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Women of Grace Widows Fund seeks donations for operations, new vehicle

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Board members of the Women of Grace Widows Fund want you to know not only where your donation to the fund goes, but what its impact is on Malawian women.

For the past five years, group members from Watertown and Canton have maintained a $14,000 annual budget to help 60 Malawian widows in three villages of the African country have a more stable life. Through business and individual donations within Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, the Women of Grace Widows Fund provides grants or micro-loans to those Malawian widows.

“All I can think of is hands stretched around the globe,” board member Heather F. White said. “We couldn’t have done any of this without the community.”

Fellow board member Renee G. Waterbury said the widows have learned to trust the American women, especially since they keep coming back to offer support and teach them tools to become self-sufficient. Because of the continued support, the widows fund needs to replenish money toward its operational costs, and will hold a Cabin Fever Coffee and Dessert Night fundraiser from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 27 at Ives Hill Retirement Community, 1200 Jewell Drive.

Ticia K. Marra will provide live entertainment, and desserts and gift baskets will be auctioned off. Coffee and desserts will be available.

A $5 admission fee is requested, but further donations are welcome.

Canton board members will sponsor a second Cabin Fever Night fundraiser from 7 to 9 p.m. March 1 at First Presbyterian Church, 17 Park St., Canton. Matt Bullwinkel will provide live entertainment during that night.

While nearly half of the group’s budget comes from the direct mail campaign, Mrs. White encourages people to attend the fundraisers to see pictures and hear stories of the fund’s impact. Most recently, the fund has provided widows with basic wooden-frame beds with a single mattress and bedding, fabric and zippers to make purses to be sold at market, and pigs. Half of the pigs were to be used for food for the women and their families, and the other half were to be sold. The fund’s loan program provided money to the women so they could afford to feed the pigs.

The fund started after a Malawian woman named Grace Chiumia told north country residents who went to Malawi on mission trips that once a husband dies in Malawi, his family often comes into the home that the husband and wife shared and takes what it can. That is what happened to Ms. Chiumia, who overcame her struggles to become a member of Parliament.

Each month, the group here wires $1,050 to a bank in Malawi, and Samuel Chirwa, who runs that country’s side of the organization, decides with the group of Malawian widows who will benefit next.

While grants vary in size, loans typically are 70 to 10,000 kwacha, the Malawian currency.

At its next board meeting,the Women of Grace Widows Fund will decide how it will raise funds for a new vehicle it uses in Malawi. Mrs. White said she didn’t know how many miles were on the vehicle, or even whether the odometer worked.

“It’s hard travel,” she said. “There’s only one paved road, then it’s all out in the bush. It’s literally dirt or tall grass, potholes, bumps and rocks.”

The vehicle also is used for food deliveries, funerals and medical or other emergencies.

The group has raised $8,000 toward a new vehicle thus far, and has about $10,000 more to go.

For more information about the fund, or to donate, visit www.womenofgracewidowsfund.org.

ABCs booklet to help fund project
About 2,000 Malawian children in kindergarten through second grade are learning English thanks to efforts from local and out-of-state educators who have traveled to the African country for the past few years.
This July, Heather F. White, a kindergarten teacher at Sherman Elementary School, and Carol Stevens, a retired first-grade and reading recovery teacher from North Carolina, will travel to Malawi as part of the final two-week trip of the Keys to Education project to offer workshops and intense training for Malawi teachers. The project is made possible by a three-year, $34,000 grant from the Presbyterian Women organization of the Presbyterian Church USA to the Women of Grace Widows Fund, of which Mrs. White is a board member.
Now, Mrs. White is using a lesson she learned in Malawi last year to further improve the Malawian children’s literacy. During her two-week trip in 2012, she helped distribute ABC cards/charts with letters of the alphabet and word and picture cues. The good intention was met with some confusion by Malawians, as they either didn’t recognize or use some of the American objects in the pictures. After she realized that, she said, she used her cellphone to take pictures of things beginning with letters A to Z throughout Malawian villages.
From that, she developed “The ABCs of Malawi” booklet, which is at a printer where 2,500 copies are being made. Two thousand of those will go to the Malawian students this summer, and the remaining 500 will be sold here to support the Keys to Education project.
Teachers are so excited to learn more information that they walk many miles just to attend the Keys to Education workshops.
Profits of the ABC booklet sale will fund the Keys to Education effort beyond the end of this year, when the three-year grant year ends. Mrs. White said Keys to Education has become so important to board members of the Widows Fund that it will remain a line item, and continue on after the grant ends.
ABC booklets will be available for sale during an upcoming Widows Fund fundraiser from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 27 at Ives Hill Retirement Community.
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