29 Oct WSB Inspiring Woman: Jane Welsh, Allegra Bags & Handicrafts
A reason to get out of bed
Sometimes, you meet people with an exciting history, adventurous travel-logs or extravagant backgrounds. Occasionally, you may be fortunate to meet a person with a moving story of their personal journey and be emotionally inspired by what they have shared. In the lobby of the British School, Jane Welsh of Allegra was that person.
Jane had come to bring some of her beautiful, handmade, fair trade Cambodian products to sell at the school PTA Shop. We started chatting and very soon I realised that Jane was truly an inspiration for many women who follow their partners around the world and who feel a need to do more.
An Australian citizen, married to an American, Jane had not one but two very wonderfully influential Aunts. “Light Houses” as she refers to them. “Everyone should have a role model, someone who helps guide or point you on the right road” One aunt worked for the United Nations in an International NGOs and inspired Jane to undertake studies in Social Work.
Jane’s other aunt was her strongest inspiration; she was a Fashion Designer and had sadly passed away from breast cancer. In her will, she had left instructions and funds for Jane to set up an organisation to help disabled women in Cambodia.
Previously, in 2002, Jane worked with the Association of the Blind in Cambodia for 3 years. She set up a support group for visually impaired women and acid attack survivors (women who had been attacked with battery acid). Her aunt funded many operations, surgeries, and activities.
Since this time, Jane has continued to work in international community development and in 2010 Jane relocated to Vienna as an accompanying spouse. She and her husband had a son and naturally, the pace slowed down, being a first-time mum in a new country and language. Jane describes this time as one of the most depressing and challenging times in her life.
It was whilst listening to Jane through what clearly was a very emotional and challenging time in her life, I realised that many of us have this time when we feel at our most vulnerable, lost or weak. It’s often then that we find the strength and inspiration to go on to do amazing things. Jane and her family returned to the USA after 4 years, where Jane worked in sexual and reproductive health with an international NGO working in Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. After 4 years of relentless travel and long working hours, she had a burnout. Last November, Jane did a self-care retreat and used Ikigai (a Japanese method of finding your life’s purpose – to find your reason to get out of bed) to redirect her back to her life’s love: working with women with disabilities in Cambodia. Since moving with her husband to Saudi Arabia this year, she has refined and worked on her Ikigai – The Allegra Project: Fair Trade and sustainable handicrafts made by women with disabilities in Cambodia. These items are not only uniquely, environmentally beautiful, but each item sold helps empower women with disabilities in Cambodia.
As an accompanying spouse previously, Jane knew of potential hardships, identity and role challenges so prior to coming to Riyadh with her family, Jane and her husband decided to enter into a Post Nuptial Agreement, where they had many difficult conversations and worked together on their goals, roles and responsibilities and importantly how they work together as a team. “This has definitely helped with the challenging obstacles that Saudi Arabia brings, especially for females and I urge any family to try something similar with their family or partners”.
Just as our conversation was drawing to a natural end, I am surprised to learn that Jane also has a passion for designing clothes for the larger figure, colourful, comfortable and affordable – watch this space.
Jane has found her reason to get out of bed in the morning – what’s yours?
Allegra Products can be purchased from many of the well-known coffee mornings, Kingdom, Ishbilia, Al Nakhla, Seder in addition to some upcoming Festive Markets, Ishbilia’s Collection Gift Store and the BISR PTA Shop.