BARRINGTON – Area volunteers are celebrating several years of sending hope to a land thousands of miles away.
Each year, Hands of Hope, a Barrington nonprofit, gathers hundreds of volunteers and about 1,500 guests to take part in a two-day estate, garden and shopping tour to raise money for women and children in Africa.
This year’s Barrington Country Garden & Antique Faire will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday in several Barrington area locations. Shuttle buses, departing every 15 minutes from Barrington High School, 616 W. Main St. (Friday), and 800 Hart Road (Saturday), will transport guests to tours of three private estates.
Barrington Hills resident Vicky Wauterlek started Hands of Hope in 1999. Wauterlek has since been dedicated to promoting education, economic development, clean drinking water and health services in Africa.
Having served as the women’s ministries director at the Village Church of Barrington, Wauterlek said her journey in Africa began when she led a group of seven church women on a trip to Nigeria.
“This first trip really opened my eyes to the third-world reality of extreme poverty, childhood malnutrition, a lack of clean water, illness, and little education or economic development,” Wauterlek said.
“I thought women should be able to have a global impact, so we brainstormed as a group to find ways to help,” Wauterlek said. “Sure, we have enough problems in our own country, but there are resources for families to find help. I saw a completely different level of poverty in Africa.”
After gathering more area women, including Claudia Erickson, of Cary, Wauterlek has been able to focus her attention on a very small, remote part of the Western Provence of Zambia.
Hands of Hope has funded about 60 clean water wells in Zambia and 20 wells in Uganda since 1999, as well as one clinic and three primary schools in Zambia. The organization is negotiating for a secondary school to be built in Zambia and is also in the midst of piloting a community garden project where over the course of two years, about hundreds of farm families will be taught simple irrigation, fertilization and planting skills.
Wauterlek said she has already seen a profound change in the area’s living conditions after starting a million-dollar loan portfolio to further economic growth in the region.
“The poor have been able to borrow money to start their own business, babies aren’t dying from malnutrition, men aren’t missing work from illness and women aren’t walking two to four miles – up to three times per day – for clean water,” Wauterlek said, adding that the price of food has dropped about 30 percent in the area ever since Hands of Hope purchased a truck to help transport produce from remote village gardens to local markets.
“Families are now able to put food on their own table and sell what is left over for profit,” Wauterlek said.
Hands of Hope has raised over $4.5 million since its beginning and now generates about $500,000 each year. The idea for an annual Faire fundraiser came from several women who possessed special skills and wanted to help, Wauterlek said.
“Barrington knows how to garden,” Wauterlek said. “I enjoy gardening myself and knew so many people who like working with furniture, cooking, creating flower arrangements, making music – you name it.”
Erickson has been active with Hands of Hope for about five years, having already volunteered in Africa twice. She leaves for her third trip at the end of June.
Hands of Hope built a well outside a school in Mawawa, Zambia, in honor of Erickson’s daughter who passed away from severe juvenile diabetes. Wauterlek said the well now serves 500 to 600 children who had never before had access to clean water during their school day.
Acknowledging the importance of clean water, Erickson said she would not have been able to spend time with her daughter beyond her 10th birthday if she had been born in Africa with her diagnosis.
“The people in these villages live in five-foot huts, on sandy ground, with little access to water,” Erickson said. “They eat mostly corn meal mush and cook outside with kettles.”
Erickson said just $5,000 can buy one well that will provide enough water for a village of 800 people – for a lifetime.
Focusing on a lifetime of self sustainability, Wauterlek said water goes hand-in-hand with education and economic development.
“We work hard to make sure our projects continue into the future,” Wauterlek said. “School are built to educate children for generations, wells will provide clean water to these communities for years, and the loan portfolio will continue to grow the rural economy.”
Hands of Hope organizes several smaller events throughout the year to raise funds for the same mission, Wauterlek said.
Looking ahead, Erickson said she would ideally like to see another town duplicate what Barrington is doing with Hands of Hope or recruit area schools to adopt wells for children abroad.