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Chatham Twp. woman helps African girls

By Jamie Duffy, Dailyrecord.com

2346 days ago   Article ID# 1677482
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Invisible Children

PARSIPPANY, NEW JERSEY (Dailyrecord.com) - Robin Nestler felt a yearning for Africa even as she raised four children, driving them to sports, participating in booster clubs, supporting her husband, Andy, a corporate executive, in what many would consider an idyllic suburban life.

Then one day a couple of years ago, she was working part time at a local gym when a client noticed the beaded bracelets she was wearing, bracelets she never took off, she said, sold by Invisible Children, a charity organization benefiting children in Uganda.

The client said he was booking people for “vision trips” to Uganda, a country suffering from years of civil war and AIDS. Did she want to come? Three days later, said her daughter Ryan, she was booked.

The 10-day trip to the capital city, Kampala, and the region around it led Nestler to found the organization Set Her Free with a 30-year-old Ugandan woman named Robinah who already had been working in Kampala with charitable organizations. Their mission is to rescue girls from the dangerous slums, karaoke bars and brothels, give them an education or a trade and in the process, a life.

The journey was “the most amazing thing I’ve done in my entire life,” said Nestler, 54, who prior to this had worked as a volunteer in the pediatric department at Overlook Hospital in Summit and in New Orleans three times as a volunteer with Catholic Charities to help rebuild homes in St. Bernard Parish.

The least she could do, she thought, was to sponsor a child in one of the orphanages, and as a result of this bond, she decided to go back to visit every six months. She also felt energized by the number of groups in Uganda trying to make a change.

“I was mesmerized by what groups of kids could do,” she said.

Nestler first realized she could help with more than finances when she learned the girls wanted to sew. A seamstress since her days taking home economics classes in Laguna Beach, Calif., where she grew up, she quickly started to teach tailoring.

Another skill, hairstyling, soon followed.

In June, Set Her Free graduated 50 hairstylists, 12 of whom found jobs outside the small compound where 12 girls are able to live and the rest come in for their training. The compound, which didn’t exist two years ago, is as miraculous as the new Set Her Free in Style salon Nestler financed with a $2,000 microfinancing loan.

“It’s pretty crazy, the things she’s gone in and done to help the girls,” said Ryan Nestler, 27, now a nurse in California who has accompanied her mother on two trips to Kampala.

Robin Nestler graduated with a degree in business management from San Diego State University but always wanted to be a mom and stayed home to raise her children after a short career. Ryan is her oldest. Her youngest is 20.

She met her husband at Summit High School, which she attended for two years before returning to California with her parents.

Her sewing ability and business background have paid off in the new venture. Beads that the Set Her Free girls craft can be purchased on the Set Her Free website, www.setherfree.org.

Last October, she set up a booth at Bottle Hill Day in Madison, sold bracelets for the cause and was delighted to attract two Drew University students who offered to be her interns. They created PowerPoint presentations and brochures.

A friend with the Scotch Plains Rotary Club has raised money, and Andrea Pleckaitis, a local Zumba instructor, jumped on board with a fundraiser.

Perhaps her greatest achievement in the two years she has been at this are the 21 girls going to school as a result of U.S. sponsors. In Uganda, primary school costs run $800 a year, secondary school, $1,200.

Monthly costs to run the small compound — teacher salaries, rent, utilities, medical, travel and bead making — average $3,500.

“This is where I’ve landed. I’ve got to believe there’s a purpose,” Nestler said. “If I had not gone there, I would not be as committed. There’s really no turning back.”

Copyright 2018 Dailyrecord.com   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 2346 days ago   Article ID# 1677482

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