Lanham woman aids Sudanese refugees, others in Egypt

Sisters Gladys Fountain, left, of Bowie and Barbara Davis of Lanham hold crafts made by Sudanese women living in Egypt. Fountain has volunteered to help Davis, whose nonprofit group trains women to make handcrafted products that are then sold in Maryland.
Sisters Gladys Fountain, left, of Bowie and Barbara Davis of Lanham hold crafts made by Sudanese women living in Egypt. Fountain has volunteered to help Davis, whose nonprofit group trains women to make handcrafted products that are then sold in Maryland. (Christopher Anderson/the Gazette)
By Virginia Terhune
The Gazette
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Although fall is just beginning, Barbara Davis already is thinking about Christmas.

The gift of giving for the Lanham resident has taken on a new meaning this year.

Davis, through her nonprofit organization Practical Living Institute, is helping female Sudanese refugees in Egypt and marginalized Egyptian women learn skills that will allow them to provide for themselves and their children. She has been helping to train the women to make hand-crafted products, which she can sell for them in Maryland.

"It's a way for them to start their own little businesses, to become self-sufficient," said Davis, a member and former mission director of the New Song Bible Fellowship Church on Lanham-Severn Road in Bowie.

In June, Davis, through her nonprofit, opened an office and a small sewing factory in Alexandria, Egypt, in which women who have fled war-torn Sudan can make decorated trash baskets, leather pocketbooks, table cloths and other hand-made products.

"It's a place they can come and work," Davis said. "It's their place; it's a safe place for them."

As part of the PLI's Project Destiny program, Davis recently offered the products for sale at the Washington Bible College in Lanham and is planning another sales event at the college on Nov. 12 and 13. The event will offer products made by the women in the program, including decorated pens that say "Merry Christmas" and "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," as well as Christmas place mats and tablecloths, she said.

"There's been so much devastation," Davis said of the Sudan, where many women have been gang raped and forced to leave their homes, some coming to Egypt without their husbands and with children to care for. In Egypt, the only work some of the refugees can get is a job as a domestic servant. Even those who are able to work often don't have enough money to pay for medicines, Davis said.

About a year ago, Davis resigned from her contract job as a systems engineer at NASA in Greenbelt to develop Project Destiny to help women from the Sudan and disadvantaged women in Egypt.

"Some people asked me: Why leave a good paying job? Why not just give money?" Davis said. "But that's not what God called me to do."

Following her passion, Davis traveled to Alexandria in September 2009 and, for three months, worked with more than 20 Sudanese women, offering spiritual counseling and teaching them about the Bible. In January, she brought over teams of American volunteers who helped train the group of women, with the help of translators, in computers, cosmetology and jewelry making, as well as helping them to learn English.

"It's the first time they're feeling a sense of purpose and hope," Davis said of the first group to graduate from the program, which has accepted more women for next year. Davis said that 27 Sudanese woman and 20 Egyptian women were in the first group to graduate from the program.


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