Surgical Success Stories - #162, #163, #164

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This is Endashe Wajage, a widow who has delivered nine children, five of whom are living. She has had prolapse for 6 years and now she is on the road to wellness. We are so grateful to our sponsors.

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This is Tayome Godilo. She has had prolapse for 13 years and is a widow who has been pregnant eight times and delivered 7 children. Thank you for helping her!

 

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This is Maskale Chonda. She is married and has delivered seven children, five of whom are living. She has suffered from prolapse for three years. Because of our wonderful MWAHFE donors, Maskale is on her way to health again!

Ethiopia Trip: The Soddo Diaries

 The women at the Spice Grinder project take hospitality to a new level.

The women at the Spice Grinder project take hospitality to a new level.

Spice Grinder

It's not often you pull up to an appointment to see 30 women welcoming you with song and dance. But that's a given when we visit our Spice Grinder project in rural Wolaita. This group is a force of nature, full of ambitious and energetic women who are determined to make a change in their lives and in their community.

Several years ago, Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia (MWAHFE) provided the capital to buy a grinder, the building to house it, as well as entrepreneurial training so the women could launch a business grinding grains and spices. Our organization also bought a weigh scale, two donkeys to transport grain to market, and tools and equipment to farm the land around the spice grinder compound.

"We have always followed that hope you gave us," one member of the group told us. "We have become a model for other women in the area."

We were again able to offer WRAPS (washable, reusable, affordable pads) kits, and the accompanying health training, to the group during our visit. Last trip, the women were overwhelmed to receive those reusable pads. "You not only care about our outsides, you care about our insides, too!" they told us gleefully. We heard this year that other women in the community are pushing to join the Spice Grinder project so they can get in on the reusable pads!

 Nigate, one of the leaders in the Spice Grinder project.

Nigate, one of the leaders in the Spice Grinder project.

Of course, these sorts of projects aren't without challenges. The women told us during our most recent visit that they need more training to feel confident using and fixing the grinding machine. They also said they'd benefit from more education on how to run a business. Our board will be considering the options for further investment in the Spice Grinder project.

But in the meantime, the group came up with another venture. Since the grinder was purchased, the women have been socking their proceeds away in a group savings account, but not touching the funds. In the last year, they've decided to take out 1,000 birr loans (about $50) to help launch small businesses. Most of the women use the funds to buy butter and coffee, which they sell at the market. One woman can take out a loan at a time, and must pay it back - with 100 birr ($5) in interest - over six months. 

All the members also strive to save between 10 and 20 birr each month to contribute to the group pot.

We're so inspired by their resourcefulness and dedication to the savings group. (Oh, and their dance skills, obviously).

 

WRAPS

Imagine staying home from work or school just because you have your period. Or using leaves and dirty rags instead of hygienic products. That's a reality for some women and girls in Ethiopia. And that's why we're so pleased to have donated, with your help, enough money to distribute 1,000 washable, reusable, affordable pads (WRAPS) last year. Along with a WRAPS kit, which includes eight pads, a wet bag, and underwear, girls receive education about the female reproductive system and training on how to use and reuse the washable pads. 

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Allison Karnes is the lead on this project, and she proudly declared the pads "the best in Africa!" when we visited with her workers in Soddo in June. That's another rewarding offshoot of the WRAPS program - the women who are employed to make them! 

Aynalem has been there since the beginning, when there were just three women working diligently to create a reusable pad that would work, hold up to frequent washings, and be comfortable. Now there are nine full-time workers and nine sewing machines in their office.

 Aynalem, manager at WRAPS and a soon-to-be college graduate.

Aynalem, manager at WRAPS and a soon-to-be college graduate.

"Before we are just making a small amount of WRAPS. Now it's a huge amount," Aynalem told us.

She's not kidding. WRAPS has an order of 5,000 kits to fulfill for an NGO by the end of the summer. That's a lot of pads!

And in a few weeks, Aynalem will mark a very special milestone of her own. She's graduating with a degree in accounting from a college in Soddo. She completed that program while also raising two kids - a three-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl.

