Christmas angels are a common Christian holiday theme … and it turns out Groton is an important hub of angelic activity, not just in December but all year ’round.
Groton School student Lucy Brainard visited Tanzania two summers ago as part of a school-sponsored trip; Groton School students have been making the trek since 2010. The group visited Orkeeswa School, in LaShaine Village, where Brainard met a Maasai girl known as Margaret, a student at the school. “Going into it, I didn’t think we would have much in common, but we have these real, lasting friendships with the kids there,” Brainard said.
Lucy Brainard and friends in Tanzania
Margaret had begun promoting her village’s handiwork after attending a leadership conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. At the conference, she proposed a microfinance project that would help her community. Margaret recognized the appeal of her village’s delicate beadwork, and ultimately launched her initiative.
She asked Brainard and the other Groton School students if they could help broaden her market. She motivated Brainard to spend every school vacation selling beaded angels crafted by the Maasai women of the village.
“I’ve raised about $15,000, but some of that has covered start up costs and other expenses. All remaining money is sent directly to the school. I think I’ve sold about 600 angels and 315 ornaments or jewelry pieces,” Brainard said. As soon as she returned from Tanzania, she started out selling the angels in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where she visits her grandparents during the summer. “I sold 150 angels in one two-hour period,” she said. “I knew the community there was going to do it for me, as well as wanting to help the Orkeeswa School.”
Selling 240 angels allows one child to attend the Orkeeswa School for a year.
This summer, Brainard expanded and sold angels each week at the farmers’ markets in Lyme, Connecticut. With other students who traveled to Tanzania, she has sold the angels during Parents Weekend at Groton School. And she’s moved online — she built a website, orkeeswasangels.wordpress.com, to spread information about the beaded angels, belts, jewelry, and ornaments — and about the cause — and to sell the goodies online.
“I do all of the ordering, managing of inventory, and packaging myself, sometimes with the help of my mom and sister if I’m really overwhelmed. Two recently retired Groton School faculty members are involved in the project too — the Beams have been less involved this year now that they’re retired. However, many of the other Groton students who have gone on the trip in the past bring angels home over vacations and sell them there as well. But all the behind the scenes stuff is just me,” she wrote in an email. Another faculty member, Groton School wood shop teacher Douglas Brown, created wooden templates, so the angels could have a more uniform size and shape.
A few weeks ago, over Thanksgiving break, Brainard set up shop again, selling the angels at a church fair in her hometown of Lyme, Connecticut. Over Christmas vacation, she’ll sell them at a Lyme coffee shop. Three students have been able to attend the Orkeeswa School for the past three years because of the sale of these angels and other beaded crafts.
“I do this project because of the impact the community had on me,” Brainard explains. “They were the most inspirational people I’d ever met — they really never stopped smiling or dreaming.”
More than anything, Brainard loves receiving letters from her friends in Tanzania; they sometimes thank her for supporting Margaret’s project. “Most of them never expected to be given the opportunity to complete secondary school and maybe even university,” Brainard said. “I just want to help my friends go to school, smile, and continue to dream big.”