Daisy Gale doesn’t take any guff and is a straight shooter or should I say straight quilter? About her trip to work with children at the ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali Rwanda, she says, “I’ve been trying to get here for sixteen years. Four of my children are adopted. I look at the kids I’m working with here and they remind me of my own. They can be a pain in the butt, but I love them to pieces.”
Daisy, a Salt Lake City mother of eight “that look like the United Nations” and master quilter, has been volunteering all of her life and quilting since she received her first 1928 White from her grandmother at the age of fourteen. Along with a team of medical personnel, trauma specialists from the Association for Thought Field Therapy and community organizers, Daisy ventured to the other side of the globe to share her skills with some of the 150 children who call ROP Center for Street Children their home. Most of the children at El ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) are survivors of the 1994 genocide or their parents died from the AIDS pandemic.
For almost three weeks Daisy worked day and night to set up a quilting program for some older students, who would soon be leaving the orphanage and have no other means of support. The beginning days were challenging, as many of the machines were broken or malfunctioning and some of the young men “had no idea what they were doing,” Daisy says, “but they took in everything I said and were determined to get it right.” She taught them the basics of machine maintenance, safety, cutting, sewing, block assembly, sashing, applique, color use, hand quilting, as well as how to infuse their personal creative genius and design. “I swear,” she says like a proud mother, “that these young men’s quilts will become collector’s items.”
She and her students also went on a fabric safari, “which was a trip in itself,” Daisy snickers. “With all that finagling and bargaining, they were yelling and screaming as much as I do back home on the soft ball field!” Their persistence paid off when they found a shop in the capital (Kigali) to buy natural inexpensive one-hundred percent African cotton fabrics and arranged an ongoing relationship with that supplier.
“Each of these young people have their own strengths,” Daisy states. “One is good at cutting, another at design and yet another at sewing. Language is our biggest barrier, even though Marseilles is a great translator. I have people taking the class that speak Kinyarwanda, French and Swahili and Marseilles can speak them all!” She claims that the boys have their idiosyncrasies and quirks, “But who doesn’t,” she laughs.
Daisy helped set up bank accounts for the children, taught them how to manage their business and connected them with another quilting teacher from Kigali, who continued their quilting education. Other women from The U.S. (including Suzanne Connolly and Dottie Webster), also play a major role in supporting and marketing the young men’s quilts. “They’ve already sold several at Hotel Rwanda,” states Suzanne Connolly, “and have had buyers in the U.S. who want to buy everything they make.”
“I’m hoping what I took away from there and what I left will keep going,” says Daisy. “If these young men and women leave the orphanage without any skills, they’ll end up starving and being back on the streets in the same position they were before they got to ROP.”
“This entire project was the result of an idea by Sandra Bagley, who used to be the medical officer for the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda,” says Daisy. “Sandra helped me adopt my kids and asked if I could teach the children at ROP how to quilt.”
“I don’t care if people know anything about me,” Daisy clarifies, “I want people to know that it doesn’t matter if it’s these kids or somewhere else. It doesn’t matter how much you get involved or where, just get involved! Give a little each paycheck; donate time and/or energy. You don’t have to travel overseas. Go ahead and get your hands dirty.”
Daisy Gale not only got her hands dirty, she got her heart split open every time she saw one of the boys faces light up with understanding or they did something that reminded her of one of her sons back home. Like most languages, the word “mama” is the same in Kinyarwanda (the native language of Rwanda). Daisy Gale has now added to her Utah family of eight and become Mama to a new generation of Africans she birthed into the quilting world.
If you would like to contribute to this project please contact The Rwandan Orphan’s Project.