All of the women in the WRAPS program go to school, some in younger grades because they were never afforded the opportunity for education as children. But most attend school at nights and on the weekends while working full-time at WRAPS.

Aynalem said it's been exciting to see the venture grow and blossom.

"I used to use disposable pads. For three years, we are using this. That makes me very happy."

 

Girls Gotta Run Foundation

Running, singing, learning, quality time with the MWAHFE paparazzi . . . we covered all the bases during our time with the athletic scholars at Abba Pascal Girls School.

Our organization sponsors 26 young ladies in the Girls Gotta Run program, which uses running as a tool to empower girls, increase access to education, and break cycles of poverty and child marriage. 

 The Girls Gotta Run athletic scholars did a mini-practice, despite a rainy day and muddy field, to show us some of their training and drills.

The Girls Gotta Run athletic scholars did a mini-practice, despite a rainy day and muddy field, to show us some of their training and drills.

It's nothing short of awesome to see these girls in action. We got to catch a quick practice, and aside from their obvious athletic skills, it was really special to see the friendships and connections that are built through the team. 

Creating a support network of peers is one of the crucial goals of Girls Gotta Run.

 Betelhem Tegegn and Fidelphia Tamirat.

Betelhem Tegegn and Fidelphia Tamirat.

"I'm beyond happy to be in this program," said Betelhem Tegegn, a 15-year-old student who just finished Grade 7 and her second year as an athletic scholar. "I have learned a lot, but mostly how to communicate. Before, I was shy and didn't have any friends. Now I am making friends."

The girls build confidence, running skills, and are enjoy team meals after practice. They also benefit from life skills training that tackles tough topics like safe relationships and self-esteem.

"Before I got in this program, I used to think there were some tasks females can't do," said Fidelphia Tamirat, a 13-year-old athletic scholar. "But now I get self-confidence. I feel proud of my gender.'

 

Prolapse Uterus Surgeries

We had the incredible privilege of speaking with four women recovering from surgery to treat a prolapsed uterus last week. It's a common condition for women who have had a child (and many Ethiopian women have had six, seven or eight pregnancies, though all the children may not have survived).

But in areas where medical care is difficult or impossible to access, the condition can drag on for years. Most of the women we've spoken to in previous years didn't know what was happening to their bodies - they just knew something was very wrong. In an intensely private culture, it's not unusual for a woman to keep those concerns secret, not even telling her friends or family.

There are degrees of prolapse, but in the most severe cases, the uterus actually protrudes from the body. Not only is that incredibly painful and scary, it also causes incontinence and makes walking - and living normally - very difficult. Many women who suffer from the condition in rural areas are isolated, hidden away from their communities because of the shame, stigma and smell.

We were so heartened this year to hear the four women who were treated for prolapse had heard from their neighbours and friends about the solutions offered at rural health clinics and at the Soddo Christian Hospital, where Dr. Mark Karnes uses our funds to treat prolapse patients. 

Several of the women had communicated their struggles to one another, and one woman had even told her son. It may not seem like much, but to us this represented a real sign of progress. If women are able to open up to one another about these concerns, it's more likely that they will find out about the health care options available to them, even in very small and rural areas.

"A couple of mothers that I knew already had the surgery," Ayelech said. "If I come across any other women (who have the condition), I will let them know," she added.

Even a day after surgery, recovering in hospital, these four patients were over the moon about the procedure and the difference it would make in their lives.

"I am so happy. I'm better now," Gaule said from her hospital bed. "Now I can do anything I want."

Several women were running their households, taking care of children and even doing intense labour like farming to support their families - all without any treatment for their prolapse.

It's almost unbearable to think about those conditions and the pain these women must bear, both emotional and physical. Surgery to correct a prolapse uterus is only $325. So far, we have funded more than 160 surgeries. 

The cost is reasonable for most Canadians, but out of reach for the Ethiopian women we spoke to. These women have spent years with untreated prolapse. 

"Because of you, I'm feeling much better now," said Bature, another prolapse patient who was recovering in hospital when we sat down for an interview.

