by Len Lear
If you walk into Serendipity, the stunning women’s clothing and gift shop at 8506 Germantown Ave., make a right turn into another room and then a left turn into a much smaller room, you will find some spectacularly colorful, beautiful garments, clutches, scarves, tote bags, earrings, etc.
The great thing about this room is that you are not only purchasing attractive, well made, top quality items for yourself or as gifts for others at very reasonable prices (nothing is over $35), but you are also helping the Third World women who made them from scratch to become self-sufficient.
These gorgeous gifts-to-be are in a corner of Serendipity, thanks to the efforts of Holly Adams Pratt, 37, an immigration lawyer who has avoided the $350-an-hour center city law firms in order to improve the lives of women who are struggling to survive in Liberia, West Africa, on a dollar or two a day, and those from Puerto Rico, who are marginally better off but are still suffering greatly.
From an early age Holly knew that she wanted to help people, particularly those facing human rights abuses. Reared in Ridley Park, Delaware County, Pratt, who lived in Mt. Airy from 2006 to 2015 with her family before moving to Bucks County, went to George Washington University in Washington D.C. to learn about different cultures and human rights. She majored in International Relations, and it was in her studies, she says, “that Africa captured my heart.”
Getting to Africa became a major goal for Adams, but her next stop was in the opposite direction — the law school at the University of San Diego, where she studied immigration law. Still, throughout her academic career, Africa and helping those who suffered human rights abuses, particularly women, were never far from her mind. While in D.C., she interned at Human Rights Watch, and in San Diego she interned for a non-profit organization providing legal advice to asylum seekers and battered immigrant women.
After graduating from law school in 2003, Holly came back to the Philadelphia area, where she practiced immigration law. She soon after met Jason Pratt, a lawyer as well, and they eventually got married, and bought a house in East Mt. Airy. Meanwhile, Holly was still trying to get to Africa. “I just wanted to go there and be hands-on with the people.” But she became frustrated with her search for an organization to take her on as a volunteer. “In the winter of 2006, I decided enough was enough and picked up my credit card and paid to volunteer.”
This is how Holly found herself for three weeks in January, 2007, in the Buduburam refugee camp for Liberians in Ghana. (Liberia had been convulsed by civil war for many years.) Her trip was an expedition to discover what kind of organization she could build. “I wanted to go to Africa and find something to continue to help when I returned to the U.S.”
So in March of 2007 Holly founded The Universal Hope Initiative (UHI) with Jason, a non-profit that develops educational and economic empowerment programs in Africa. UHI’s first action was to sponsor 12 children in secondary school in Buduburam; $1500 was all that was needed to cover tuition, books, meals and supplies. This year she also started An Invincible Summer, using a Fair Trade model in order to pay the workers in Africa and Puerto Rico right away. (An Invincible Summer is a project underneath the umbrella of UHI that creates employment for women to make products to sell to the U.S. consumer. Everything else is done through UHI.)
“We pay the workers right away,” said Holly. “We support a vocational school in Liberia. There are currently 238 students who learn to do plumbing, tailoring, carpentry, etc. They used their skills to build a child care center, which tripled the enrollment. The construction students will start building an elementary school soon. I went to Liberia last year (to lay the groundwork for this).
“And we have women in Liberia making the clothing and other objects. I tell them, ‘I want 20 skirts, 50 wine bags, etc.’ We negotiate a price, and I give them half up front. When the goods are delivered, I give them the other half. A good salary for a nurse or teacher in Liberia is $150 a month. Four women who make these items for us have been paid $2,000 so far this year. We rented the space in Serendipity starting Sept. 17.
“The tote bags are made in Puerto Rico. One or two days before the storm there, I received a shipment of stuffed animals and wine bags from Puerto Rico. Not only do they make money this way, but it is good occupational therapy. They create all of the designs. I communicate with them by Facebook Messenger, although I cannot do that right now, of course, because they have no electricity in Puerto Rico.
“Because of Hurricane Maria, many of the women we work with in Puerto Rico live in a community that was completely flooded called Anasco. Water rose eight to 10 feet, and people lost everything. Many of the houses were wooden, so they are badly damaged. We are working to help rebuild this community and employ more women who live there.”
In addition to the women in Liberia and Puerto Rico, Holly has women in South Philadelphia who are making clothing. Christina Stromberg of Doylestown, a community activist and surfer, is Holly’s “right hand woman,” managing products, retail space, etc. They hope to do several pop-up shops in area churches to sell the products made in Liberia and Puerto Rico. They also hope to raise enough money to rebuild a center in Puerto Rico for victims of domestic violence.
Holly takes her entire family (she and Jason have two children, Sophia, 8, and Jack, 6) to Puerto Rico for the month of February every year. Next year will be the eighth straight year for these trips. Holly works out of her home, where she also writes appellate decisions for cases brought to the Citizen and Immigration Service (formerly INS). She hopes to find strong support in the Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill community for her African and Puerto Rican projects. She is looking for donors, volunteers and anyone who would like to host a pop-up shop.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or @an_invincible_summer