Thursday, December 19, 2013

Trudelle Thomas and Dresses For Girls in Haiti

Trudelle Thomas is an English Professor, an activist and advocate of financial literacy for women. She also has a passion for sewing and a passion for Haiti.

Trudell Thomas
Dresses for Haiti by Trudelle Thomas

Dieula gazes from across the room.  With her bright eyes and shy smile, she looks like a typical eight-year-old.  In truth, she is a house servant who spends her days doing laundry, dishes, and chores.  She is a “restavec”—a Creole term meaning “stay with” that refers to a child owned by a more well-to-do family.  I sponsor Diuela through a group working to end child slavery in Haiti, and know her only from the photo I keep on my sewing table.  Her sweet smile has inspired my neighbor Pam and me to spend many happy hours sewing clothing for girls like Dieula. 
From a news article, Pam and I learned about the struggles faced by children in Haiti. 
 Many children are unable to attend school because they own no clothing but a cast-off T-shirt. Many lost their parents in the 2010 earthquake.  One in 15 works as a restavec.   
Pam and I quickly recognized a way to put our creativity and sewing skills to good use.  We began to make simple sundresses using pillowcases.  Soon we improved the basic pattern and buying fabric:  yellow gingham, pink florals, blue batik, and more.  We haunted fabric stores for good deals and loved the challenge of making a dress pretty and also sturdy enough to hold up to being washed in a rocky creek.  Since many girls own only one dress, we figured our how to make some reversible.  We added ruffles and pockets.  Over the past year we’ve sewn eighty-plus dresses, each one unique.
Making things with our hands is a soulful endeavor that has given us a sense of solidarity with the Haitian people.  We both recall clearly how having a pretty dress in childhood could lighten our hearts. By reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, which tells of Paul Farmer’s inspiring medical work, we’ve gained a sense of the beauty and resilience of the Haiti people through. 
To stay motivated for the long term, we needed some assurance that the clothing was actually reaching people in need, so we linked up with the Restavek Freedom Foundation, based in Cincinnati, where we live.  We were able to visit their headquarters, meet people who work there, and talk about ways to collaborate.  Lauren, our contact person, agreed to keep us updated.  She suggested our dresses needed sturdier shoulder ties, and also gave us the idea of buying panties, hair-ribbons, and lacey socks to accompany the dresses.  (We buy bobby socks and add lace trim.)
Our talk with Lauren also led to the idea of making baby slings for mothers.  In a country with few sidewalks or strollers, slings allow a mother to carry her baby and still have her hands free for shopping and household tasks.  Remembering how much we loved carrying in our own babies in slings, we’ve made 55 baby slings so far.
Sometimes, sitting at my sewing machine, I imagine walking down a road in Haiti.  It smells of sewage and is lined with drab shacks.  Then I turn a corner and up ahead is a group of girls jumping rope.  In their brightly colored dresses they are as pretty as a field of wildflowers.

                                          To learn more, see the Web site for the Restavek Freedom Foundation and read the book Restavec:  From Haitian Slave to Middle Class American by Jean Robert Cadet. This is the book that first brought the problem of child-slavery to world attention. 
We also recommend the wonderful novels by the Haitian writer, Edwidge Danticat, such as Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik Krak.

Rosemary Williams launched Currency of the Heart to inspire readers to “pay it forward” from the heart’s most precious currency. We’d love to hear from you! To share your story or to request permission to republish this blog post, please email

© 2013 Rosemary Williams

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doodling as Currency of the Heart

Doodling as Currency of the Heart
James Garamella - Dyslexic Jazz Doodler

James Garamella and some of his doodles.

The Dyslexic Jazz Doodler shifted his platform from personal doodling to public art. Two pieces of James Garamella's art were on display at the Pequot Library Art Show last weekend. When one piece sold Jim donated the proceeds of the sale to the library.

His doodles, his generosity and his passion for children intrigued me and  captured my imagination. I am interested in the reasons why people give their time and themselves away. Jim's reasons come right out of his childhood experiences in school. 

Jim said, "By fourth grade I was banished to the coat closet, asleep or doodling." It was clear learning was hard for him. His learning style was not the same as the other kids in class. Jim was lost in the school system. Dyslexia and learning styles hadn't yet been defined and there was no help for him.

He found self expression in doodling which has now become his art form. Doodling also became his  personal shorthand. 