"Now I can be normal. I won't be ashamed."

Surgical Success Stories - #157 to #161

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This is Gaule Gasho, a widow who has delivered six children. She has suffered with prolapse for three years. She underwent a hysterectomy and as well as anterior and posterior repair sponsored by MWAHFE.

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Mamite Dopiso is also a widow and also suffered from prolapse for three years. She had a large cystocoele and rectocoele. She underwent anterior and posterior repair.  She has delivered four children and two are living. 

 

 
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Say hello to Barare Fathamo, also a widow. She has been pregnant seven times and has five living children. She underwent a Le Fort Colpocleisis she had suffered from prolapse for two years .

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This young woman is Ayelech Shimale. She is married and has delivered eight children. All of her children are living and the youngest is seven. She has suffered with prolapse for one year. She does not want anymore! She will have a vaginal hysterectomy and anterior and posterior repair sponsored by MWAHFE.

 

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Please meet Damore Dangamo who has delivered 10 children and seven are still living. She has suffered from prolapse for three years. She is from Kido which is far from Soddo. She also was noted to have a large ovarian cyst which was able to be removed. Thanks for helping restore her dignity!

Ethiopia Trip: The Power of Soccer


So while it may seem like “just” soccer, it’s also about a lot more.

by Megan Stacey

For a Canadian kid, playing soccer seems pretty simple. In the community we just visited in eastern Ethiopia, it’s something much bigger.

We’re in Harar, in the eastern part of the country, and home to our two sponsored soccer teams. It’s a newer project for us, and it was our first time meeting these powerhouse girls and their coaches.

Yesterday we watched as teen girls – and some of their family members – cried after losing a Saturday morning soccer game. And it was our best day on the trip so far.

There are fifty incredible young women on two all-female soccer teams, and not only are they amazing soccer players, they’re kind and ambitious and resilient people, too.

These girls are facing incredible odds.

Many of them come from families and communities where there isn’t enough to eat.

Some are trying to bring in income to help sustain their parents and siblings without foregoing their own education and soccer dreams.

A few of the kids on these teams don’t even have homes. Today we visited with a family that lives under an abandoned truck on the side of the road. There are two soccer-playing daughters in that family, and another two girls that spent their days there because they have nowhere else to go.

So while it may seem like “just” soccer, it’s also about a lot more.

“Soccer gives a break for all of us,” said Melat Melion, a 13-year-old player from Harar. When we spoke with Melat and asked why she likes soccer, she talked about the feeling of love and unity and cooperation that she feels as part of a team.

Melat wants to be a doctor when she grows up. But she also has dreams of playing soccer at a higher level.

Female sports teams, especially for young people, aren’t a given in Ethiopia. When we watched the teams face off in a Saturday morning tournament, I wondered if I was making too much out of the female empowerment angle.

But the girls felt it too.

“We showed everyone that what the boys can do, the girls can do too,” said 13-year-old Bemnit Adisu.

We saw such determination and commitment and feistiness from our teams (I guess this may explain all the tears from the losing team). They were absolutely devastated. Even the brother of one player sat in the stands bawling. (By the way, we resisted the Canadian tendency to just bring two trophies and declare them both winners, but we did tell the girls on the yellow team how well they played!!)

Watching the girls celebrate their victory was something else. After an appropriate amount of shrieking and cheering and kissing the trophy, the entire team ran running off the field and out the stadium gates, singing and pumping the trophy overhead.

We were later told they ran their celebration onto the main street to show off the win and the hardware.

There was a quieter success that struck me just as hard. As the girls battled it out all morning, there were boys of all ages sitting on the sidelines and in the stands watching the game and screaming their heads off.

I asked Tsehinashe Mitku, another 13-year-old player, whether she noticed or cared about all those male spectators – the ones who are usually on the field.

“When we saw the boys watching, we felt there is no difference between boys and girls,” she said.

In a world where little girls grow up watching men who are given the chance to wear the national flag on their chest or the opportunity to turn a love of sports into a career, seeing our girls spill out onto the field as their community cheered them on seemed like a pretty big win.

