When most people return from a trip, they share photos and memories of parasailing or beachcombing.Sharla Miller tells a story of witnessing a group of men gather at a garbage dump, searching for scraps of meat clinging to carcasses, hoping to reheat them for a meal.Miller’s journeys are far from vacations. She recently returned from her seventh trip to Swaziland, in southern Africa, through the Christian nonprofit charity Heart for Africa. In an effort to fund future mission trips, Miller started her own jewelry business, Designing for Hope, and is planning a trunk show on Sept. 7 to help fund her next trip.In 2005, Miller, 48, of Huntersville, had never heard of Swaziland when her mother announced she was going. She suggested Miller read the book, “It’s Not Okay with Me,” by Janine Maxwell, a story of one woman’s search for the meaning of life in the darkest corners of Africa. Miller listened to a chapter being read online and found herself weeping. Upon further reflection, she decided to go to Africa herself.On Miller’s first visit, in 2007, she planted gardens and delivered clothes but found herself most fascinated by the people and the community. On her next trip, some of those people showed her around – and that was when Miller witnessed the garbage dump, a powerful image that has stayed with her. On the same trip, she met a 16-year-old girl raising her sister.Orphans make up 20 percent of Swaziland’s population, so encounters like Miller’s are common. “That’s the story of this country: Children are literally raising children,” Miller said.On her fourth trip, Miller helped to outfit 400 children with shoes donated by Toms, a shoe company that donates one pair of shoes for every pair it sells. She noticed how she continued seeing the same people and children, trip after trip. She recalled meeting a baby named Mary Jane at Christmas, and the joy she felt when she returned again and got to see her growing up. Miller’s son, Zach, 19, accompanied her on this trip and also forged many friendships.Through the beauty of technology, one young man found Zach on Facebook. When he learned that Zach and his mother were returning for another trip, the man had a request. He loved soccer, and wondered if they could bring him some cleats. It was a wish that the Millers were happy to oblige.“The relationships we’re building are amazing. Before us, no other organization had been there, and we’ve watched the people grow to trust us, and take us in within their community,” Miller said.Miller hopes to continue her humanitarian work, but the expense is high, so she started Designing for Hope. She uses her profits to help fund her trips. On her last visit to Swaziland, she brought supplies and began training some of the local women in the art of jewelry making as part of Project Canaan, a “2,500-acre large-scale land development project being designed by business people to come alongside Africans and bring expertise, resources and heart together to find a holistic solution to a complex set of issues,” according to Heart for Africa.
Friday, Aug. 30, 2013
Artist creates jewelry to fund humanitarian work
Want to help? Sharla Miller will hold a trunk sale of her jewelry 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 7 at The Shoppes at Ashley Carol, 20901 Catawba Ave., Cornelius. A percentage of the proceeds will be given directly to Heart of Africa; the rest will help fund her next trip. For information, go to heartforafrica.org.
Amy Reiss is a freelance writer for Lake Norman News. Have a story idea for Amy? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less