The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck off the coast of Southeast Asia the day after Christmas, 2004, reportedly killed over 285,000 people of which 185,000 died in the province of Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia alone. Homes and loved ones were swept away by the water. In Orange, California, day trader Roy van Broekhuizen received a call from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, asking if he would lead tsunami relief teams to Indonesia to help with the relief efforts. Roy arrived with his 1st volunteer team from the church a few weeks after the disaster.
The memories of dead bodies, destruction, chaos, disaster, helplessness and more will remain in his mind forever. Crying over bodies, bandaging the injured and working with the people to rebuild tattered lives, that first trip to Banda Aceh changed Roy’s life forever. He arrived back home after that first trip with his suitcase full of cashews, coffee and anything else he could think of to sell and raise more money for these survivors.
It was on Roy’s trip in June 2005, to Banda Aceh that Louise decided to quit her job and join Roy in the relief effort. Amid the chaos and destruction, Roy and Louise worked together to bring relief wherever and however they could. On that trip, Louise was introduced to a little handicraft shop filled with beautiful handmade handbags and accessories that had been stitched on old fashioned treadle sewing machines, without electricity, embroidery which was hand-guided with traditional Acehnese patterns that had been passed on from generation to generation.
The story touched and grabbed her heart.
After returning home with samples of handbags sewn by women of the “Land of the Beautiful People,” Louise held a home party August 2006 in their home and invited 20 friends in an effort to share their story and photos she took on her first trip to Banda Aceh. She was able to raise enough funds to go back and purchase more of these amazing works of art.
There were several more such home parties and, due to the overwhelming response to this effort, Roy and Louise continued to bring back more and more handbags with each trip. Then the idea hit: this could be the perfect way to impact many lives both in Aceh province as well as in the United States and especially for the tsunami survivors they were trying to help. It was then that Laga Handbags was born.
On their next trip back, Roy and Louise used the funds they raised to rent a workshop for twelve women who had lost everything that fateful December day. Their goal was to help them rebuild their lives and their community – training them to make quality handbags and accessories that could be appreciated by women in the United States and worldwide.
Louise gave each handbag a name that represents what Laga means to the women in Indonesia. Harapan means “hope.” Damai means “peace.” Selalu means “always.” And hearts sang when, years later, they introduced Ria, which means “cheerful!”