Threading an international bond through quilting, cookies

KINGSTON — One former Kingston resident is inspiring local elementary students, quilters and everyone in between to get involved with international aid.

Brooke Mobley, 33, grew up in Kingston and for the past year has worked as the librarian at the Harare International School in Zimbabwe, a private school in the troubled African nation’s capital. Recently, Mobley joined forces with her mother, Kathee McNeely-Mobley, the librarian at Wolfle Elementary in Kingston, to bring locally donated gifts to orphaned children in Zimbabwe.

“Everybody’s trying to do a little bit to support,” Mobley said.

The support has come in two major forms so far: Blankets and clothes donated by the Kingston Quilt Shop and McNeely-Mobley’s friends, and cookies sent by a troop of Girl Scouts from Wolfle.

The blanket donations began earlier this year, when Mobley visited a hospital in Harare and learned that mothers often take their newborns home wrapped in newspaper for want of blankets.

“That’s a pretty horrifying image to think that your baby’s going home wrapped in a piece of newspaper,” Mobley said.

She contacted her mother soon after, requesting help from the North End community, and was not disappointed.

“I got so many blankets that I didn’t know what to do with them,” Mobley said.

Later in the spring, McNeely-Mobley related some of her daughter’s stories to the kids at Wolfle, and a group of Girl Scouts from troop No. 50243 volunteered to donate a dozen boxes of cookies as a treat for the kids on the other side of the globe.

“They wanted to know how many kids were there and they were figuring out how many cookies were in each box,”

McNeely-Mobley said. “I just think it’s so wonderful that good old American kids, who have so much, are finding out that a cookie means a whole lot.”

The girls decided one cookie per child was not enough, though, and plan to double their donation next time.

Another Wolfle student, fifth-grader Aaron Gumm, heard the story of the newspapers and blankets one day in class and came back the next week with a blanket he had made to be donated.

“It’s not just her and me and my family,” McNeely-Mobley said. “So much of what she is finding out has gone to a bigger audience.”

The blankets and clothes have gone to the Makumbi Mission orphanage, located about an hour outside of Harare. Mobley first visited the mission early this year, when she took some old library books from her school to read and donate to the orphaned children.

“It was the most awesome, amazing but overwhelming experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “These kids were so desperate for snuggles and hugs and just touch, that they were all over me.”

Mobley, who spent six years teaching at Sidney Glen Elementary School in Port Orchard and three years at a school in Shanghai prior to her current stint in Zimbabwe, said the experience of teaching in Africa has changed her perspective on life in the United States.

“When you live in Zimbabwe and you don’t have water for a month, all the sudden showering every day is pretty cool,” she said. “My flashlights are next to my bed 24/7, because I will inevitably use them every week. That’s not even something you think about here. Oh, and trying to take a bath in your swimming pool doesn’t work. I think my dishes got washed in the pool that whole month too.”

Mobley has realized just how lucky she is to be able to return stateside now and again, and to be gainfully employed in a country where the average daily wage is less than $1 and unemployment reached as high as 80 percent in recent years.

“I have a school that I can go get water from,” Mobley said. “But imagine the rural people. They have nothing. And yeah, it’s a pain in the (backside) when my power goes out and I have to turn my generator on and I spill petrol all over myself, but I mean, come on, I’m so lucky.”

That sentiment has hit home for her mother as well.

“She’s changed in a way that has helped all of us to understand what really goes on in other places,” McNeely-Mobley said. “You can read about things in the paper, but until you go there or someone close to you goes to these places and sees, then you realize how very fortunate you are and how much we can help others in a small way.”

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