Sewing opportunity across continents
SUN CITY – There’s a biblical passage that tugs at the heart of many persons: “Give, and it will be given to you, for whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt out in return.”
Margorie Hamberg, a Sun City resident for five years, has always believed in that idea, and she recently found a way to translate her faith into a practical foreign mission project in the nation of Zambia.
Zambia is a small, land-locked nation in south-central Africa. While it has not experienced the violence and genocide that has raged in many other African nations, it has been severely impacted by a high incidence of HIV/AIDS. More than half the 1.1 million Zambian persons living with HIV/AIDS are women. They are frequently widowed and vulnerable to the abuse of absent, drunken husbands, with no money for food or the education of their children. Zambia is a place where the culture does not value women.
A local ministry to help and support these women has been developed in the Sun City and Woodstock areas by Kristin Choitz of Woodstock, who has gathered a number of area women around her in a sustainable products project called Extending Hands Ministries. Marge Hamberg is one of five who committed to action last year.
“The ministry makes use of Zambian women’s talents and gifts in making products that are marketable throughout the world,” Hamberg said. “At the same time, the ministry attempts to empower, love, and lift up the women to see who God created them to be.
“Kristin Choitz of Woodstock traveled to Zambia to 2008 and 2009,” Marge said. “She discovered the beautiful jewelry the local women made for sale in local markets. At the same time, she also learned how many of them struggle with socio-economic issues in a tragically undeveloped country. Many are the heads of households and have few or no ways of supporting themselves and their families.”
Kristin returned home determined to find ways to support the Zambian women. She met Marge and others in the area, and together, a group of women with a deep understanding and empathy for the situation began to develop some practical ideas.
“I traveled, mostly at my own expense and supported by donations, to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, last summer,” Hamberg said. “I spent two weeks training local women on the use of sewing machines and showing them how to crochet purses and handbags out of grocery bags we collected from Walmart, Jewel, and other places. I saw a video on YouTube showing how this purse-making project could be done. I prayed, ‘Lord, how can I get these bags to Zambia?’”
While she and others were there, the Extending Hands Ministries partnered with a local Community for Health Development, a Christian agency. An agency counselor held a two-day conference dealing with the abuse and other issues the women face on a daily basis. About 150 women attended these sessions.
In an EHM ministry document, Choitz said, “This is the giving of an opportunity and not a handout. By challenging the cultural view of women in a place that does not value them, we are giving them the tools to overcome these barriers.”
There are four fair trade stores in the northern Illinois area—one in Rockford—that are selling the jewelry and baskets that the women have been making for many years. Marge, Kristin, and others in the Extending Hands Ministry hope purses and other products may be brought back soon and start showing up on the stores’ shelves.
In a letter to her family and friends after she returned from Zambia last year, Marge said, “The women are eager to learn how to sew and develop other ways to make products. They take such pride and satisfaction in learning new trades that will help to provide resources for their family’s needs.
“What a joy it was to see the women eager to learn how to sew on the new sewing machines. The plastic bags to crochet purses were a hit. The blessings our team received in return far outweighed that which we dealt out to others.”
A much larger team of area women is returning to Zambia this coming summer. Hamberg may be among them.