Addicts from early birth get second chance

The neonates lie perfect, but just a fraction of their preferred birth weight; their near-naked bodies taped to medical paraphernalia and kept at womb-warmth by their incubators.

Nurses glide between them, feeding their minute charges mother’s milk through noodle thin, nasal-gastro tubes. They change nappies the size of a child’s mitten and coo soothing words as rosebud mouths suckle the air in an attempt to learn the art of co-ordinated sucking, breathing, and swallowing.

Daily, parents navigate their tiny babies across the space from their hi-tech cocoons to tuck little limbs in under shirts, for hours-long, skin to skin contact that will release vital bonding and development hormones.

This devotion goes on 24/7 accompanied by the constant beeping of the monitoring devices. It’s a miracle at work.

A precarious life further compromised

Despite their precarious start to life, they visibly respond to the support, love, and protection of their parents, grandparents, and the remarkable medical staff of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They’re the lucky ones.

The United States alone has 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies every year. Cocaine use compromises normal cardio-vascular changes in pregnancy, often leading to preterm labour. Many babies are born premature as a result, and worse, they’re addicted to the drug.

Many are also compromised by other forms of addictive drugs, including painkillers and heroin.

Their mothers (and sometimes both parents), struggling with the complications of an addicted life, are not always able to cuddle babies and provide consistent love, skin to skin time, and mother’s milk over the long weeks of a neonate’s stay in hospital, all of which are so vital to a pre-term baby’s long-term health.

The infant, not only compromised by premature birth, also suffers withdrawal from the drugs that have crossed the placental wall. The condition is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

NAS leaves these tiny babies in pain, sometimes with fever, rapid breathing, insomnia, trembling, vomiting, and sweating.

It is inconceivable to think of any child, let alone a premature baby, suffering in this way without at least the love and support of its closest family. The NICU nurses are incredible, but they have a ward of already compromised babies to monitor.

Cuddle babies a solution

Many studies show the need for these babies to receive soothing and caring physical contact.

“These babies need to feel love, human touch and a soft voice to comfort them when they’re in pain,” says Maryann Malloy, a nurse manager for the neonatal intensive care unit at Einstein Medical Centre in Philadelphia, as reported by the BBC in January 2017.

“It is a helpless feeling when these babies become inconsolable. Our cuddlers help so the babies do not reach that point. They pick them up before the first whimper,” she said.

There are now many volunteer programs across the United States, in the UK, and in Australia recruiting volunteers to cuddle these vulnerable and sometimes abandoned babies.

Doctors have noted that having volunteers available to cuddle neonates reduces both the amount of medication the babies need and their length of stay in intensive care.

Health workers at Winchester Medical Center, in Virginia — another hospital that offers the program — have found cuddling cuts a baby’s hospital stay from 40 days to 21, Today.com reported.

Raising awareness is a first step toward change

These babies are among millions and millions of children that suffer worldwide. If we don’t know about an issue, we can’t do anything about it. Highlighting the problem initiates change.

Volunteering to cuddle these babies is a practical and beautiful contribution to resetting their lives.

They may still have ongoing health implications as a result of being born premature and addicted, especially if their parents are unable to take care of them. But the cuddling experience goes a long way towards rectifying their endangered start.

As important is the work that needs to be done educating young female addicts about the potential harm awaiting their unborn infants.

Educating for change

We could start through schools with young people who may be at risk of addiction and who are also sexually active, to raise awareness of the consequences of a pregnancy resulting in a premature birth.

We could explain to them how these infants might suffer. Young people, no matter their circumstances, do not lack compassion.

CreateCare Global Kids program encourages young people to research an issue and bring their creative and critical thinking skills to solving it. Here is a challenge to these young people to do the research and start an education program for their peers.

If by doing so they prevented just one baby being born premature, suffering withdrawal, and reliant on a stranger rather than its parents to cuddle it through its trauma, they will have done great work.

If you would like to know more about our Kids Program, please contact us here.  To find out more about Cuddle Babies volunteers programs, contact your nearest children’s hospital.

