How one woman's vision started Hands of Hope

One woman's vision to enlist her Barrington friends and neighbors to work to improve the conditions of women and children in Africa continues to drive volunteers involved in Hands of Hope.

Its members are the backbone of the Barrington Garden Fair and Marketplace, now in its 18th year, which takes place Friday and Saturday, June 15-16. Over the years, the expansive event has raised $7 million to improve living conditions, in Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Zambia.

It was back in 1999 that Vicky Wauterlek visited Nigeria and learned about the devastating conditions affecting women and children due to the cultural practice of early childhood marriage.

The pregnancies that followed - in children as young as 11 - can result in a debilitating physical condition called vesico vaginal fistula (VVF).

"When I saw that, I thought, I'm going to go home and tell the women in my community what we just saw," Wauterlek says, "and we're going to do something to help."

With the success of the garden fair over its first few years - and heightened visibility of their foundation's mission - Wauterlek and her volunteers were able to fund a hospital addition for the surgical repair of women with VVF in Jos, Nigeria.

Additionally, over the last 10 years, the foundation has built more than 100 wells that provide clean water to rural areas in Africa. They also have built three schools to expand education efforts and two clinics to make health care accessible.

Most recently, the foundation is working to promote self-sustaining projects that encourage health and economic development for communities in Zambia.

Wauterlek describes the garden fair as the foundation's "signature fundraiser." Its marketplace alone draws more than 100 people each year to purchase special "early buy" tickets in order to get exclusive, pre-fair access to the goods available in the marketplace.

In addition to its remarkable fundraising capacity, the foundation and its compelling cause has drawn more than 250 volunteers to work for the global cause.

"All of the money we raise," Wauterlek adds, "goes directly into all of our projects in Africa."

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