Art olf Quilting Column March 22, 2009

Personal quest brings quilting, hope to Kenya

This woman believes she is on a mission from God and, in June, she plans to make an arduous 28-hour pilgrimage of sorts to the African equator.

As a team leader for Crossroads United Methodist Church, Rita Larson of Grand Junction hopes to help poor women in a Kenyan village start a cottage quilting industry.

“These are grandmothers raising orphaned grandkids whose parents have died from malaria and AIDS,” Larson explains.

The children desperately need education, but a $120 monthly fee per child for elementary school supplies and uniforms is more than the surviving families can afford.

Larson and her team are to visit the rural village of Mulanthankari on the slope of Mount Kenya from June 16 through July 5.

This is Larson’s second trip to Kenya. On her first journey, in 2006, she led a group of 12 who taught almost 50 women to sew fabric pieces together and quilt — all by hand.

“They had no electricity and no building large enough, so everything was done outdoors,” Larson says.

The mission group was told to expect 15 village women, but “they kept coming and coming until we had 48 the first day.”

Larson taught applique on the second day, and 25 showed up again for lessons.

Her educational background includes a business administration degree, followed by 29 years in the sewing and quilting industry. Larson retired in 2006 as assistant manager of Hi Fashion Fabrics in Grand Junction. (I recently featured her in this column as an expert on quilt batting.)

During her first visit to Kenya, the church group also offered a health clinic, treating 625 people.

Malaria is the biggest health problem, Larson says, and many young adults have died from it because they could not afford medicine.

Improving the lives of these African people “is a passion for me,” Larson says.

“I believe strongly that when one door in your life closes, God opens a window,” she says.

Her husband, Peter, died unexpectedly in August 2004, and she had been in deep grief up until that first trip.

“I found joy again in the people in Kenya,” she recalls.

Larson’s new world view gives her a better perspective on life in the United States.

“Here in America, we fuss and fume about what we don’t have. But we don’t really know what it’s like to not have things. There is lots of need there,” she says.

We would be wise to think more positively, Larson suggests.

“Yes, 8 percent of Americans are without jobs, but 92 percent do have work.

“Yes, 10 percent can’t pay their mortgages, but 90 percent can,” she says.

Larson’s church congregation’s goal is to donate $20,000 this year toward the construction of a $60,000 community building for Mulanthankari villagers.

They plan to dedicate the building if it is finished upon the team’s arrival, Larson says.

It’s supposed to have electricity, too, so the women can use sewing machines, which is
Larson’s next project.

“We want to show them how to make quilted items that tourists would buy as souvenirs” — bags, table runners, place mats, etc., she says.

The weight makes shipping machines from the United States prohibitive, so Larson has found a supplier in the capital city of Nairobi that sells sewing machines for about $100 each.

These have a wheel run by electricity, but the machines can be converted to a treadle or crank if necessary.

They also are compliant with Kenya’s electrical sources.

Crossroads United Methodist is seeking funds to purchase these machines, Larson says, and the plan is to buy 20 for the village’s women.

Other supplies will be packed and taken on the team’s flight to Kenya, because freight shipped to the country requires six months for arrival.

Three years ago, they took 350 pounds of mostly donated supplies, Larson says, with each person packing two 50-pound suitcases and a carry-on bag.

Again in June, Larson and her group will be stuffing their luggage with supplies. The church again will sponsor a health clinic in the village, allowing people to see both doctors and dentists as needed.

Larson and her team members deserve much praise for reaching out to the global community, selflessly sharing their talents and treasures.

Anyone wishing to help with the purchase of sewing machines or the health clinic expenses can send donations to Kenya Mission Projects, Crossroads United Methodist Church, 599 30 Road, Grand Junction 81504. The church’s phone number is 242-0577.

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