Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Angels sustain African relief project: $5 fabric dolls locally crafted by an army of volunteers have helped raise $60,000 to fight disease, starvation overseas

Times Colonist (Victoria)Monday, March 13, 2006
Byline: Rob Shaw
Source: Times Colonist

There are angels with glittering wings and golden halos among us in Victoria. And while they are only 15 centimetres tall, glued together out of painted clothes pegs and fabric-swatch dresses, they are providing small miracles for some of those in need.

They are African *AIDS* *Angels*, made and sold by local Victorians to help fight disease and starvation in South and East Africa.

A growing group of as many as 100 volunteers cut, glue and piece together the angels which sell for $5 in stores such as Gardenworks in Oak Bay, Flowers First on Cook Street, Star Cinema in Sidney and Fat Cat Fine Art on Store Street.

Their sales, along with auctions and donations, have raised almost $60,000 since 2001.

The money helps feed and house AIDS orphans at projects in South Africa and Zambia, as well as support a program to prevent pregnant women with HIV/AIDS from passing on the disease to their unborn children. It also pays for seeds, fertilizer, gardening tools and school fees in a drought-stricken village in northern Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world.

"AIDS is such an enormous problem, but you can kind of look at the angels and say this is actually something that you can do, and it takes away the feeling of helplessness," said Mary Bomford, a special-education teacher from Saanich who, with husband Larry, administers the Malawi arm of *AIDS* *Angels*.

The angels project started in 2000 after Victoria residents Vic and Lorraine Parsons travelled to South Africa and saw the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS. "I just said, 'We can't go back and forget about this, we have to do something,'" said Lorraine, who is with the provincial Child and Youth Officer.

That something became the angels. Friends in Ottawa, who were also on the trip, founded their own branch. Victoria raised a modest $900 in its first year. But tireless volunteers, such as organizer Anne Lowan, soon came on board. Lowan began promoting the angels in capital region stores.

Last year, the angels raised $36,000.

The effort involves hours of behind-the-scenes labour at monthly craft parties. About 5,000 angels were glued, painted and given traditional African names last year. During the busy Christmas season, angel-making becomes a weekly affair.

"Some days it's just like magic, and the most interesting people turn up," said Bomford.
Expenses are around five percent of total money raised, said Bomford. About 25 cents from each $5 angel goes to material costs, she said. The organization is run entirely by volunteers.
Its success has surprised even its founding members. As donations continue to rise, organizers are beginning to talk of partnerships with non-governmental organizations such as the Stephen Lewis Foundation to ensure all the money raised in Victoria finds its way to Africa.

Their influence has already spread to sister groups in Winnipeg, Smithers, Powell River, Pender Island and Toronto. There is also interest from Hawaii, Uganda and a women's prison in Seattle.

Saltspring Island's Garden Club now sells angels. Its Seeds for Malawi program has raised $14,460 since 2003 for the same Malawi village as Victoria's *AIDS* *angels*. Together, Saltspring and Victoria help more than 60 families directly, as well as provide maize crops and food for others in the village.

"I think that's one of the greatest things about this is not only the phenomenal exposure in Victoria, but also the expansion in other parts of the world," said Vic Parsons, a retired Canadian Press reporter.

"It shows people want to help and they just need something simple to do to help," added wife Lorraine. "People are so generous, and I really believe that."

Times Colonist reporter Rob Shaw is currently travelling to the Malawi village supported by the Victoria *AIDS* *Angels* and to the country of Tanzania, on a fellowship from the Jack Webster Foundation and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

No comments: