Artist Laura Fuller Returns From Zimbabwe With “Peace”; Preparing Benefit For Children Living at Orphanage – Planned For Later In May


By Carol McCracken

The lovely stained glass window hangs in the front window of the Fuller Glass Studio as a constant reminder to its owner of where she’s been and where she’s going next January. It’s only been six weeks since Laura Fuller and six Friends returned from their journey to the orphanage, Newstart Children‘s Home, in Zimbabwe.

The large stained glass window, “Free,” was raffled off February 15th and the proceeds were used to pay Laura’s flying expenses to Harare, the capitol of the country ruled by the infamous dictator Robert Mugabe. Laura & Friends left on March 6 and returned to Maine on April 1st. Caron Zand and Don Head won the raffle for the stained glass window and donated it back to Laura; that’s why it hangs in the window of her business Fuller Glass – waiting to be used for next year’s raffle – which began when Laura returned on April 1st.

Laura & Friends are about to announce the premier showing of a 20 minute documentary videoed at the orphanage and put together by Mark Lennon – one of the Friends. The first showing could come as early as later this month at her Hill Studio at 1 29 Congress Street. At the same event, Laura & Friends hope to sell CDs of African songs sung by a small group of teenagers – “Excel”- from the ten year old Newstart. They brought back recordings of the music and are preparing them for sale. The group hopes to have the CDs available for sale at the same event later this month. Laura & Friends were warned not to take any photographs while there or talk about politics and the government because of the risk of arrest and the problems it might cause for Newstart. “We returned with 5,000 photographs and lots of video,” she said beaming. Most of them were taken inside the Newstart compound.

Newstart is a compound of 10 concrete buildings. There’s a nursery that houses 15 babies and there are 80 older children in the dorms. Laura spent her mornings in the nursery changing diapers and getting them ready for breakfast. Then she played with them and taught some of them pre-school activities. Almost all of the children were abandoned because of the death of their parents due to AIDS, said Laura, her feelings very close to the surface during our recent conversation at her Hill studio. “These children are very well cared for,” Laura emphasized. With a small group of local volunteers, “the children have learned to take care of each other. There is a lot of love and singing there. That’s what I like to think about these days. For babies it’s an especially loving place to be. They are plump and well-fed. We’d love to bring the older children over here to be educated in the United States,” she said, mentioning some of the Friends goals.

The city water is polluted and isn’t drinkable so the Friends took with them water filters. They also took cloth diapers which were desperately needed as well as medications for the clinic. The electricity goes off intermittently – often for two days at a time. Among the friends, they took with them 23 bags of supplies for Newstart. Also included in their baggage were 65 backpacks donated by L.L. Bean of Freeport. The Friends left behind most of the clothes they’d worn when they’d arrived in Zimbabwe.

Laura said her parents reaction to the news she was going to Zimbabwe was: “We knew this would happen sometime!” “My tendency to be extreme manifested itself in Zimbabwe,” she said grinning – her blond hair curled around her pretty face. Laura and her Friends had been talking about making this journey for some years now and that dream had finally come to fruition. At no time was Laura afraid for her physical well being, although she did go past the Mugabe’s gated and guarded estate several times. Her only fear was that the Friends would not be allowed entry to the country once they arrived in Zimbabwe.

Laura is no stranger to loss. Her daughter, Delaney, died five years ago from a genetic enzyme deficiency. “No matter how bad your life is, there is always someone worse off than you,” said Laura, soberly of her experience. “I feel peaceful with my life now,” she said.

“We’ve already begun planning what we will take back with us next year,” said Laura. “Like lots of cloth diapers.” Before the Friends left the country back in March, they asked the children what they would like to have brought back to them. “We just want you to come back. Please don’t forget us.”

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