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Colony Women Sew For A Cause

Distinctively stylish, the bags feature a variety of African

motifs including orchids, orange tigers, a striking mask collage, leopards, elephants and giraffes…


The correct address to link to the website of Prairie Pens to purchase a copy of their new book From All Directions is incorrect e-mail address

was published in the Dec. 10 issue.

For the second day in two weeks, the multi-purpose room of Fairholme Colony School was transformed recently into a sewing room with nearly a dozen sewing machines humming away as the Hutterian seamstresses snipped, sang, chatted and laughed. By 4:30 the project was complete – down to the last shiny bead – 50 handbags for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.

Distinctively stylish, the bags feature a variety of African motifs including African adults working against a blue background, orchids, orange tigers, a striking mask collage, leopards; elephants and giraffes, zebras peeking out from a mirage-like jumble of black-and-white stripes.

The project is sponsored by Grands ’n’ More Winnipeg, which provides the materials, identifying labels and brochure for inclusion in each completed handbag. This is a unique advocacy project in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) working for the grandmothers and HIV/AIDS orphans of Africa. The brochure contains other stunning statistics.

Sixty-three per cent of the infections and 76 per cent of the deaths occur in the sub-Saharan African countries, where 13 million children have been orphaned by AIDs, which raises the question: Who takes care of these children?

“In areas severely affected by AIDS, approximately one-half of all older people are caring for HIV-positive adults or vulnerable children.” That is why the Stephen Lewis Foundation targets these countries specifically.

“The grandmothers caring for AIDS orphans … have been called upon to parent at a time in life when they would have expected to take their ease. Their situation is often desperate.”

A logical offshoot of the quilting process, the concept of sewing handbags for this purpose was brought to the town of MacGregor from a quilting workshop in Winnipeg. Designed by a woman, each bag is lovely, lightweight and well made.

Aside from purchasing a bag or bags, people can contribute on several levels. Materials for the bags are bought at substantial discounts; others donate their time to cut and assemble them into kits, including cat-screen lining, inside pockets and bag handles, as well as a solid plastic bottom, fabric outside panels and decorative beads. Women sew them individually or in groups, but the completed bags are returned to Grands ’n’ More in Winnipeg to be sold.

The eye-catching handbags are also sold locally. On a recent Saturday morning nine MacGregor seamstresses gathered in the sunny upstairs of the United Church and again the following Wednesday evening to complete some 22 bags, all of which were sold within five days. One cheque for two bags arrived before the sewing even began!

At Fairholme Colony, the completed bags were arranged on the stairs leading to the upper level of the school before packing them in boxes for transport to Winnipeg by Roberta Stone of MacGregor. At this time of year, it’s particularly appropriate to think in philanthropic terms: a bountiful Prairie harvest and fowl suppers behind us – despite problematic spring and summer weather – as well as a Thanksgiving season of splendid supermarket and church displays,

the edible items of which were subsequently shared with others, such as a local soup kitchen or the Salvation Army.

While the plight of Africans and the HIV/AIDS-induced crisis is not new, recent statistics are particularly gruesome. At last count, 33 million worldwide, with Africa most severely stricken: tens of thousands of orphaned children whose parents have succumbed to the disease. Compelled to look after younger siblings, many children are unable to attend school because they cannot afford the uniform, which is compulsory in African schools.

Fortunately, some individuals have led the way with compassionate and creative responses. Among them is the Swede, Henning Mankell who co-ordinated a project for supplying terminal HIV/AIDS victims with the necessary materials to record some of the important elements and events of their lives in order to provide their children with concrete mementoes and family history. Mankell documents this project in his book, I Die But My Memory Lives On.

Closer to home, Winnipeg endocrinologist, Dr. Alan Ronald spearheaded crucial drug research and clinical trials to treat African HIV/ AIDS victims. Canadian statesman, Stephen Lewis used his position with the United Nations, including numerous public speaking engagements to bring the crisis to national and international attention. To finance and sponsor various projects involved in offering assistance to African HIV/ AIDS victims, the Stephen Lewis Foundation was established. The book arising from his Massey lectures (and broadcast on CBC) is Race Against Time.

Charitable organizations such as Grands ’n’ More Winnipeg enable

Canadians to contribute meaningfully in an attempt to improve the lot of African grandmothers and their orphaned grandchildren. The handbag project has so far sold 935 bags, raising nearly $28,000.

Thus, the women of Fairholme plan to continue making bags. The next shipment of 50 kits is already ordered with plans to sew during the Christmas holiday. In addition, they want to order the next lot uncut, so that more women can contribute by helping with the cutting.

“I look forward to sewing bags at the school again,” one woman said. “The lively companionable atmosphere during those hours of sewing, singing and visiting are unforgettably enriching. I love it!”

The bags, which make great Christmas gifts, are available for purchase at PDAC the Portage and District Arts Council in Portage la Prairie (204) 239-6029. They may also be purchased by contacting Laurel Garvie (204) 475-7290 or Noreen Duncan (204) 772-0631.

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