Nourishing your body with the right foods is key for physical and mental health. But for spiritual wellness, finding a sense of balance can be less about what you take in than what you give out.
Meredyth Bowler-Ailloud, a long-time resident of Lyons, France (by way of New Jersey), always stayed lean and healthy with outdoor exercise like walking, bike riding and tennis, and a diet rich in fruits, grains and vegetables. (Along with cheese … because, well, France.) Emotionally, she found fulfillment in not-for-profit work – but after 25 years felt she could be doing more.
“Back in 2011, I was project manager of a waste management and recycling project in Africa. It involved poor women and a handful of business entrepreneurs with capital to invest,” says Meredyth. “I was not happy at the idea that the value added in recycling passed over the women, who were only involved in door-to-door waste collection.” She decided to create a business directly with the women to help them rise out of poverty.
“My experience in Burkina Faso, my familiarity with women’s associations, and my admiration for the beautiful weaving practiced by the women got me thinking,” Meredyth recalls. “If I could connect the waste collectors with the weavers to create woven material made of recycled plastic and cotton, then we could partner in a social business venture with the triple aim of reducing pollution, improving living conditions for women and promoting handmade ethical fashion products.” In September 2013, PagaBags was formed.
What are your guiding principles for the business?
“Empowerment. Empowerment means that the partners in PagaBags, the
weavers, the waste collectors, the plastic cutters, are not simply stake-holders in the business, they are also involved in the direction our strategy takes and aware of the economic challenges. It is an excruciatingly long process to materialize. There are so many social obstacles like poverty, hunger, health issues, lack of education and illiteracy.”
What element of life in France do you wish we had in America?
“Obviously the food! And also the scale of the country. It is easy to take off for a bike trip, or a walk in the mountains. And the countryside is beautiful, with fields of free-ranging cows, sheep, goats!”
What's your favorite healthy food recipe?
“Gazpacho, from my mom. I also love beet and goat cheese salad. Just slice the beets (precooked) in thin slices, place a slice of soft fresh goat cheese in each layer, sprinkle it with chives, crushed almonds and garlic!”
After a little over three years, PagaBags has a workshop, updated tools, and the women and their families are provided with health care and education, as they create eco-fashion bags, accessories and jewelry that are sold online. “I might add that people, my clients, have been great - their comments and messages after receiving their bags or jewelry are heartwarming,” says Meredyth. “They really get the social project, our ecological goals, and care about the planet.”