Ashley Howard Knit-a-thon By: Lisa Crouse

I was fortunate in June of 2008 to travel with my daughter, Christian on a mission trip to Swaziland with the Heart for Africa organization.  Needless to say it touched our lives like nothing else had ever done.

Recently I fell in love with knitting and after mentioning this to Janine and wondering how we could combine my love for both knitting and Heart for Africa, like only Janine and of course God can do, we joined forces with women from all over the world and together we hand-made 25,000+ beanie hats for the orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland.  The Beanies were distributed at an event called Litsemba 2010.

Fast forward to last fall when I learned Becky Fern had TONS of beautiful donated Yarn from Sky Alpaca and was trying to figure out what to do with it! The children will again be coming to Litsemba 2011 so why not another knitting project.  Also our knitting group, known as “knit a latte” on facebook  because we knit at Starbucks every second and fourth Tuesday of the month experienced a horrible tragedy to one of our knitters, Christi Howard when she lost her daughter, Ashley. Both had traveled with Christian and I to Africa and Ashley clearly had a heart for the orphans. Our knitting group was trying to find a way to bring love and support to Christi, so the idea of a knitathon to raise money to feed the children of Africa for the Litsemba event on July 23, 2011 was perfect. We hosted the 1st Annual Ashley Howard Memorial Knit-A-Thon at the Alpharetta Athletic Club.  Over 30 knitters came together to knit scarves and/or shawls and raised over $10,000 to feed the children at Litsemba 2011 and all in the honor of Ashley Howard.

They day was filled with fun entertainment that included yoga, guitarist and comedians! Thanks to Cat O’Neil that not only led us in yoga but knitted with us all day! Thanks to Lindsay Hays another (knit-a-latte knitter) that was instrumental in the success of the event, from getting lunch and dinner donated, two comedians donated and even had her fiance play the guitar and sing to us!!!

Lindsay also put together a beautiful slideshow of Ashley in Africa with the orphans.

My life is so much richer by the opportunities like this that God has allowed me to be part of and the people He has blessed me to get to share it with. Each week new knitters join us and we look forward to the second annual Ashley Howard Memorial Knit-a-thon. I hope you will join us or  have your own Knit-a-thon!

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Book Inspires Man to Provide Blankets to African Orphanage By: Elane Moonier, Staff Reporter

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone reading this article could do something simple that would touch the life of an orphan child in another country?  Well, we can, all of us can, and it is as easy as donating a blanket. A local effort is underway to collect 1,000 blankets in southeast Missouri for orphans in Swaziland, Africa.

Chris Edmonds, President of Element 74, LLC, is spearheading the drive to collect the blankets, and also helping organize a fundraising event, called Celebrate Hope, to be held Saturday, Feb. 27. Edmonds said he became interested in the Heart of Africa ministry after a friend gave him a book to read, titled, It’s Not Okay With Me.

The book was written by Janine Maxwell, who was once a high-powered marketing executive but became a full-time ministry worker after a trip to Africa. She co-founded the Heart of Africa organization, a faith-based, not-for profit charity, which works to provide self sustainable homes for orphans and vulnerable children; providing shelter, food, water, clothing, health care, education and love.

“The book challenged me to make a difference and take action against the situation in Africa,” Edmonds stated.  He pointed out that Swaziland has the highest HIV infection rate of any country in the world, at 43 percent, and has a population of just over 900,000. Of those, 200,000 are orphans, which is over 20 percent of the population. “The AIDS pandemic is decimating an entire generation of adults and is leaving children to literally raise children,” he said.

Edmonds and a team of others from Cape Girardeau will travel to Swaziland in July to deliver the blankets and to work alongside Heart for Africa volunteers. They will be working with the children and helping with an event called ‘Litsemba,’ which translates to mean ‘hope.’

‘Litsemba’ will consist of gathering 15,000 orphans and vulnerable street children into a soccer stadium for a day of  praise and worship. It is also designed to create international awareness to the orphan problem and hopefully get the United Nations and other nations to take action.

One of the goals of Heart For Africa is to build an orphanage in Swaziland. The local event called Celebrate Hope Cape is part of the mission to raise $100,000 for construction of that orphanage. Celebrate Hope will take place on Feb. 27 at The Venue in Cape Girardeau. Janine Maxwell, herself, will be at the event to speak about her first book, It’s Not Okay With Me, and her newest book, Is it Okay with You?

Former President Bill Clinton said this about Maxwell’s second  book: “Is it Okay With You? forces us to ask ourselves do we each have a responsibility to act upon vast inequality and suffering? It shouldn’t be okay with us, because we all have the ability to make a remarkable difference in the future of humanity.”

Also serving on the Celebrate Hope committee is Theresa Birk of Jackson. The orphanage that will be built in Swaziland will be dedicated in memory of her 20-month old son, Jared, who tragically passed away last year.

For anyone who would like to donate a blanket, new or gently used blankets are needed. Dark colors work best and fleece is a great fabric option for the climate. Size is not important, as most of the children sleep on the ground, so the blanket should be large enough for the children to wrap up in it. The blankets should also be clean.

Anyone wishing to learn more about Celebrate Hope Cape can visit the website at www.celebratehopecape.com. To learn more about Heart For Africa, see the website at www.heartforafrica.org.

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How One Teenager Can Change the World By: Riley Ferguson

My name is Riley Ferguson.  I live in Cape Girardeau Missouri and I am sophomore at Cape Central High School. In July 2010, I traveled with my parents and a team from Cape to Swaziland, Africa to serve. I have a true love for children, so I knew that going to Africa would be something that I would enjoy.  I had heard so many stories about how many children are orphaned and left alone. But I never realized the need until I arrived that first day at the local church where we were serving.  The first day we got to our church we learned that a 10 year old girl had just died of HIV/AIDS.  We met her grandmother and went into the hut that the little girl had lived in with her grandmother.  Each day we returned to serve at our church more children came.  The first day we only had a few, the second day we had more and by the third day we had over 200 children there to see us.  I got to teach games to the children and give out clothing that we had brought from home.  Each child was so grateful for each item we gave them. They didn’t fight or argue over what each had and they were so proud of their new belongings.

Because of my service in Swaziland, I was nominated to attend the International Teens Change the World Conference in Taiwan this past December.  There were teens from South Korea, Japan, and Swaziland there.  Each teen had to give a speech talking about what they do to change the world; I spoke about my time in Swaziland.  It was really cool to see what other teens from all around the world are doing to change the world.  I was able to meet many of the students and teachers from the other countries.  It is so cool to have friends from around the world.  The conference was held at an all boy’s high school so one day we got to go in to a couple classes.  School there is so different. There school hours are a lot longer than ours and schooling is very strict. I stayed with a host family whose son goes to the high school where the conference was at.  Each day they made us traditional meals the food was different but good and I got to learn how to use chopsticks! Our host family was so welcoming and even though they didn’t speak English well we knew felt so welcomed, our host mom even cried when we left.

I never would have thought when I went to Swaziland in July that I would end up in Taiwan in December. But God has great plans for us all, even a 16 year old from Missouri.  These experiences have taught me a lot about myself and about other cultures; I had a wonderful time in Taiwan and would love to go back some day.  But for now I will be returning to Swaziland this July to serve at the church I worked at last year. I can’t wait to go back and see all my friends.

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