I Can Walk. The Zimbabwe Clubfoot project

We are bombarded with disturbing and deeply sad stories about a staggering number of suffering children everywhere, none more so than in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

I’m Sandy McDonald, founder and CEO of CreateCare Global, and co-founder of the program Knit-a-square.

My family and I were born in Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it was at the time.  My memories are of a beautiful and mysterious land, full of vibrant colour in glorious sweeping landscapes.

The sadness that is Zimbabwe today

Today, the sweeping landscapes remain, but for the people of Zimbabwe who have endured wholesale government corruption over many decades, life is harsh.  Ravaged by disease, a lack of food and employment, their lives are a matter of grim survival, especially for the children.

From afar, knowing what can be done to help is troubling.  While many donate generously to not-for-profits who provide services in these countries, you can be dissuaded from donating further by stories of money not reaching the intended recipients.

The smaller, grassroots organisations on the ground are hard to find and to contact. Even when you do find them, it’s not guaranteed that what you send will arrive safely.

How do you choose who to help?

Your ability to directly impact on one suffering child is almost impossible, unless you actually live in the country where so many children suffer so greatly.  Even then, it is a matter of choosing – which one deserves attention over another?

It is often painful work.  My aunt and co-founder of Knit-a-square, Ronda Lowrie and her team of amazing volunteers, have wrapped thousands and thousands of greatly disadvantaged children with beautiful and lovingly made blankets. Each blanket has been sewn from squares sent by thousands of knitters from around the world.

She has written much of the devastation and suffering of these children, and how utterly heartbreaking it is to witness.  She also writes about how in a bleak and sometimes hopeless world, the children’s carers are buoyed and feel hope, when their small charges are wrapped in warmth with messages of love from around the globe.

Why Knit-a-square works so well

This is what has made Knit-a-square such a successful program.  The caring crafters know that every square they send will be made into a blanket and reach the children for whom it was made.

CreateCare Global’s charter is to facilitate help for suffering children wherever they are.  We have been investigating widely to find organisations where we can ensure the same level of trust as we have been so grateful for in Ronda, her team and their work.

We also wanted to find work to make a difference that was as accessible to individuals or groups, especially school children, in the same way that knitting a square is for anybody who is game to pick up a needle or crochet hook.

It is in partnership that we can make a collective difference to the lives of suffering children

Introducing ZANE

So, we were delighted to be introduced to ZANE (Zimbabwe, A National Emergency). ZANE was set up initially in response to the dreadful circumstances many Zimbabwean pensioners were placed in when their life’s savings were wiped out overnight in 2008.

Now their mandate extends to also supporting groups of suffering children. They are involved in several projects, all of which are worthy of support from our community.

We are introducing one of their programs, the Clubfoot Correction Program into our CreateCare Kids program.  We believe too that church and other community groups can get involved, and by assisting a child to walk will make a massive difference in his or her life.

These loyal and committed people work tirelessly in Zimbabwe to ensure that every cent that is donated goes directly towards the blessing of mobility for a child.

Help a child walk

There 14,000 untreated cases of Clubfoot in Zimbabwe and an estimated 500 babies born every year with the condition.

Clubfoot is an inward pronation of the feet. It is painful for the newborn, but even more so as the child grows and attempts to walk which is mostly impossible.  Neglected, Clubfoot leaves children stigmatised and unable to attend school, exposing them to a lifetime of loneliness and poverty.

Dr Ignacio Ponseti developed a method for treating Clubfoot nearly 60 years ago, which is now the international standard of best practice and endorsed by all major paediatric orthopaedic associations worldwide.

The treatment consists of a using a series of casts, gentle manipulation and a special brace. In infants the method takes about 4-6 weeks.

The cost of one of these treatments is US$300.  This is do-able!

How you can help

In schools, we will be suggesting all sorts of challenges to raise the money – running distances, egg and spoon races for the younger ones, bake-a-thons and knit-a-thons (as an added bonus, the squares can go to Knit-a-square South Africa).  These efforts will make sure one child who would not be able to walk, will walk and can have a future.

For our global friends, we want to invite you to raise the US$300 to help a child walk, through your communities and then to send us photos and the story of how you did it to inspire others.