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Ethiopia Trip: Fistula Hospital

They bring back their dignity.

It only took us 15 months and two trips across the world, but we finally made it to the remarkable Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.

You wouldn’t believe how disappointed we were in 2017 when we pulled up to the hospital gate to find out we had missed the tour day.

We finally got a peek inside this week, and what we found was both incredibly sobering and inspiring. Hundreds of women are treated at the hospital every year for fistula, a condition that develops after a long and obstructed labour – we’re talking three or more days spent straining to deliver a child, usually without medical care – and causes severe urinary or rectal incontinence.

Ethiopian government health officials estimate that close to 40,000 women across the country are suffering from fistulas today. Another 3,000 develop the condition every year.

As if the pain, discomfort and fear isn’t enough, women who have fistulas are often desperately ashamed and isolated. Without access to medical care, women who suffer from the condition in rural areas are often ignored and ostracized – even by their own families – because of the smell.

 Val, Shelley and Megan with Zenebe Mesfin, Fistula Hospital Chaplin and our tour guide.

Val, Shelley and Megan with Zenebe Mesfin, Fistula Hospital Chaplin and our tour guide.

“Women would be abandoned at the hospital doors because people thought it was a curse,” Zenebe Mesfin, the hospital’s chaplain, told us on our tour.

It was the same reality that greeted Dr. Catherine Hamlin and her husband, Dr. Reg Hamlin, both gynecologists from Australia, when they arrived in Addis in the 1950s to start three-year contracts in the capital city, Addis Ababa.

That dream led to the Fistula Hospital – known by those who have read Catherine’s books as “Hospital by the River” – now a global foundation that raises funds to support the surgeries and medical care, not only in Addis but at five regional hospitals around Ethiopia, plus a midwifery clinic that trains medical students from rural areas.

(Our amazing volunteer Tracy even reviewed the book on our blog! Check out that post here.)

The Hamlins opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974. It was the first modern-day hospital focused on treating obstetric fistulas.

Zenebe told us it was one of the only charity projects run by foreigners that remained under the Derg, after a high-ranking official toured the facility and saw the overwhelming need.

 Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital

And it remains an active hospital today. We saw so many parallels between the work done at Fistula Hospital and the life-saving surgeries to treat prolapsed uteruses that we fund in Soddo.

Mothers has donated thousands to that project – enough to provide medical care and transportation for more than 150 women. In a series of emotional interviews on the last trip, patients at a rural health clinic told us about the impact of the prolapse uterus surgeries.

Most of those women were hidden away in shame and fear. They lived with unbearable pain and an awful smell that was humiliating. Some of the women’s partners abandoned them or forced them to have sex despite their condition.

The prolapse surgery recipients told us they felt like completely new people after they were treated.   

In the same way, the Fistula Hospital seems like something of an oasis for women who have been through unbearable pain. And we’re not just talking about labouring for five, six or seven days in a remote village or suffering through embarrassing incontinence.

Zenebe told us that their youngest patient was four years old. She had been raped.

The hospital regularly treats girls that are 12, 13 and 14.

 Val takes in the beautiful gardens on the grounds.

Val takes in the beautiful gardens on the grounds.

But the property is peaceful and beautiful, lush with green grass, flowers and shady trees (it probably helps that we’re here during the rainy season!). Catherine brought flowers from countries around the world, and the beauty of the hospital grounds were an important part of her vision.

“She believed this beauty was part of the treatment,” Zenebe said as we walked through the hospital property on meticulously cleaned paths and took in the trees, flowers, and landscaping.

The goal at the Fistula Hospital is holistic care, treating not just physical issues, but also addressing psychological health with a focus on reintegration for women who have been hidden away and borne the burden of stigma that comes with female healthcare issues.

“The women feel life is meaningless. ‘I am useless, no one needs me,’” Zenebe told us. Women who can’t go back home can also spend time in what’s called the “Joy Village” where they learn income-generating skills and receive seed money to launch their own small businesses.

Patients that leave the hospital are presented with new clothes and new shoes, which Zenebe said is a symbol of new life.

