Charitable Sewing Program at Phoebe Allentown Help Young Women in Africa

Sechler finishes some of the pads.

By Lynann Everett. Phoebe Ministries News.

“It’s proven that cultures who respect women do better — socially, financially, politically,” says Dorothy Sechler, retired teacher of 35 years and “captain” of The Marion Dawson Charitable Sewers at The Terrace at Phoebe Allentown (Pa.). Carefully ripping the seams from a donated fitted flannel sheet, Sechler passionately explains why ensuring young women in Africa get an education is so important and how this sewing club helps make that happen.

Initiated in 2021 by Marion Dawson, a former independent living resident of The Terrace, the sewers meet every Tuesday to create kits for the “Dignity Program,” which offers washable, handmade menstrual pads to young women in African countries as a way to help them manage their periods which, in turn, helps to keep them in school. Created by Little Dresses for Africa (LDFA), a nonprofit Christian organization whose intiatives include clean water, primary education, and community well-being, especially in remote villages in African countries.

Some of the many thank-you cards the group has received.

Dawson’s sister, Verna Rapp Uthman, a former United Church of Christ Non-Governmental Organization representatives to the UN, had discovered the LDFA organization and told her sister. Dawson brought the program to Phoebe. 

Unfortunately, Marion Dawson passed away shortly after the program began, but her friends and neighbors continue her meaningful work. Since 2021, they have made more than 11,000 washable sanitary pads for what is referred to as the “sani-panti” sewing project. 

“We create the fabric kits and take them back to our apartments to sew the layers together,” explains Linda Luskus, a retired teacher of 23 years and founding member of the sewing group. Each pad has three absorbent layers of cotton quilt batting and a barrier fabric layer, all covered by cotton fabric. “People donate funds and fabric to us,” she adds. 

Reiko Summers cuts fabric.

Inspired by the desire to help ensure young women receive an education, this dedicated group also enjoys the time spent together. “We like to visit and work alongside each other,” says Reiko Summers, a longtime member.

“Education is so important,” says Sechler, who also volunteers in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program at the Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley, Pa. “So is staying active and giving back to my community.”

This amazing group of women, all in their 80s and 90s, are helping to inspire young women halfway around the world to make their own history — just as many of them have done and continue to do in their story-rich and compassionate lives.

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