Chestertown Rotarians

Paul Heckles, Melissa Stuebing and Andy Meehan of Chestertown Rotary Club show samples of cloth created by Zambian women as part of an economic development initiative sponsored by CoLaborers International.

CHESTERTOWN — The Chestertown Rotary Club has received a district grant from the Rotary International Foundation for the work of a local nonprofit, CoLaborers International, performs in Zambia, Central Africa.

CoLaborers supports Chisomo Centers, which works with street youth and children, providing education, counseling and basic care at a day center and family reintegration and boarding school education at an overnight shelter. Chisomo Centers’ efforts include teaching small business skills to mothers to help them support their families. The 60 women currently in this program support 187 children and youth.

Melissa Stuebing, president of CoLaborers International, has been a member of the Chestertown Rotary Club for several years. In the past, the club has supported scholarships for placing Zambian children in schools and other educational initiatives.

When CoLaborers started selling jewelry products made by the Zambian women in the economic empowerment program at Twigs and Teacups in Chestertown, Rotarians Paul Heckles and Andy Meehan looked for more ways to get involved and build on what the women were already doing.

After seeing the beautiful dyed cloths the Zambian women made, the Chestertown Rotary Club wrote a grant request for sewing machines. Between the grant and club donations, the club purchased 10 sewing machines, which will enable the women to support themselves in a sustainable way. CoLaborers was able to purchase an additional four sewing machines through contributions by local donors.

CoLaborers also arranged for local seamstress Tori Neales to do a sewing workshop this fall in Zambia to teach women how to use the sewing machines and to make a variety of patterns and products. Bob Neales, Tori’s husband, will work on a separate CoLaborers project to teach carpentry skills to older street boys.

Chestertown Rotary is asking for donations of thread, pins, needles, bobbins, pillow core, scissors and sewing supplies to send over for the training by Oct. 10. Contact for more information.

Stuebing founded CoLaborers in 2007 when she was fresh out of college. She said in a phone interview Tuesday that she became aware of the value of indigenous nonprofits while serving as an intern in Thailand, while a student at Messiah University in Pennsylvania. “I saw the difference small community organizations led by local people can make,” she said.

Stuebing said she saw that many students, like her, wanted an active role in working for social justice. She saw “a high burnout rate” among those who found their options restricted to fundraising and other less active roles. In contrast, CoLaborers offers an active role in close collaboration with the people the interns are actually helping. At present, the organization is drawing on the skills of students in 15 different disciplines, and several institutions are giving them academic credit for the work.

CoLaborers gives students a chance to work directly with a community organization that is making a difference, she said. The organization assists international indigenous-led community organizations through volunteerism, aid, program development and support. It began working in India in 2009, and has been in Zambia since 2012, Stuebing said.

There are several ways to take a role in the CoLaborers programs, Steubing said. Students can serve as interns, either in the country where the service is needed or from the U.S. Others can help in professional development in their fields of expertise, as Tori and Bob Neales are doing. They may also sponsor a specific student or donate a scholarship.

Twigs and Teacups will be doing a First Friday event at 5 p.m. Oct. 7, featuring the Zambian women’s jewelry and other products.

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