“That woman (who is discharged) is a completely different one,” he said.

Like the prolapse surgeries, treatment at the Fistula Hospital gives women a new lease on life. Zenebe and the rest of the staff – many of them former patients – see that on a daily basis.

“They bring back their dignity," he said.

Ethiopia 2018: Meet the Team

Editor's Note: Due to safety concerns, we had to adjust our travel plans for the 2018 trip. The post below has been edited to reflect that new reality.

Only a few days until we load up a trailer with a big pile of suitcases and set off for the airport. We're going to Ethiopia! 

This year a group of three volunteers are headed to East Africa. We go to Ethiopia about every year or two to check in on those programs, ensure our funds are making a difference, and to share some of the incredible stories that we see and hear. 

We wanted to give you a chance to meet the folks who are making this journey and hear about their goals for the trip.

Introducing our 2018 team!

SHELLEY GREEN: Founder, Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia

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Shelley started this organization after adopting her daughter from Ethiopia eight years ago and witnessing the daily realities for vulnerable women and children. She's been back a handful of times since that first trip, but every time it's an adventure. And there's always something new to learn.

"I hope to gain a better understanding of the Ethiopian people, their culture and how our organization can serve the women and children.  Each time I am there, I learn more about the projects we support and our project partners. Learning more about the people and the culture is a joy," Shelley said. 

She's also eager to get back to all of the people who are involved with our work.

"I am so excited to see the people I love in Ethiopia.  Spending time with the children and the women who benefit from our funds is an absolute highlight."

VAL EASTON: Volunteer and donor

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This isn't Val's first trek to Ethiopia. She was part of the team that travelled there back in February 2017. Pretty much from the moment she set foot in Soddo, Val was hooked. She couldn't wait to go back. For Val, it's all about the people.

"I am thrilled to be able to spend time again with the inspiring people who lead our projects in Ethiopia. It will be uplifting to be with them and to learn more about the progress of our work," she said.

One of Val's favourite experiences last year was playing with the kids at Busajo. These are children who have left home or been separated from their families - often due to financial pressures, like not having enough to eat or needing to work to support their family - and lived on the streets. Busajo is an incredible program that helps to rehabilitate street children and, in most cases, reunite them with their families.

We are counting on Val to keep us cheerful during the long car rides and any stressful moments - her love of music and tendency to break out in song is perfect for smoothing over any rough patches! 

MEGAN STACEY: Volunteer and donor

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Megan is one half of our communications team, and she's on deck to gather all the interviews, photos and videos in Ethiopia. It's the very best kind of "work!"

"It's such a privilege to talk with the Ethiopian people involved with our projects, and an honour to share their stories," Megan said. 

"We often find that the women with whom we speak are willing to be vulnerable and let us in, sharing all kinds of information about their lives and families. We're so grateful for their trust, and we don't take it for granted."

Megan travelled to Addis and Soddo, Ethiopia back in 2017. This is her second trip to Ethiopia. 

Surgical Success Stories - #154, #155, #156

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Please meet Almaz Toma, a married woman from Bucama. She has six children and has been suffering from a large cystocoele and rectocoele for the past nine months. She is so grateful for your help in sponsoring her surgery. 

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This is Lantore Guracha who has four children. She has been very anxious to have her prolapse repaired as she has been suffering for four years. Thank you for helping her!

 

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Say hello to Ezera Enga who has one child. She has had third-degree prolapse for three years and is so happy to have had her surgery sponsored by MWAHFE. 

Surgical Success Story - #153

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Say hello to Astir Lire, a married woman from Hosanna. She had been pregnant nine times and seven of her children are living. She had had severe prolapse for three years and has now successfully undergone surgery!

Since Dr. Mark was taking pictures of Astir, her husband asked if he would take a picture of both them together. So cute! Thanks for making such a huge difference in this family’s life. 

The Joy of Giving: The Story of the Yellow Skirt

Our generous donors are inspired to support Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia projects for all kinds of reasons - a connection to the country, a desire to contribute to sustainable change, the hope of making life better for women and children in Ethiopia. 