We will publish them and in return we will receive photos of the child whose feet were corrected as a result of your work.

What has been so encouraging in talking with Nikki Passaportis who works for ZANE Australia, herself a Zimbabwean and recent immigrant to Australia, is that money raised for these projects can be shown to deliver exactly what was intended by the donation.

So far, ZANE along with their partners has continued to fund the Club Foot correction programme, and consequently 2,110 children are currently in the Clubfoot programme and 149 medical staff have been trained with eleven centres of remedial treatment established in Zimbabwe.

We believe this is a wonderful project to be involved in.  There are 14,000 children we need to help and another 500 yet to be born this year alone.  That is a lot of children who might walk because you have decided to adopt this project.

You can contribute here to our Help A Child Walk partnership – the ZANE Clubfoot program.

Please write to me, sandy@knit-a-square.com to let me know when you have donated.  Receipt of your money will be acknowledged by us and by ZANE thereafter.  As soon as a child has their feet corrected as a result of your donation, we will publish details of it and let you know.

Wafa and the orphanage

Wafa Fahour wanted to make a difference, but she wasn’t sure how. I met Wafa at the Islamic Museum of Melbourne, a hidden gem of Muslim Australian history, where she is a volunteer. The museum has beautiful artwork, artefacts, and delicious coffee.

wafa-and-the-orphanage

An incomplete orphanage for boys

Recently, Wafa came across a story about an orphanage called the School for Quranicmemorization for orphaned children in a district called the Gambia in Jedda, Africa. It was to be built as a place of worship, a school, and a home for 24 orphaned boys. It needed finishing —it had walls but no roof.

Wafa wanted to know more about the man, Mohammed Daboe, who had asked for help on the project. She noticed he was friends with a prominent Muslim in Sydney whom she contacted to establish the legitimacy of the organisation. He reassured her it was genuine.

Mohammed had a very old lap top, but they could still Skype. He explained that he dealt with many orphaned children in Gambia, because their parents had died at a young age through poor health care and sanitation, and high levels of disease. The children weren’t schooled and they had to steal to survive. He described it as anarchy for the young.

Mohammed had big plans for the boys in the orphanage. He wanted them to memorise the Koran and then work abroad as scholars to different islamic cultures around the world. He dreamed they’d return home to pass on what ever they had learned to protect the children of The Gambia. He wanted them to live longer so they could get an education and work to better their community.

Leave it to me!

Wafa had never done anything on this scale, but she said: ‘Leave it to me, let me think.’

She made the decision to raise the money — about $1,500 for the roof— by putting out a post on Facebook.

As a Muslim, she knew that everything had to be transparent so that people could put their trust in the project, and know that their money could not be diverted for any terrorist cause.

the-boys-orphanage-the-gambia-jeddaIn just three days, she’d raised the cash. She sent it immediately and the roof was built the following week. But more was needed to complete the project: plastering, painting, and carpeting.

I’m on a roll

Wafa wanted to complete the building. ‘I’m on a roll’, she told Mohammed, who gave her an estimate of AU$13,500. She told him: ‘I’m not promising anything’, but went on to raise the money in two and a half weeks nonetheless. She’d put up a picture of the bank balance and said to her donors: ‘Here’s your money. I hope you’re all proud and excited!’

One person who met her at the museum asked to know more’, then handed her AU$2,000.

A month later, the building of the orphanage was complete, with progress being photographed and shared with her Facebook community all the way.

Next task

Wafa told me Mohammed got very excited when she said: ‘Okay, next task?’  

‘We need to furnish it’, he said.

They required AU$2,000 to provide 24 beds and the necessary linen. The money was raised within a week and a half.

the-orphans-and-the-party‘But Wafa doesn’t stop there’, she said, raising her hands in excitement. ‘Mohammed, let’s have a party for the children’.

These children are lucky to eat meat twice a year.

‘Find meat,’ she said. They got a cow. ‘Get vegetables. Get couscous and little bottles of prima,’ she instructed. They had a huge party with the local community and the boys moved in.

Angel from heaven

the-boys-of-the-orphanageThat was in 2014. Mohammed has told her: ‘God has sent me an angel from heaven.’

Wafa said humbly that being involved with these children, and helping to make a difference in their lives has made her think in a whole different way.

PS.  It get’s cold in The Gambia at night.  The next project will be blankets.  Watch this space!

Next chapter:  Wafa and the Wells

Childhood motherhood – yarns from my Aunt

Portrait of African child and mother in the hut, location Mmankodi village

Tragically, there is a growing incidence in South Africa and worldwide of childhood motherhood.

Anna’s story

A yarn from my aunt

Anna* was a delightful little girl who was brought to live on our property at the age of three under the care of our domestic worker, Matilda,* eleven years ago.  Matilda had only one child, a daughter who is now in her twenties, but has raised, protected and loved so many more babies and small children who have been brought to her doorstep.

The arrival of each new charge has sometimes been prompted by the desperation of these very young mothers, many of them foreigners and some affected by the zenophobia which often characterises the atmosphere in South Africa.

Some of ‘our’ babies have stayed with their mothers for only six to eight weeks, while Matilda encourages them in the arts of breastfeeding, burping, nappy changing, even self-care and perseverance.

Currently, we have the most delightful 14 month old boy who spends three days a week with us while his parents are both work.

In Anna’s case, Matilda was asked to foster her by parents who were, and still are, running a shebeen which is an informal pub in Alexandra, an over-crowded, crime-ridden settlement where children are not safe.

She was a delightful part of our family until she was about 12 years old. Then she was quite suddenly whisked back to Alex by her parents. Perhaps they considered her old enough to help in the shebeen?

Within a year, she was pregnant. She gave birth a month after turning 14, to a beautiful, healthy son.

Anna appeared to enjoy early motherhood and turned down all suggestions that a wonderful place like Hotel Hope would take care of her baby while she completed school. Her son would be returned to her once she had found stability in the form of a home and some means of supporting and raising him.

Young and immature, she believed she knew better, and indeed everything appeared to be well for two years, or more.

The consequences for her baby boy

Anna’s son is three now and she has disappeared. This little boy is living in the shebeen with his grandparents who do not want the burden.

Many young women in this situation have been forced into prostitution in order to survive.

Anna is one of hundreds of thousands of South African children whose lives are ruined for ever by teenage pregnancy and the inability to bear the responsibilities of motherhood – especially as absentee fathers are the norm.

Not to mention the utter devastation for the lives of hundreds of thousands of unwanted and innocent babies.

Ronda Lowrie, Knit-a-square South Africa.
* The names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Childhood motherhood – the bigger picture

In the scheme of human suffering, there is little to match losing or being abandonned by your parents at a tender age. The World Health Organisation estimates there will be 40 million children so affected by the year 2020.

According to the lead researcher and author, Nancy Williamson, PhD, in the document titled, Motherhood in childhood,  20,000 girls give birth every day.

It is almost impossible to comprehend how so many children might find themselves alone and unloved. Or to fully understand the plight of their very young mothers without prospects, also alone and unloved or faced with prostitution as the only means by which they can live.

And yet, as citizens of the world, we need to grapple with the underlying causes and work together to affect change beyong giving condoms to boys as young as ten, as is recommended in South Africa.

What can we do?

It is the weight of stories shared that can begin to affect change. So start by sharing stories like this wide and far so that at the very least people are more aware of the extent of this tragedy.

Write a story

Why not do your own research and write the stories as you find out more about this issue. We would be delighted to publish them and share them widely with our world wide community. Send them to sandy@knit-a-square.com

Support those who are doing good work

Then find and support organisations that work on the ground to give a home, support, comfort, therapy and education to these abandonned and worse, prostituted children.

There are many organisations doing incredible work on behalf of teenage mothers or their abandonned offspring. We know of two, Hotel Hope in Gauteng and Rafiki Mawema in Kenya.

We are actively seeking to support such organisations and would love to find out about others.

And, if you love to knit or crochet, then send an 8” square to Knit-a-square South Africa. You can find the instructions for postage here.

Every square goes into a lovingly made blanket to be wrapped around the shoulders of small, orphaned or vulnerable children.

Every blanket is delivered with a message of love

The blankets not only warm these desperate children, but bring hope to the carers that they’re not entirely alone in their tireless, but committed mission to look after these children.

We implore you to find ways that you can contribute.  Even in the smallest way, every little bit of support can help change these precious lives.

What if you were an unpaid garbage collector, living under a bridge, who once loved to knit?

You once held down a respectable job in the commercial world.  Then, as happens all too frequently in our world today, you’re retrenched – now 12 years ago.  Since then, life has got harder and harder and today you live in the open,  under a bridge.

livinghomeless

For the last four years, you and three other women have lived peaceably under this bridge.

You survive by recycling paper, plastic, metal and cardboard for which you are paid a meagre amount.

You start in the early hours of each day and when your work is done, you come back to your ‘home’ under the bridge and boil water to make tea and warm up.

Along with your companions, you sort the recycled material and then take it the recycling depot where you are paid by the kilo. Waste recyclers’ trollies are piled high, are heavy and cumbersome to push for the long kilometres to the nearest depot.

The four of you sleep close together on a mattress to keep warm. Like sisters you share your worries. You share the food from whatever you can find in rubbish bins.

One night, even this harmless, but harsh existence is simply exterminated.  Because someone living in comparative luxury in a neighbouring townhouse, decides your shack settlement is spoiling their view.

Meet Lizzie who once love to knit

Lizzie lived under this bridge in South Africa, in Gauteng.  Lizzie once loved to knit and crochet, but that is now just a dream as she has no wool or needles.

Lizzie described how the neighbour came together with the police.

They came at night, pulled out a gun, threw petrol on our shacks and burnt them. They didn’t let us take our documents out, we lost our IDs and papers.

Imagine the additional trauma caused by this in a world when you can’t simply replace such precious documents.  Or what it means to start again when you’re already homeless, cold and vilified.

People who care

Lizzie-with-her-donations

Fortunately there are many caring people, among them the woman who wrote the original story and shared it on Facebook, and Erin Van Der Vvyer who found it and shared it with her mother, Ronda Lowrie, founder of Knit-a-square South Africa (KAS), who shared it with me at CreateCare Global in Australia.  And now we are sharing it with you.

Already some wonderful stuff has happened.

Ronda acted within a few hours and arranged to meet Lizzie at the shopping centre close to their new camp under a freeway bridge.  She said it was freezing.

Firstly, she suggested Lizzie volunteer for KAS on a Thursday, which would be a ‘good food day’ for her, with the promise of a modest payment.

The other exciting possibility is that KAS could provide easier access to paper, cardboard and plastic materials from all the postal waste, helping Lizzie and her friends in their efforts to earn from recycling. Everyone wins!

And when Ronda offered to provide Lizzie with wool, needles and a crochet hook, she burst into tears!

Like so many in Africa, despite being incredibly poor, Lizzie has a cell phone which is how Ronda will be able to maintain contact with her.

Lizzie explained she was able to charge it because the owner of the local Caltex petrol station in Witkoppen is very kind and lets them use the water and bathroom and charge their phones there.

How encouraging to hear of such kindness in the face of such suffering.

While Ronda was with Lizzie, another woman called and organised to donate money via ‘ewallet’.  Even more exciting someone else has offered to buy them a two roomed tin shack which they can erect in one of the informal settlements areas.

What can we do?

Sending wool and needles so that Lizzie and her sisters can knit not only for herself and the other homeless people but to make squares for the children would be a wonderful start.

So that it is manageable for Ronda, if you want to help, please send small parcels of wool and yarn – perhaps no more than four balls at a time.  We would not want these parcels to attract duty.   To distinguish them from normal KAS packages, could you mark them ‘Gift only, No Commercial Value’.  FOR LIZZIE.

If possible mark the parcel with a bright pink stripe or band so that they can be easily recognized and set aside as part of this special project.

Posting wool

The postal address is:

Knit-A-Square, Private Bag X900,  Bryanston 2021, South Africa

For full postal instructions please postal instructions here.

It is very important to fill your postal forms in correctly to avoid paying duty in South Africa.

Impact Enterprise

What if this was the start of an Impact Enterprise for Lizzie and her friends?

