Africa bound, Project creating international ties

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Though nearly a dozen people were hard at work in St. Joseph’s Hall on a recent Wednesday afternoon, the only sounds breaking the silence were the soft whirr of two sewing machines and the gentle hiss of a steam iron. The group—three adults and a handful of youth—were intently (and quietly) focused on their tasks: ironing, cutting and stitching together fabric to make drawstring bags for youngsters living 8,000 miles away in eastern Africa.

The bags eventually will be filled with school supplies for kids in the Teso region of Uganda. A charitable organization called Children’s HopeChest (or HopeChest, for short) will distribute the stuffed bags. Some of the recipients will get a chance to meet a woman who spearheaded the effort here on their behalf.

Jamie Wingert, Elkader, will travel to Uganda in mid-August as part of a U.S. team of volunteers. She will get a first-hand look at how HopeChest is impacting lives and when she returns, she’ll share her experience with her church, friends in Elkader and others.

“I hope to increase awareness and also get more sponsors for these kids,” said Jamie about her decision to make the trip. Jamie sponsors a little girl named Mary for a monthly fee of $38. She’ll meet the child when she goes to Africa next month. She’d also like to secure 30 additional sponsorships before she leaves to help assist with other youngsters’ medical, school and food costs.

“This part of Uganda has a huge vulnerable population of kids displaced from losing parents to AIDS, malaria and civil unrest,” Jamie explained. “There’s such a significant need.”

Jamie became interested in HopeChest after listening to the stories of a Vinton woman who has traveled there. It sparked a desire in Jamie to make the trip, too.

“I was so excited about what she had to say that I asked on the spot if I could go,” Jamie recalled. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. The reality of it hit when I had to get shots but overall I’m pretty excited.”

HopeChest was founded in 1994 in response to the crushing clothing, food and medical needs of orphans in Russia following the fall of the Iron Curtain. The group now also advocates for youngsters in Swaziland, Uganda, Ethiopia, Haiti, Moldova, India, South Africa and Guatemala. HopeChest is responsible for over 100 community-to-community partnerships worldwide; over 18,000 children have been served.

“The community-to-community aspect of HopeChest really appeals to me,” Jamie said. “I like knowing that the work we do in this community helps kids in another community. And I like having kids involved on this end. The bags are super easy and kids of all skill levels can help.”

Before the sewing stopped last week, St. Joseph volunteers had nearly reached their quota of 150 bags, which were made with all-donated materials. Another sewing day is planned before Jamie’s departure. The goal for all groups participating in this trip is 350 bags.

Though this will be her first trip to Uganda, Jamie hopes it won’t be her last. In fact, she’d like to someday take her children, Max, 14, and Mylee, 11.

“I think it’s important for all of these kids to see that there’s a bigger world out there and they can touch lives in a big way with so little of their time,” she said.

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