And sometimes, the ties are more personal.

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For one of our donors - we're calling her Grace to protect her privacy - hearing about our WRAPS project (washable, reusable, affordable pads) brought her right back to an awful day in her past.

She calls it "the story of the yellow skirt." 

Her family was at the Western Fair in London, Ont. and Grace was wearing her very own yellow dirndl skirt. She had sewn it herself, and she can still remember the simple pattern and round button.

"I was sitting there and all of a sudden, Niagara Falls hits," Grace recalled. Her period had arrived suddenly. When she told her mother, she scolded her for not being prepared.

Grace was just a girl, and she didn't carry a purse, so she didn't have any menstrual products with her.  She resorted to washing out her special yellow skirt in the toilet in a public washroom.

"With toilet paper and brown paper towels, I tried to pack myself so I could go back and sit down," she said. She was wet, she was uncomfortable, and she felt ashamed. 

"I had to lay over my mother's lap on the way home so I wouldn't get the seat wet. When I got home, I was so sore and scalded by brown paper towels. It was just awful. I'll never forget it."

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When Grace read about the young women in Ethiopia who receive a WRAPS kit (those packages include eight washable, reusable pads, a few pairs of underwear, and a lined wet bag for carrying it all) she thought about that day at the fair.

In Ethiopia, many young women are forced to stay home from school when they have their periods. Products like disposable pads are incredibly expensive and can be hard to find, so some girls and women use dirty rags or even leaves instead. 

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"I could relate to those girls not having sanitary napkins. That's when I thought, I can surely give enough for a couple of girls to get the kits," Grace said. "I think it's great to be able to help. I've always been for the underdog, I guess."

She makes a contribution - enough to purchase several WRAPS kits - as a monthly donor for Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia.

"Most people my age can afford $15 a month. Some can afford $30, or even $60!" Grace said.

We're so grateful to Grace for turning her bad day into a reason to help other girls avoid shame and embarrassment around their periods. If only she had known as a little girl that the Story of the Yellow Skirt would help dozens of young women in Ethiopia. 

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What guests are saying about Gems & Java 2018

We are so grateful for all of the people who make our signature fundraiser such a success! There is truly nothing like Gems & Java. There's such a palpable spirit of inspiration and generosity in the room, and of course, it's just plain fun! Even some nasty weather this year couldn't keep our guests away. 

So many ladies are hooked after the first time they experience Gems & Java, so we have lots of veteran guests. But every year, there are also new faces to meet! That's how we like it. And there's nothing better than seeing the smiles and hugs as old friends run into each other!

Gems & Java is the perfect mother-daughter date, a time to reunite with your girlfriends, or a chance to have some fun with your coworkers outside the office.

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And after talking with first-time guest Amy Westwood, we have another suggestion, too - what makes a better birthday present than a ticket to Gems & Java? That's what brought Amy to Gems & Java and we're so grateful to her friend for the fabulous idea.

Experiences are always better than getting more "stuff," right? 

"It’s been great fun. Just how many people are helped by it, that’s the best part," Amy said.

She even found the perfect bracelet to take home as her complimentary piece of jewellery.

And over in the Bags & Baubles, we ran into another rookie guest having a blast.

Julia Fox, who's nine, discovered a lovely necklace with an orange pendant. But she kept adding more great finds to her bag, too!

"The shopping is my favourite part. It’s like a treasure hunt!"

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Of course, many people in Woodstock are veteran guests at Gems & Java. Usually our returning supporters bring new friends to experience the magic! 

"I just think the whole organization and this night is so professional, so phenomenal," Bonnie Hartley said. 

She's been coming to Gems & Java for years, since it was held at Innerkip Presbyterian Church. We've grown quite a bit since then! Bonnie said she loves coming to see what we've added or tweaked each year.

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And it's a fabulous place to make a donation, Bonnie said.

"I love it because you know exactly where the money is going," she said. "Your $200 or $300 here goes ten times further in Ethiopia. The number of people’s lives you can impact is really huge."

We hope you'll come celebrate with us!