After being expelled from two Bridgeport High Schools, Jim went on to develop a successful career as a builder in the city of Bridgeport. He was once invited to speak at a school Professional Day. He expected to speak to a group of seventh and eighth graders but much to his surprise he was assigned to a fourth grade class.   He wasn't sure what to say to them so he asked for a storybook and began to read.  When he finished the story he described his struggle to learn to read. He asked if anyone in the room was struggling with reading and asked for a show of hands. Four little boys sitting at one table looked at each other, shrugged and raised their hands.

Jim spoke directly to those four boys and told them to ask for help when they needed it. He told them not be embarrassed because learning to read is that important.

His passion now is to encourage kids who learn differently. This Saturday he will offer an art experience for children at the Weston Library. He will tell his story and encourage all who come to draw or doodle and then he will frame their creations.

Jim's offering at the library is an example of  what I call spending currency of the heart.

After our interview, he  gave me a gift of this angel print and said "The angel's message is everything will be all right." Be an angel and bring a child to the art event at the Weston Library on Saturday October 26, 2013 at 10AM. All materials and instruction are provided by James Garamella.

 Jim's website is

Rosemary Williams launched Currency of the Heart to inspire readers to “pay it forward” from the heart’s most precious currency. We’d love to hear from you! To share your story or to request permission to republish this blog post, please email 

© 2013 Rosemary Williams

Monday, September 9, 2013

Women's World Summit Foundation

Let me introduce you to Elly Pradervand, she founded the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) in 1991 and continues to guide and direct the daily activities of the organization.   Each year WWSF awards prizes to rural woman leaders for creativity and courage exhibited in their day-to-day life. Since it’s inception WWSF has given $1,000 cash awards to 385 rural women leaders and women’s groups around the world for their work in improving the quality of life in rural areas.

I was privileged to meet Elly a few years ago at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. There she introduced prize award winners to the global audience gathered in New York.  Elly is a Swiss citizen of German origin, an advocate for women’s and children’s rights and educator, mother of two, grandmother of four, and an avid activist for the creation of a world that works for all.

In 1991, compelled by her knowledge of the hazardous and extreme conditions of many rural women’s lives around the world, she founded the Women’s World Summit Foundation to shed light on their contributions to household food security, development and peace. This humanitarian, non-governmental, not-for-profit, Swiss Foundation has attained United Nations consultative status with ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) and is a member of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and DPI (the UN Department of Public Information.

The population that the Foundation serves is invisible to most of the world. When you ask Elly why she is doing this work, she pauses and with an emotionally charged voice she tells this story about visiting a village where the women take her to a field, showed her the rudimentary tools they use to plant seeds to grow the food they need to feed their families.  She recognized that their food security rested on those tools and field. She saw that when she tried to break ground with the tool that was handed to her, she couldn’t dig a hole.  She could not imagine how they could get anything to grow on the rock hard, unforgiving soil.  In that moment she knew she had to do something for those women and their children who have no voice in the political systems and economic environments in which they live.

The second story Elly tells is of a woman she met who walked six hours everyday to get clean water for her family - six hours every day, barefoot in the hot sun, day in and day out. When we hear these stories, see pictures of the women who live in this harsh terrain and learn of their creativity and courage in meeting the challenges of their lives it brings tears and hope and gratitude for women like Elly who respond from the depths of their hearts.

WWSF will honor again ten rural women in 2013 to receive the annual prize for women’s creativity in rural life. Prizewinners will be announced to the media on 15 October - International Day of Rural Women.

The first mission of the WWSF is to empower rural women of the world, bringing their stories to light and acknowledging their creativity as they enhance lives in their communities. WWSF, under Elly’s leadership and guidance, has also co-created in 1995 the World Day for Rural Women-15 October and launched in 2000 the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse - 19 November, which evolved into the 19 Days of activism campaign for prevention of violence against children and youth 1-19 November.  

Elly Pradervand spends the currency of her heart by giving a voice to voiceless rural women and by advocating for better prevention of violence against children and youth around the world by encouraging a transformation of traditions and structures into pathways for equality, non violence, development and respect for human rights. How do you spend your currency of the heart?

Follow Elly and WWSF on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Huffington Post

 Rosemary Williams launched Currency of the Heart to inspire readers to “pay it forward” from the heart’s most precious currency. We’d love to hear from you! To share your story or to request permission to republish this blog post, please email 

© 2013 Rosemary Williams

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Women's Global Mission Network is a perfect example of Currency of the Heart

Sometimes the creation of a movement is a simple as someone saying, ‘This worked for me, why don’t you try it too and if you’d like, we’ll work together’.

