about HIV here are some great websites that have helped our family. 



If a friend or a family member has HIV here are some ways you can be supportive. 

***Learn the facts about the disease. 

***Teach your children that they can be friends with people who have HIV (A Positive Superhero is a great book to help!) 

***Be ready to stand up for them when you hear any misconceptions. 

***If your friend is newly diagnosed it can be a shock.  If they are confiding in you that means they TRUST you.  Do not share someone’s status unless they tell you they are open about it.  

***Ask them how they are doing with it.  Although there are medicines to take, sometimes it takes a while to figure out the right combination.  If a certain regime doesn’t work the side effects might take a toll on their body including their mental health. 

***Many times people living with HIV can become depressed because of the social stigma.  Let your friend know you love them.  

***People with HIV have to get their blood tested every few months, maybe take them to this appointment or send them a card when this happens.


This giveaway includes: 

-a copy of Desiree's brand new children's book that you can use to educate your children and their friends or to give away to encourage a family you might know struggling with the stigma of HIV

-2 bracelets- one for your child to keep and one to give

-a $25 discount on any purchase from The Sparrow Studio

Pattern Play: Girl's Room

Annie Phillips

Welcome to our new blog series, Pattern Play, where we show you how to integrate African fabrics into your places and spaces!  We fully acknowledge that our patterns, for the most part, are BOLD. And that's why we love them!  Don't be shy!  Go bold or go home.  

Here's what Sarah's cooked up for a great Girl's Room that could work whether she is 4 or 14.

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And the most exciting part, is that each of your purchases with The Sparrow Studio LITERALLY creates change for our vulnerable artisans in Rwanda.

Shop this look and keep looking for more posts about how to bring Africa into your home! Interested in a custom plan for your room?  Sarah is an Interior Designer.  Email her at for more info.

To Rwanda or Bust

Annie Phillips

I'm flying out to Rwanda on Friday and will be there for two weeks!  I can hardly believe the time for this trip is actually here!  My main goals are to learn as much as I can about the culture, fabric, history, and most importantly the women of Rwanda.  I will have the opportunity to finally sit down and share a meal with Laura and Kristy, missionaries who manage the co-op in Kigali and with whom I talk over the computer every day.  I can't wait to meet them and get to know their families!  I will be able to share my story with the women of the More than Sparrows co-op and get to hear their stories.  I am hoping to visit a couple of them at their homes.  We will get to talk about product design, US color trends, imagine what Joseph's hairstyle looked like (working on a nativity set together), and we will celebrate where this business partnership has taken us. 

I will also get to visit villages beyond Kigali, genocide memorial sites, schools run by Africa New Life Ministry, Noonday's sewing co-op Umucyo, and the highly-anticipated fabric market. 

The web shop will still be open for business during out trip, but we won't be shipping any new orders until August 1st.  Sarah (our Creative Director) will be handling business here in Colorado and answering any emails.  So if you have a question about an order or anything else, just contact 

I'd love to share the trip with you, since this trip is only happening because of you.  So here's how to be social the next 2 weeks:

Follow @thesparrowstudio and @anniemphillips on Instagram.  Follow us on facebook.  Check back here for blog posts.  Sarah and I hope you will come party with us in August, as we share stories, photos, and brand new designs from Rwanda.