As President of Quilts Beyond Borders, I enjoy talking with curious supporters from around the world and recently received a thought-provoking question about our mission focusing on “under-served children, mainly orphans, across the world to provide a handmade quilt”. So, how DO we choose where to deliver these gifts made with love?
When we were founded, one of the world’s greatest challenges was the HIV/AIDs crisis, and the resulting orphan crisis that was spreading throughout Africa, among other places. Ethiopia had the greatest orphan population in the world with more than 5 million orphans at that time. A visit to the orphanages in that country at that time would have given you a view of skeletal children waiting for death, and those were the children that touched the hearts of our founders and spurred the creation of Quilts Beyond Borders (QBB), because they felt a need to help these children in some way, if only to bring some warmth, comfort and color into their lives for the short times they had left.
I became involved in the second year, because as a new quilter I was running out of relatives to quilt for, and because I had spent my childhood in Ethiopia, so I really wanted to help the people of the country that had been my home for so many years.
We rely on volunteers to travel and deliver our quilts in person and do not use international mail so that we can directly ensure these gifts actually get where they are intended to go. In 2008, economic conditions required that we expand our focus beyond Ethiopia and devise new ways to distribute the quilts to children who needed them.
The next “under-served” area that was selected for our quilts was Haiti, after the earthquake which occurred there in 2010, destroying an orphanage in the mountains there along with many other buildings and institutions in Haiti. After that we partnered with an organization that was providing quilts to victims of the tsunami in Japan. Over the next several years we partnered with many charities, churches and organizations to bring quilts to needy children and orphans in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central and South America. In January of 2013 we made our first deliveries in the US, providing quilts to needy children and elders living in the Navajo Nation.
Political situations throughout the world have caused some areas to fall into our “under-served” definition. For instance, since 2013 we’ve given almost 3000 quilts to children in Syrian Refugee camps in Jordan, Greece and Lebanon through a humanitarian group we work with.
2017 was unusual for us, because the US and world political climate impacted travel plans and preferences of our normal transportation network. With fewer travelers, we focused closer to home while continuing to give quilts to Syrian refugees, Guatemalan newborns, and to orphanages in Haiti. But half of our quilts were provided to needy children and some adults across the United States: Homeless students in Volusia County, Florida; Foster children in Appalachia; Homeless and needy families in Dayton, Ohio; Children and elders living in poverty in the Navajo Nation; Sex-trafficking victims as young as 5 years old; Homeless and bereaved children in Minnesota who have been affected by HIV/AIDs; and Women and children in domestic violence shelters in the Seattle area.
I’ve been asked if we have any requirements that a child be any specific religion or have a minimum grade-point average. I know that we’ve given quilts to children who are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and a lot of other religions. We have no religious constraints and work with both churches and secular charities to get quilts to children in need. And frankly, if a child can’t sleep warmly at night, how are they going to be able to stay awake in school, study and be able to maintain their grades? So GPA is not a requirement either.
Over the past decade we’ve given thousands of quilts to children in 27 countries, including the US. The actual meaning of “under-served” has been rather fluid, simply because conditions in many countries (including ours) change over time. The one thing that has not and will not change, is our passion for spreading comfort, love and hope to those who are suffering. Is the child needy? Do the nights get cold? That’s what counts.