Kim Polhemus is passionate about gender equality. As a member of Anglican Women’s Empowerment, she knows she can make a difference in the lives of women globally. This background was the impetus behind Kim starting a Women’s Global Mission group with her friend Kris Cassar at their parish, St. John’s Episcopal, New Milford, CT.

With the success of this group, the idea for replicating the group into a network was born. Women’s Global Mission Network engages the women of the Diocese of CT and creates a platform to partner her faith and her passion for gender justice. She found other women had the same intentional themes in their lives. It is brilliant to connect the dots, create a network, paving the way to enhancing the lives of marginalized women and girls around the world.

A launch event was held in January, 60 women from the Diocese of CT attended. The women received a package of material designed to create and maintain their own parish group. The materials provide ways to gather the women, educate the parish, including action steps and a plan to create a mission focus (for example; girls’ education, elimination of violence against women and girls or the trafficking of women and girls). The format is flexible and allows each group to start at its own comfort level. The material also shares resources that will allow the women within each parish group to come to the same level of understanding about the issues faced by our global sisters.

The Network currently has 10 parishes with active Women’s Global Mission groups. A monthly e-news and Face Book page keep everyone current on what is happening with other groups. The entire network of women will gather 3 times a year to connect, collaborate and support each other.

With the addition of each new parish group, the network is reborn, along with the excitement of new possibilities. If you would like to receive information on starting your own Women’s Global Mission group please contact Kim Polhemus at  

In Kim’s words,” We knew the hope of creating a Network would be realized at our first meeting with the Diocesan Canon for Mission Development by their response and generous offers of help. I’ll never forget walking away from that first meeting. Kris and I were so excited we linked arms, looked at each other and said at the same time, ‘This is going to be BIG!!’

And that prediction is turning out to be accurate. New parish groups have joined the network each month since the launch event was held last winter. The Network currently has 10 parishes with active Women’s Global Mission groups and continues to grow.

Rosemary Williams launched Currency of the Heart to inspire readers to “pay it forward” from the heart’s most precious currency. We’d love to hear from you! To share your story or to request permission to republish this blog post, please email 

© 2013 Rosemary Williams

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kindness Brings Currency of the Heart to Light

Synchronicity is Currency of the Heart

The bright yellow flower in the cupped palms of two hands, on a book cover caught my eye as I walked into J.R.Julia's book store in Madison, CT, in January. Yellow flowers are rare in CT in the winter, even pictures of them. Then I noticed the name of the author, Stephanie Dowrick. She was a class mate of mine at the New Seminary. Stephanie lives in Austrailia and I haven't seen her since our ordination as interfaith ministers in 2005.

Her book arrived in my life right on time. The first Currency of the Heart blog post was scheduled for February 14 and here was a book called Everyday Kindness. It felt like Stephanie was talking to me, saying "Here's a thought. Read this." I did read the book and now I'd like to share a few of her thoughts with you. 

"Kindness drives connection and engagement, empathy and comfort. It is thoughtfulness in action. It is self-respect and concern for others in action. 

Kindness lets you live life to the full. It expresses your gratitude for who you are and what you can contribute.

You can't become kinder to others  without also benefiting yourself. You can't be more genuinely self-supportive without also asking and needing less of others-and benefiting them also. 

Kindness doesn't mean surrendering your boundaries or meeting every demand that comes your way. It doesn't mean becoming a doormat that others can walk over. It can mean being much clearer about saying no as well as yes.  Nevertheless, kindness pushes you to take other people into account constantly, even while it saves you from harming, demeaning or sacrificing yourself.

Kindness helps you physically as much as it does emotionally and spiritually. It keeps you connected. It relaxes. It radically reduces tension and stress. It doesn't depend on status, education or wealth. It doesn't depend on brilliance or age. And it certainly can't depend only on things always going well for you. (Easy to be kind when everything is going our way. Far more to be kind when life is not going our way.)

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Kindness is a way of life and living, depends on choices made and remade on a daily basis."

Rosemary Williams launched Currency of the Heart to inspire readers to “pay it forward” from the heart’s most precious currency. We’d love to hear from you! To share your story or to request permission to republish this blog post, please email 

© 2013 Rosemary Williams