By BETSY BETHEL
Associate Life Editor
It has been almost a year since Wheeling native Natalie Committee received an overwhelming response at a hometown event at which she sold jewelry made by women and girls involved in the ChildVoice International Bead Project in war-torn northern Uganda.
Oroma Stella lives near Gulu in northern Uganda and makes beaded jewelry, like the necklace she is wearing, with the ChildVoice International Bead Project. Wheeling native Natalie Committee took this photo while working as a teacher with ChildVoice in 2010-2011.
Ohio Valley women, men and children gathered at Covenant Community Church in Wheeling last May to find out more about ChildVoice's work from Committee - who had lived there for a year - and purchase the colorful handcrafted beaded jewelry. Committee said it was one of the Christian nonprofit organization's most successful jewelry shows up to that time.
Committee, a Wheeling Central Catholic High School graduate, will return to C3, located at 250 Bethany Pike, Wheeling, from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, April 28, with more jewelry in tow, including new styles and colors of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and lanyards strung with beads made of rolled paper. The event is timed this year to allow for Mother's Day shopping.
"We are excited to host this event because of who it benefits," said Adam Mick, C3 co-pastor. "The women who make the jewelry have been through so much, and we have been blessed with so much. Micah 6:8 calls us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. Events like this give us an opportunity to live that out. Not to mention, the jewelry is beautiful!"
The Women Helping Women Jewelry Open House will include a brief presentation by Committee about her time spent teaching and living among the women, child mothers and children in northern Uganda, as well as updates on the expansion ChildVoice is undertaking there and in neighboring war-ravaged South Sudan.
Many of the women and teen girls at ChildVoice were former sex slaves, having been kidnapped from their villages by soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army, led by wanted warlord Joseph Kony. All of them were affected by the havoc Kony and his men wreaked on the region. ChildVoice's mission through its Lukome Centre in Lukodi, near the city of Gulu, and through the related Bead Project is to rehabilitate these women and children, many of whom are ill and have children of their own, through education and spiritual and emotional care.
"ChildVoice acts on the conviction that children broken by war can be restored in safe communities with loving care, spiritual and emotional counseling, and effective education and vocational training," according to the group's mission statement.
The majority of ChildVoice's budget comes from individual donations, with the jewelry sales making up 15 percent to 20 percent of the budget, Committee said. The money made from the jewelry goes to help pay the women and buy materials, and it also helps support the school and other training efforts. Employment opportunities in the region are few, and making the beads a few hours a day gives the women meaningful work in a safe environment. The pay is much better than what they would make working a farmer's field from sun-up to sun-down, Committee said.
The girls served by the Lukome Centre have moved in the past year from retrofitted quarters in an abandoned school building where they lived in dormitories to new huts that each house two mothers and their children.
"This is more what they're used to and is much more conducive to building that family structure that is so important," Committee said.
She said that since she left in August 2011, several of the women and girls with whom she worked have been brought onto ChildVoice's staff. One of them is Lily, who is one of the most well known residents of the region because she was among Kony's "top" wives who escaped with two of her children and was interviewed for an international documentary about Kony and the LRA. She now works for ChildVoice as a house mother for the young girls at Lukome.
"She's perfect for that because she's been through anything any of them have been through," Committee said.
Regarding the group's expansion into South Sudan, which has been a hotbed of rebel fighting in recent months, Committee said much of the groundwork has been laid, and ChildVoice is sending its director of international programs, based in the U.S., to the region for a year.
"There is a lot of recovery, a lot of rehabilitation that needs to be done. This is not a problem only in Uganda, it is in other parts of the world, too."
Anotehr Wheeling native, Megan Cook, spent three months at the Lukome Centre in 2012 and Committee said she hopes she will come to the Wheeling event, too.
Committee now lives in the Washington, D.C., area and works as a Department of Energy contractor in the field of renewable fuels, but her heart is still with the people of Africa. She hopes to return to northern Uganda for a reunion with the Lukome Centre girls and women she taught.
She is excited to bring the jewelry back to her hometown.
"I am really passionate about the organization and what they're doing. I know that they're doing good work," she said. She hopes a few people who attend the open house will be willing to host jewelry parties in the future.
For more information, call Betsy Bethel-McFarland, 304-280-6212 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.