Could this be an opportunity to support people like Lizzie by paying for any squares or other items they may make?  Supporting homeless people who, in turn, are supporting local charities, like KAS SA, could attract sponsorship or funding.

Imagine Lizzie in years to come, running a band of knitters, knitting to earn money, but also squares with her ‘under the bridge’ sisters to warm the many millions of orphaned and abandoned children in South Africa.

If Lizzie and her sisters think this is a good idea, let’s see what we can do to help them make that happen.

Yarns from my aunt – making it all work, true African-style

Ronda is a wonderful story teller. Her words evoke the place and the people almost as if we had been there with her on this truly African-style blanket distribution. Here is an edited, but particularly special, Knit-a-square distribution written in her words:

knit-a-square-rosies-creche

“I loved the way this particular morning’s work quite unexpectedly turned into one of our most special distributions.

Joel, our driver, who had introduced us to the Eikenhof informal settlement, is what my father would have termed a ‘Sunday afternoon driver’. He bumbles along at a snail’s pace, but we got  to Eikenhof in the end.

knit-a-square-streets-of-eikenhofEikenhof is a forgotten area … reminiscent of Thembalihle and Bushkoppies, but seemingly with even less being done to help the people. The roads are virtually non-existent. I tried to take some photographs but it’s just not possible to give the true impression of quite how rustic this area is … I am always prompted to deep gratitude for the KASvan at such times.

We arrived at Rosie’s crèche first and only then discovered that I had left the vital piece of paper listing the other 5 or 6 creches we were to visit that morning, in the office.

This could potentially have been a problem as it would have been difficult to find everyone in the chaotic streets of Eikenhof.

. . .the joy and ‘togetherness’, that Knit-a-Square brings … just a brief moment in the midst of bleakness and poverty.

But, in true African-style, with warmth and patience, all the five other crèche owners (unable to contain their excitement) popped their little charges into wheelbarrows and other strange modes of transport, or simply walked … coming along to meet us at Rosie’s.

knit-a-square-african-style-transport

knit-a-square-making-it-work-African-styleThere were more colds and runny noses in that one place that morning than I believe we had ever witnessed before.

We handed out blankets, beanies, jerseys, soft toys, handwarmers and apples to the children from Rosie’s, Freda’s, Pauline’s, Mantwa’s, Dora’s and Pakama’s Creches.

After Wandi’s encouraging, ‘KAS talk’, one of the women started singing and a few seconds later we heard Joel harmonising in the background.

We all started to sing along without knowing any of the tunes or words … a noisy, impromptu celebration of the joy and ‘togetherness’, that Knit-a-Square brings … just a brief moment in the midst of bleakness and poverty.

Beautifulthese women are the SALT of the earth.

CreateCare Global  works with others to help warm and comfort the millions of suffering children globally today.  We raise awareness of their plight, assist those organisations on the ground that are working to care for the children, and respond creatively where-ever there is a need.  Please join us on Facebook to share how together we can make a difference.

Yarn’s from my aunt – please Ma’am, can I change my blanket?

Please-may-i-change-my-blanketBlanket talk

Just recently, I have had the enormous pleasure of sharing 10 days, here in Australia, with my aunt, Ronda Lowrie, co-founder of Knit-a-square and founder of KAS SA.

As we sat together in our family home and shared stories of the last six years, Ronda told me many heart-warming anecdotes of the extraordinary work she and her volunteers do on the ground in South Africa.

This work culminates in wrapping some of the many millions of orphaned and abandoned children who live in South Africa,  in beautiful hand stitched blankets, popping warm hats on their heads and handing each a hand made toy. The children mostly live in extreme poverty in often squalid and makeshift squatter camps.

‘When you are warm in your blanket, know that each square comes with love from people who are thinking about you from all over the world.’

Ronda see this work as a ministry.  She and the volunteers, caress their little heads, wrap their arms around them and tell them, ‘When you are warm in your blanket, know that each square comes with love from people who are thinking about you from all over the world.’

A picture tells a thousand words

From all over the world, we see them in the many photographs Ronda sends, wrapped in the warmth of their beautiful blankets, but while a picture tells a thousands words, from afar, we cannot know the details of the children’s lives, how they suffer, how resilient they are, what their personalities are, what they think.

