Ugandan women work on a quilt. They’re using skills imported from Sisters to make a living. photo provided
Ugandan women work on a quilt. They’re using skills imported from Sisters to make a living. photo provided
Janet Storton is rejoicing over the large grant that the U.S. Embassy in Uganda has awarded the Sisters of the Heart organization in Kapchorwa, Uganda.

The grant, written by Storton, enables fulfilling the dream of a building for a vocational center in Uganda.

"The Sisters of the Heart and I want to thank the whole community of Sisters for the support they've given to this project. Whether they've purchased products that were handmade by the rural women of Uganda on treadle sewing machines, bought the Mercy's Quilt book, or prayed for Sisters of the Heart, it has made this all possible," said Storton.

What began as a personal trek to the verdant rural mountain village of Kapchorwa to meet the little girl she and husband Peter support - and to wrap young Mercy in the quilt made by Storton especially for the child - has turned into an organization of vibrant women whose confidence and skills grow daily, that is greatly beloved of Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni.

The program is the poster child of projects the U.S. Embassy strives to support: a hand-up, not a hand-out.

From Storton's initial visit in July of 2007 to her most recent excursion in October of 2009, the journey has been rewarding. With seven trips in 2-1/2 years, Storton couldn't be happier for the way her retirement has turned out.

"These women motivate me, they were so grateful that a woman from America would come for them, to teach them a trade, how could I not return?" said Storton.

She will return to Uganda in February of 2010 with others from Sisters Community Church.

The women of Kapchorwa are eager and hard-working students. The reward for their diligence is health for their children.

Storton articulates, "These women live in a community that is not as forward in their understanding of hygiene as other countries," Storton said. "They live in primitive conditions and are impacted by waterborne illnesses every day, and they are all preventable. Death and disease are a commonplace part of their lives."

Even with the education on sanitation that is being taught at the Sisters of the Heart Vocation Center by Storton on each of her trips, there is no running water to most of the population, or sewer. Water is brought in on the heads of women and children daily for all needs.

The first group of students were brought in for training at the Sisters of the Heart Vocational Center in February 2009. The building they are currently leasing was quickly filled to capacity. The pressure was on to find a solution to train the industrious people of Kapchorwa.

No stranger to the construction industry, Storton, who owned and operated an interior design business in Sisters for years, was not daunted when the U.S. Embassy required architectural drawings for the grant review process. She looked locally for the drawings and to Uganda for the engineering.

"My work with local contractors over the years has given me the ability and confidence to oversee a project like this," states Storton.

Chris Mayes, of Design Strategies, a local residential and light commercial design firm, stepped up. Even during the recent real estate upheaval of epic proportions that directly affected all designers, draftsmen and architects, Mayes made his work gratis.

Mayes and his wife, Molly, support a child in Kapchorwa, too.

After three months of pulling together the architectural drawings and the engineering, Storton submitted them and a budget to the U.S. Embassy grant program...along with 400 other applicants.

In early December, she was notified by e-mail that Sisters of the Heart was awarded one of the eight large grants. No mention was made of the actual amount of the grant. Just two days after Christmas came her best present of the year: the notice that the grant was for the amount of $25,000, almost enough to finish the building. The grant is the largest amount the embassy can give a group.

The new building will be built on acreage that the church and primary school are already located on. On faith, the property was dedicated for the vocational center in the summer of 2009. Soon it will be a reality.

The mud brick building will house two craft rooms with a kitchen in between, and some storage rooms. The bathrooms will be plumbed but will not be hooked up till that technology reaches Kapchorwa. Till then the latrine system will be employed.

The Sisters of the Heart are generous with their time and money. They've established a micro-loan program and a foundation to help the most needy: widows, orphans, and HIV victims.

A group of women from our community have formed to help with ideas for fundraising for the Sisters of the Heart. Storton continues the talks she gives to service groups, quilt guilds and churches, while writing her second book. And of course, the industrious women of the rural mountain community are pouring out their hearts with their projects to sell, all while keeping their eye on the prize - helping to sustain their families and their village.

For more information, contact Storton at 541-595-1818.