January marked five years since a devastating earthquake rocked the tiny island of Haiti leaving nearly a million dead. A mere two years later, Hurricane Sandy tore through the land. While the rubble has finally cleared, daily life is still a struggle for those who call Haiti home. In the midst of the overwhelming need, Back2Back has been serving in Haiti since 2012, equipping and empowering children’s homes through a team of dedicated staff, skilled volunteers and child sponsors. Thus far in 2015, Back2Back has sent 14 teams of mission groups (167 people) to work alongside ten local staff for a week at a time. While aspects of Haitian life are still filled with chaos, there are glimmers of hope as God uses ordinary people to elevate the cause of the orphan. Mission trip participants like Heidi Duncan are using their unique talents to serve vulnerable children in unexpected ways.
The room was completely silent as Heidi demonstrated how to thread a needle. It was the first day of sewing lessons. A group of 16 children were gathered around Heidi, listening carefully to each word, committing her instructions to memory.
Pull the thread through the eye of the needle.
Double up the thread.
Knot together the loose ends of thread.
Pull the needle through the fabric.
Now it was their turn to practice. Kenia, only 14 years old, caught on quickly. While some of the children struggled to prepare the needle, Kenia’s movements were quick and confident. She pulled the thread through the eye, wound the tail ends around her finger to form a loop before slipping the loop off her finger and pulling the end through to form a knot.
Heidi patiently encouraged each child, gently coaching the group until all 16 children had managed to sew personalized sashes with badges. The kids chatted and laughed, as one-by-one each child gained confidence and finished their project. The children talked amongst themselves, proudly displaying their finished products and admiring the handiwork of their friends.
That afternoon, Heidi and a team of volunteers worked with a few of the children who were eager to dive deeper. Kenia’s face lit-up when Heidi offered they try a few more complex projects together. Before long, Kenia had gained valuable sewing skills learning to mend pants, make alterations, sew a button, fix a zipper and create a belt.
Beyond practical lessons, Heidi designed an elaborate group quilt project, an opportunity for the children to experience sewing as a creative outlet. Heidi envisioned a project that would foster self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment and teamwork in the children, as they mastered a new skill. Before they began, Heidi shared “each of you has something to offer, a talent to bring to the table.” She encouraged the children to embrace their unique gifts and remember their individual value as they worked together.
“Cooperation was the theme our group studied that week. The quilt project was a tangible expression of this concept, as the children learned to work together to accomplish a common goal,” Heidi explained.
The children worked tirelessly to create a large quilt; each child decorated a square of fabric using stick-on letters and shapes, colored fabric markers and paint and a variety of brushes and sponge stamps. Some children painted flowers, hearts and self-portraits in brilliant blues, reds and purples. Others outlined their hands with fabric markers and signed their name in curly script.
Kelly, the director of the home drew a large red heart to represent family and inside he carefully penned the name of each of the children in his care under he and his wife’s names. He checked the list line-by-line to make sure no one had been forgotten.
“Everyone did something different,” Heidi shared. “Each square came out so unique, which is what we were hoping for.”
That afternoon, Heidi and Kenia painstakingly stitched 24 squares together before revealing the beautiful tapestry to the children. The children couldn’t contain their excitement and jumped up and down, hugging their friends and shrieking.
“The children were absolutely ecstatic to see the finished quilt. They had been having so much fun painting and drawing on the pieces of fabric that I’m not sure they quite understood what the purpose was until it was sewn together. We hung the quilt on the wall and then the children began to appreciate what they had created,” Heidi shared.
For Heidi, a professional seamstress of 20 years with a degree in textile engineering, the project was deeply personal. As she encouraged the children to offer their gifts to God, Heidi experienced what she calls a “light bulb moment.”
“I recognized in myself a valuable gift I could pass on to others,” Heidi shared. “We all have something to bring to the table. I’m honored to have had a chance to use my unique strengths to bless others. All we really need to do is make a difference for one and God will do the rest.”