Ronda says the children are so sweet, unspoilt and so grateful.  So, she was surprised one day when a little boy asked if he could change his blanket.  She’d never had that experience before.

He was wrapped in a pink crocheted blanket!  He said, ‘Please ma’am, I am a boy, please can I have a boy blanket’.  Ronda had a much more appropriate blanket on her shoulder.  She swopped blankets and his little face lit up with delight.

He’d also been handed a toy that was not quite right for a young boy.  So a bit later, he found Ronda as she was busy wrapping other children in blankets and asked quietly, ‘Please ma’am, can I have another toy, having spotted a superman toy in Ronda’s arm. Ronda followed his eyes and asked him, ‘What about this one?’ He beamed with joy and told her ‘ I will love this one for ever.’

This simple story brought to life the work of Knit-a-square. It made me smile as I am sure it will do you.

PS.  Look at the exquisite work in the blanket on the little girl next to him.  What amazing talent the knitters and crocheters have and how blessed is this project that people knit and send squares to warm these needy children.

Coffee, caring and the powerful therapy of knitting

Bens Buenos Aires children

The children in Ben Whitaker’s ‘Food for Thought’ program wearing the hats made by the knitters of Robe in Australia.

The therapy of knitting

Isn’t it amazing how an unexpected call can result in a chain of connections, coincidences and good turns.  Although, perhaps this is the real human condition at work— creativity, responsiveness, connectivity and a willingness to act.

Wendy Leopold, knitter and parachutist!

Wendy Leopold, knitter and parachutist!

This call was from Wendy Leopold.  She lives in the small town of Robe, South Australia.

Wendy and a group of other knitters started to knit together two and a half years ago.

They meet every Wednesday afternoon at Mahalia’s Coffee House.  The namesake of Mahalia’s is Mahalia Layzell –  a passionate, aficionado of some of the finest, award winning roasted coffee in Australia.

What a wonderful place to knit among the mouth-watering aroma’s of freshly roasted coffee.

Wendy learned to knit because she had arthritis in her hands, although that’s not stopped her  adventurous soul.  How many women do you know who have done a parachute jump on their 70th birthday?  There’s a challenge for you all!

Wendy discovered that the therapy of knitting not only kept her hands supple but was calming, almost mediative.

It doesn’t take much research online to find out that knitting is now proven to have significant therapeutic benefits—a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, coping with health crises, quitting smoking, reduced memory loss in the aged and increased cognitive health.

Wendy found knit-a-square.com while looking for a place they could send the results of their crafting. They had at that stage made more than 30 hats.

She explained that when the group knits with love for children who need their help, in addition to the other benefits of knitting, this was a hundred percent bonus.

Coffee connections

Ben-and-the-knitted-hats

Ben Whitaker, collecting the hats for his kids in Buenos Aires

Coincidentally, not long after the hats arrived, Ben Whitaker came to visit.

Ben is the founder of Social Opportunities Group, owner of The Final Step cafe in Melbourne and another coffee aficionado.  His taste for great coffee originated in New Zealand where he was born, when his parents converted an old court house to a cafe.

Beyond a love of coffee, Ben has always had a keen social conscience.   As a music teacher he knows that all kids, no matter where they came from, are ‘naturally imaginative, honest, eager to learn and confident.’  He’d experienced the difference first hand when he taught in a low income area in London and was part of a nourishing breakfast club.

It was there that his idea to make a difference was born, Food for Thought.

Today Ben works in Buenos Aires with 30 underprivileged children and their siblings, providing nutritious food and creative educational activities in the impoverished community of Monte Chingolo.

More than that, they’re looking to create the correct recipe for sustainable social change, based on health and nutrition, education, using arts as a medium, social inclusion and ecology and the environment.

The Final Step and those obliging patrons who drink its delicious coffee are making it possible for Ben and his team to run the project and in part to build a new kitchen which will hugely improve their impact within the community.  Although they still require funds to complete the project.  You can follow their progress on their Facebook page. 

