Twenty-seven members of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Arlington County are traveling to South Africa this week on a community-building mission to support children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.
The congregation, based off North Glebe Road, has raised more than $52,000 over the past two years through car washes, a bike race, dinners and other fundraisers to help build a home for six children and a caretaker, or house mother, in Masiphumelele, on the western cape south of Cape Town. This week, the families and individuals from St. Peter’s will deliver seven handmade quilts, build a playground, paint a mural and volunteer in other ways for the orphans and the church’s partnering organization, St. Francis Outreach Trust.
“We are not trying to do a one-off mission. We are trying to develop relationships between our community and their community,” said Anna Fernau, the mission’s organizer. “Obviously, we are trying to support them financially, but it is deeper than that. It is what connects us as human beings.”
Fernau, who used to work in Africa, was looking for a mission in which children and adults from St. Peter’s could be involved. On a trip to South Africa, she was referred to Rear Adm. Robert Higgs, a chief of staff with the South African Navy and a former member of St. Peter’s. Higgs had become a member of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Simonstown. The South African Anglican church had recently started the trust, answering a call from the archbishop to help build foster homes for some of the 2 million children in the country who had been orphaned by AIDS.
The partnership between the trust and St. Peter’s built the first home, which is spacious and light for the children, said Monika du Sautoy, the trust’s chairman.
South Africans, or Xhosas, were hired to build a school, which helped unemployment rates in the area and taught the locals a trade, Fernau said.
“The children grow up in surroundings familiar to them, attend the school which their friends are attending and worship in the community,” du Sautoy said. “It is therefore vital that they have a Xhosa foster mother who speaks their language and is familiar with [their] culture.”
The court system and social services select children to be placed in the home. Another organization, Home from Home, will manage the property and train the house mother, du Sautoy said.
The St. Peter’s congregation wanted to supply the home with something that would have meaning. The 120 children in St. Peter’s Sunday school drew their interpretations of what love meant to them on little squares. A team of more than a dozen seamstresses, quilters and needlepointers from the church sewed the images into quilts.
“I wanted these children, who have lost their parents, in the middle of the night to be warm when they wake up, but also look at these pictures and know they are loved by people from far away,” said Gretchen Ginnerty, who designed the quilt patterns. “If that comforts one child for the rest of our lives, then I think our job is done. If it touches more than one, I think that is wonderful.”
In addition to designing the quilts so that every piece of artwork by the children is framed on a square, Ginnerty also designed the mural that will be painted in the play area near the foster home. The mural will depict St. Peter’s Church under an oak tree with hearts spreading over to the Cape Town side of the mural, where animals drink from a watering hole under a eucalyptus tree, Ginnerty said.
Once the group visits the foster home, they will bring back ideas on how to continue their mission with the home and St. Francis Outreach Trust, said the Rev. Craig Phillips, rector at St. Peter’s. They could work to build another home or help support the existing home until the organization takes over the care, he said.
Phillips said his congregation has a long history of mission work.
“When we help other people, we are transformed ourselves,” he said. “That is really the key.”
Donations can be sent to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, located at 4250 North Glebe Road, Arlington, Va., 22207.