Ugandan women are supporting themselves through quilting in a partnership with Sisters people. photo by David Uttley
Ugandan women are supporting themselves through quilting in a partnership with Sisters people. photo by David Uttley
The quilts travel many miles and over several continents to come to Sisters, yet the connection from Uganda to Sisters is ever close to the heart.

The quilting program, Sisters of the Heart, was conceived when local interior designer Janet Storton traveled to Kapchorwa, Uganda, with Sisters Community Church. Sisters Community Church has partnered with Christ Glorious Church in Kapchorwa in a child sponsorship program for several years.

Storton had a quilt to bring one of the sponsor children she and husband Peter support, and she wanted to deliver that quilt in person to get to know the child and her family better. When the village ladies saw the "blanket" as they call it, they were immediately taken with it. Their fascination led to desire, and through many visits and the birth pains of starting a business in Uganda from America, Sisters of the Heart was born.

Storton, a businesswoman and quilt teacher, was immediately drawn to these women. At their request she taught them how to sew a quilt. Giddy with their new knowledge and ever mindful of the needs around them, the women of Kapchorwa asked Storton to return to teach them more, to teach them how to run a business.

"They literally begged me to come back, because they could see the potential to help the widows, orphans, and the more needy of their village," Storton said. "Keep in mind these women are subsistence farmers. They only eat what they can grow or trade for. An income of 50 cents a day is normal. These are the women who want to help the less fortunate in Kapchorwa."

In subsequent visits, treadle sewing machines were purchased, a building was leased, and the women came. Sewing abilities grew, and artistic passion flourished in a setting of intimacy and sisterhood.

Sisters of the Heart now has a program in place to teach other women how to quilt, including teens with no means of a self-sustaining future. They also have company officers and a bank account.

One recipient of a Sisters of the Heart micro-loan lived in a mud hut on land she did not own. Her future was as barren as the crops she would never be able to grow. Her children were always hungry and she was their sole means of survival. Today this woman buys large bags of charcoal (the main heat source in Kapchorwa) repackages them in smaller quantities and sells them for a profit. She now feeds her children, repays her loan monthly, and is proud of her accomplishments.

Uganda President, Yoweri Museveni, agrees.

"President Museveni truly cares about the women of his country," said Storton. Storton was given an audience with the President when he learned of the Sisters of the Heart. "I recall the President asking if I listen to the women's problems when we meet. He wants the rural villagers to rise up and sustain themselves."

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda also heard of this industrious band of women and sent a team to Kapchorwa to investigate Sisters of the Heart and Storton before awarding them with a grant. The grant was used to buy more sewing machines, more supplies, and to develop their new quilt school program. "Sisters of the Heart is getting off its knees, out of the dirt, and learning a trade," says an ecstatic Storton. "This is the exact type of project the U.S. Embassy is looking for, a hand-up, not a hand-out."

In mid-July Storton travels back to Uganda to meet with the Ugandan government and submit a proposal for a government grant. If accepted, the Presidential Grant will be awarded to Sisters of the Heart to build their vocational school.

On Sunday, July 5 from 2 to 6 p.m., Sisters of the Heart will be a featured artist at the Around the Block Fiber Arts Stroll, the kick-off event of quilt week.

Storton, who will man the exhibit said, "I consider these quilts African art that can be hung on walls, draped on tables, and used as lap quilts."

You can find the Sisters of the Heart quilts and bags inside the RE/MAX Town & Country Realty offices located at 178 S. Elm Street (549-3333).

Each quilt is artistically done with fabrics from Africa. There is a limited supply of these very special textiles. Storton is keeping the pricing reasonable because each quilt sale represents a way to fund more micro-loans and to buy medicine and food for those who have immediate needs. Orders will be taken when the quilts are sold out.

Sisters of the Heart will also have an exhibit at the quilt show on Saturday, July 11 on the Town Square lawn, right behind RE/MAX.

Contact Sisters of the Heart at [email protected]