When Ola and Dave Willis were called to serve a humanitarian mission in Albania they mentioned in an e mail to Peter Slattery, a member of the Northampton Stake Presidency, about the poor conditions there. The stake presidency then asked if any Relief Societies in the stake could assist with a service project.
As humanitarian missionaries for the Church Elder and Sister Willis’ purpose was to find organisations and individuals who were already working with the poor and needy. They identified ways to support and strengthen these organisations so that their capacity is expanded. The overall aim was to relieve suffering and foster self-reliance for families of all nationalities and religions.
Elder and Sister Willis requested the following items:
“Small children in hospital for chemo need woolly hats to keep little hairless heads warm. The Therapy hospital has children aged 0-6yrs with various handicaps such as cerebral palsy, autism so educational items such as matching games, stacking games, puzzles, lacing cards, beads, books and games that teach numbers, colours, shapes, animals or can stimulate conversation between therapist and child. All children in schools, hospitals and orphanages would benefit from art items, colouring books, pencils, crayons, writing books, drawing books, lift the flap books, books with mainly pictures and few words (due to language) etc.”
As a stake Relief Society we thought that by sending items to Albania this would be a great way to not only support Elder and Sister Willis on their full-time mission but also to reach out to those who desperately needed basic items that we can so easily take for granted. Several wards got involved, like Milton Keynes and Bletchley who made hats and knitted goods for babies but the main contributor was Huntingdon, which was the Willis’ home ward. The sisters of the Huntingdon ward donated many items from the list which enabled 28 education packs, 30 newborn packs and nearly 40 hygiene packs to be boxed and sent to Elder and Sister Willis in Albania. There were also a number of small gifts for Christmas and a box of teddies. All the left over bits and pieces were used to make complete packs that were passed to the Primary children to create Christmas stockings for a local women’s refuge in Huntingdon.
Elder and Sister Willis were amazed and so grateful for the donations by the sisters, 'Distributing the gifts sent by the stake was a highlight of our mission. Every single gift was greatly appreciated and benefitted the lives of many individuals. Most of the school kits went to the children at an orphanage, but we also helped a very poor family with 4 children who lived near our apartment who all attended school but their schoolbags were completely empty! It was lovely to see the children's smiles but also humbling to witness how glad they were at receiving a few basic items for school. Newborn and hygiene kits were given to mothers in the maternity wards most of whom were very poor, and the staff at the unit with the abandoned babies were happy and excited as they tried on the little hats and booties the sisters had made. The larger hats went for very sick children in hospital. Always, people looked at our badges with the name of the Church on, and it was a pleasure and privilege for us to be able to explain that these donations had been prepared by women from relief society in England, and they were just amazed and touched that complete strangers would be so kind.'
As I watched the project from start to finish, I was touched by the incredible effort of our sisters and I’ve no doubt it changed lives. As we engaged in the work we were filled with the pure love of Christ for people whom we would never meet but could still feel connected to.