Parishioners hope diapers save lives

Diana Cox, LaDonna Wicklund and Sister Theresa Kruml, OSU, pose during a diaper-making workshop at St. Wenceslaus Church in Iowa City. Made from old T-shirts, the diapers go to a maternity refuge in Chinandega, Nicaragua.

By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY – Dozens of babies and mothers in Nicaragua are getting help from St. Wenceslaus parishioners who turn old T-shirts into diapers that promote health and hygiene in impoverished families.
Members of the parish’s Altar & Rosary Society and other volunteers sent about 14 dozen handmade cloth diapers to Refugio Belén, a maternity refuge in Chinandega, Nicaragua, late last year. The Catholics have pledged to send 20 dozen this year, said parishioner Diana Cox.
The project is part of a broader effort that Rotary clubs and Christian groups throughout the Midwest undertake to support the refuge. Patty Achey-Cutts of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cedar Falls helps coordinate groups’ donations of diapers, towels, shampoo, baby clothes and other items for the 1,000 women the maternity care center serves annually.
“Cloth diapers save lives,” she said. Many of Refugio Belén’s guests take their babies home to shacks near garbage dumps where women search for discarded items to sell. Bare-skinned babies who sit on the shacks’ dirt floors sometimes pick up intestinal parasites, Achey-Cutts said. Unsanitary living conditions can contribute to Nicaragua’s mortality rate for children younger than 5 years, which is more than three times the rate in the United States, according to UNICEF data.
Cox heard of the opportunity to donate to the refuge from fellow parishioner LaDonna Wicklund, who suggested the project to Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court Craigie 94 and St. Wenceslaus’ Altar & Rosary Society. Last summer, Catholics began cutting fabric from donated, adult-sized T-shirts and sewing multiple layers together to create diapers. Volunteers added Velcro tabs, plus elastic around the leg openings and back to allow for a closer fit.
St. Wenceslaus parishioner Sister Theresa Kruml, OSU, described the project as a labor of love. “I cannot offer monetary donations, but I can give my time and talent to help the little babies have a healthier life and at the same time let those mothers know they are not forgotten,” she said. “God loves and cares for them through the ministry of his Church.”

In Nicaragua, Patty Achey-Cutts holds a baby wearing a cloth diaper handmade in Iowa.

Parishioners’ contributions helped Achey-Cutts’ church and a PEO Sisterhood group she belongs to fill 77 layettes – canvas bags holding supplies for newborns — for the refuge last year, she said. “Diana gave me 14 dozen diapers. I was just blown away.”
Rotary clubs in several states collected items for 700 more layettes that were shipped to Nicaragua earlier this winter. Achey-Cutts made her annual visit to the city of Chinandega to personally give the diapers to Refugio Belén.
The refuge was built thanks to the initiative of a Catholic missionary, Father Marco Dessy, and Rotarians, Achey-Cutts said. They noticed that rural pregnant women often spent a day or more traveling to Chinendaga’s maternity hospital to give birth, only to be turned away at first.
“The hospital will say, ‘If you’re not four hours from delivery, you can’t come in,’” Achey-Cutts said. “So women would go to a park across the street to wait, with no food or water, and sometimes be accosted.”
To serve them, Refugio Belén offers medical care, 36 beds, three showers, and lessons on caring for mothers and babies, Achey-Cutts said. The refuge’s name includes the Spanish word for “Bethlehem,” the town where Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Achey-Cutts taught women at Batania Trade School in Chinandega to make the diapers and said she’d like Nicaraguans to eventually be able to make all of them – though materials may still need to be shipped in.
For now, groups wanting to obtain the pattern to sew the T-shirt diapers can contact her at or Cox at (319) 351-6811.
“It has been great fun for everyone, and we all know we are helping other moms and kids in Nicaragua,” Wicklund said.

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