Barbara Fitzsimmons

An enthusiastic supporter of AP's quilt program, Barbara (Bobbi) is a retired educator who has taught at all levels of education from preschool through graduate school. She has a BA in history from Old Dominion University and an MSED and Ed.D. from the University of Southern California. As a curriculum specialist, she developed training programs for USC in Germany, for the US Navy in Newfoundland, Canada, and a graduate program for the Overseas Federation of Teachers for teachers in the DoD Dependents Schools on three continents. In the US, she has been an associate professor at Lasell College (Newton, MA) and Morris College (Sumter, SC). She was also Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for the North Kingstown, RI school district. As an educational consultant, she worked with a team to improve the national education programs of Pakistan, Egypt, and the UAE. Now retired, Bobbi is an outside evaluator of dissertations and education papers for Pakistan universities and education journals. She is also a docent and children’s program educator at the Cameron Museum of Art in Wilmington, NC. She is an award-winning quilter who has conducted workshops and made presentations about quilting to schools, libraries, educational conferences, and guilds. Since 2010, she has made quilts for the Advocacy Project from Kosovo, Uganda, Palestine, Nepal(3), and Syria

Materials, Mangoes, and a Monkey

24 Jul


I don’t remember if the motto “Be Prepared” is from the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts but I do know that it often comes to mind as we begin embroidery training in different places.  As a teacher, I’ve always prepared lesson plans and materials well in advance of a class.  Students need to have confidence in their instructor and to know that the person in front of them (or beside them or behind them) has something more to offer than they already know.

So, in coming to Africa to continue embroidery training for four groups of women and girls, almost all of whom had done at least one embroidery with AP, I prepared and prepared and prepared some more.  I tried to consider the contingencies and think about the materials we would need but might not be able to get locally.  My suitcase and backpack were filled with embroidery hoops, fabric, books, and literally thousands of skeins of embroidery floss. 

I even jettisoned a couple of extra shirts to make room for the ever-increasing load of supplies.  I had written out a plan for each day and rehearsed, to a degree, my opening remarks to put everyone at ease.

But then, as every teacher knows, reality hits.  The training venues required me to adapt my plans from the first moment.  In Zimbabwe we were in a rather small room in a tin-roofed structure which had two window openings and a single overhead light.  Threading needles in good light can be a challenge but in  dim light it can be an ordeal.  Just moving among the fifteen active and talkative girls required agility as some sat on the floor, others on two small couches and some behind a table – remember, this was a very small room!

I had to step over legs, reach across some girls to reach others, and often found myself on my knees to be able to assist with issues.  If a needle was accidentally dropped, the barefooted participants were all alerted to be on the lookout and to tread carefully.


Uganda took us to outdoor training under the beautiful mango tree.  This presented two different, unanticipated issues:  1) falling mangos, which hurt when they hit and 2) no windows.  One of my strategies for transferring embroidery designs from paper to fabric is to tape the paper to a window, tape the fabric over the paper, and trace the design.  You can’t do that without windows!  I found a different way, a little more time-consuming but we all learned.  By the way, the mango dropping was a windfall for the ladies as they left each day with these sweet treats to take home to their families.

In Kenya we are once more meeting outdoors – or rather we are meeting in a covered area, open on two-sides, which might be outdoor living space but is somewhat akin to a carport.  Again, we have no but I’m now prepared for that.  We have poor light, but I got some new needles with larger eyes.  It rained a little yesterday, but we just crowded closer under the covered area and carried on. We also had to be aware of the monkeys coming if we had food out.  They don’t like to be told “no!”

I’m not registering these challenges as any kind of complaint, nor am I intending to show that I’m a super-teacher who can cope with any adversity.  Rather, this is to show that when you want to accomplish something you can if you don’t let adjustments to the plan stand in your way and if you encourage creative thinking, 

And these students are creative thinkers.  They have taught me a lot in these past four weeks and they have taught each other.  When I see students helping each other, I tell them that when you teach, you improve your own learning and many times you learn something new yourself.  I know that I have continued to learn as I’ve taught these different groups of students in very different surroundings.  I hope they’ve learned what I had prepared in my lesson plans. But I also hope they will continue to learn from and to each other as they become more proficient with each block.

Posted By Barbara Fitzsimmons

Posted Jul 24th, 2022

1 Comment

  • Mary

    August 21, 2022


    Love reading your blog and looking forward to seeing all the wonderful new blocks from your students.
    Safe travels.

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