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Take a fine linen tablecloth and turn it into a well in Africa. Take an 18th century English dresser and turn it into a school for 600 children. Magic? Not exactly. It's just what a group of women in the Barrington area manage to do every year with the proceeds from their Country Garden and Antique Faire. Banded together as Hands of Hope, a nonprofit organized in 1999, they have raised upwards of $250,000 annually for projects that respond to the needs of women and children living in poverty in Africa. Hands of Hope, which has 60 members, including a few men, has spent more than $3 million in Africa since its inception. Funds raised by the core group are augmented by additional funds generated by their teen and young professional boards.
Country Garden and Antique Faire has banded together with Hands of Hope to help impoverished women and girls in small African villages. More than $3 million have been raised for these projects.
It all began when Vicky Wauterlek traveled to Africa in 1998 as director of the women's ministry of the Village Church of Barrington. She saw firsthand the plight of women and girls in small villages. They had no voice, she said. Wauterlek was especially moved by women who needed surgery, not readily available, to repair damage caused by early pregnancies. Some girls were forced into marriage as young as 11 years old.
"I knew that this was a women's issue and that women could make an impact," she said. "I knew the stories would resonate with women, so I told everyone I saw. After that, things happened very quickly and we formed Hands of Hope as a community based organization." All funds raised go directly to the projects, said Wauterlek, founder and president. There is no overhead, no rented office space, no paid staff. All efforts are volunteer. Some 400 volunteers assist with the Faire.
Bargain hunters will love the "Early Buy" ticket on Friday morning. Arrive before the general public and shop the upscale flea market.
"Listening to Vicky, I knew right away that this was for me," said Laurette Grove of Geneva, who joined Hands of Hope eight years ago. "Every nickel goes where it should and Vicky is our eyes on the ground."
In annual visits to Africa to oversee the spending of money, Wauterlek, who is occasionally accompanied by Grove, has seen women, who previously walked six miles three times a day to get water, now able to draw it in their own villages. In the past year, 23 wells have been dug in these forsaken places.
Tour the award-winning potager vegetable and flower garden.
"Imagine having to walk 15 miles to the nearest medical facility with a sick child in your arms," she said. "We are planning to build a clinic that will be accessible to more people." Hands of Hope has made microfinance loans to women to start small businesses. They have given training and technical assistance to farmers and built a training center for AIDS victims and a school for blind children. Their initial project was funding for a hospital wing for women's surgical needs.
Wauterlek described a cooperative venture just completed in Zambia. Hands of Hope bought a brickmaking machine and the villagers made 14,000 bricks and built a new school. The chief (she described chiefs as well educated, well respected members of the community) then went to the Ministry of Education and demanded teachers. Hands of Hope donated books and desks. As a result of a joint venture, 600 children are now being educated.
"We see hope rising in those communities and it is our hands that are helping," Wauterlek said. "When you see the poverty there, you know even the poor in this country are rich by comparison. Those people have no recourse, no avenues by which to get help."
How did the 63-year-old Barrington Hills mother of three get so involved? She is reluctant to talk about herself, preferring that credit be given to all of the committed women. She will only say, "That is where God led me so what was I going to do?"
What she wants everyone else to do is attend the 11th annual Country Garden and Antique Faire in Barrington Hills from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 17 and 18. Three beautiful, private estate gardens are open for viewing. At the third, on a 10-acre estate, there are a number of venues, including an upscale Flea Market, full of donated treasures ranging from antiques to crystal to furniture to jewelry.
This is Grove's area of expertise as she once owned an antique shop. It's a year-long process, she said, to collect items from donors and refurbish them. Among the memorable finds have been a six-foot-tall Continued from previous page MULLERY birdcage, an 1800 rosebud sleigh bed, gilt mirrors and a collection of glass from one donor that ranged from Limoges to Depression era glass. People who pay $35 over the regular admission price of $40, through June 12 or $50 after June 12, will be admitted at 8:30 a.m. Friday. "These early buyers line up and rush in every year," Wauterlek said.
There is also a French Market where vendors sell garden and home décor items. Children's groups provide entertainment throughout the day; food and garden demonstrations are scheduled; and for an additional fee, visitors can enjoy lunch in the garden. One ticket is good for return visits. Shuttle buses run people back and forth from Barrington High School to the event and between gardens. "Come and enjoy the day and leave the driving to us," Wauterlek said.
For more information call: 847-622-5201 or log onto handsofhopeonline.org.
Virginia Mullery is a freelance writer living in North Chicago, IL.