North Charleston quilters return from Ghana after teaching skills to local residents

Gethsemani quilting teacher Virginia Watson of Yonge’s Island poses with an Okurase village elder and the chief’s linguist.

A group of North Charleston quilters returned from Ghana last week after leaving behind donated quilts for newborns and orphans and creating a community quilt with local residents.

The quilt will hang in a school being built by Project Okurase, a nonprofit that connects local residents with those in rural Okurase, a village of about 3,000 people, nearly half of whom are children.

For six years, a dozen local quilters have been creating their wares and then sending them to Okurase so that the youngest of children don’t have to sleep directly on the ground.

The Gethsemani Quilters meet weekly to sew and socialize at the Gethsemani Community Center, a part of the city of North Charleston.

Four of the quilters saved their own money to travel across the Atlantic this month to meet the people of Okurase in person, as well as to teach them the art of quilting and give them donated quilts and supplies from the Lowcountry.

For the African-American women, the journey marked a homecoming of sorts. Their roots reach back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, when hundreds of thousands of slaves were taken from West Africa to Charleston.

While the women were in Ghana, they worked with local mothers to teach them the art of quilting, said Cindy Swenson, co-director of Project Okurase and a research psychologist at MUSC who traveled with the quilters.

“The (Okurase) women were so amazing how they worked diligently and cared for their infants at the same time,” Swenson said. “We hope this morphs into a small business.”

That could make a huge difference in the Okurase women’s lives.

People in their village live without running water. Electricity is available in only a few buildings. Orphans and other vulnerable children live on the street.

Together, the North Charleston and Okurase women also made a community quilt, rich with vibrant hues of blue, red and orange, and dedicated it with village residents and elders.

Meanwhile, the quilters also took a suitcase full of handmade dolls for the village’s children.

“The kids in Okurase went crazy over them because they are more like the kind of dolls that a child in Africa would get — hand made, no moveable parts, no Dora,” Swenson said.



Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.

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