When it is done, they’ll be able to provide cooking and nutrition workshops for children and their families and increase their capacity to feed and educate more than the 30 children they currently work with.

Back to the knitting 

Even though Buenos Aires is sub tropical, like a lot of places in Africa it gets cold in winter.  I asked Ben if he would be able to get the 30 hats to his 30 children.

Now, these lovingly crafted gifts from our coffee loving knitters in Australia passed on to a coffee loving, caring New Zealander, adorn and warm the heads of these 30 children in Buenos Aires.

A wonderful circuit of creativity, care and responsiveness.  And proof that every act of kindness, no matter how small can enrich the lives of everyone involved.  Multiply these acts by millions and we, at CreateCare Global, believe we’re all uplifted by the human spirit that sits behind our acts of charity.

Ben is now investigating the logistics of getting squares to the families to make blankets.   We’ll keep you posted on our CreateCare Global Facebook Page. 

What is it to be an orphan

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Let’s think for a moment about these millions of children, made orphaned and vulnerable through losing their parents to HIV AIDS. What exactly does it mean to be orphaned?

The likelihood is that few of us know children who have been orphaned. Most of us may know adults whose parents have died. Many of us may have lost parents whom we may still miss daily and yearn for in our lives. If we do know orphaned children, it would likely mean we knew their parents and the tragedy that beset them and their family, leaving an orphan or orphans behind.

It is easy to imagine the grief of friends and family at such a funeral service, not just at the loss of the parents, but for the loss these children face. We would be overcome with emotions as we observed these young children during the service projecting the difficulties they must endure without their beloved parents to guide them. The poignancy of their loss would reduce most of us to tears.

Wouldn’t aunts and uncles step forward?

Let’s take this analogy a little further. As we think about this, we might imagine, with some relief, that the parents’ brothers and sisters—the children’s uncles and aunts—are sitting next to them, and will, without hesitation, step forward and embrace these small children into their family.

But what if this family has been so beset by tragedy that all but one of the parents’ siblings are dead and he, the remaining brother, is mortally ill. Then surely in their community, responsible citizens would look out for them?

We soon learn that the parents have left no money, they don’t own a property, and as rent can no longer be paid,  the children must leave their home immediately. In fact, the family only survived from the work that the parents did. Furthermore, this community has been so beset with tragedy that the local school teacher, community leaders and most of the heads of the families within it are also all dead.

Only an impoverished grandmother remains

There remains only the grieving mother of the children’s father, who has now buried the last of her children and must add to those other children she is already looking after, these newly orphaned children. She has little or no money because in the past her sons provided for her from the income they earned and now they are all dead.

During this story, we may have been imagining a sudden death of the parents. But what if the father had died an agonising death over months, even years, without the benefits of modern pain relief?

The family are already exposed to increased poverty without their father’s income. Tragically, their mother is infected with the same illness as their father and although she struggles to look after her children, she soon becomes so ill she cannot leave her bed.

The oldest child is just six when his parents become very ill. Soon he is responsible for feeding his parents and his two siblings. The youngest is only 18 months old. And now after their parents have both died within a short space of time, the youngest child is found to be infected with the same disease.

Multiply this nightmare scenario by millions

In South Africa alone, there are an estimated 118,500 children living in 66,500 child-headed families. That means families led by children from as young as ten are looking after siblings and other orphaned children. HIV may be the major contributing factor to their predicament but poverty keeps them trapped in their millions in a nightmare of destitution.

How can we make a difference?

In the face of this overwhelming and mostly hidden tragedy, how can we make a difference? How can we take responsibility for communicating to others the grief and sadness of so many young children losing their parents, their support networks, their chances of education, socialisation and employment? And, in so doing, spur a grassroots movement that will, at the very least bring attention to this modern tragedy.

CreateCare Global, our charity to help orphaned and vulnerable children, and its twin programs, Knit-a-square and CreateCare Kids together with the world wide community they have spawned, are an effort to start that process. You can help.  Find out how here. 

The power of one

small children in AfricanGetting Google alerts for a particular keyword is way to find out and celebrate

How many people act in some way, as we do, to raise awareness of the plight of so many millions of suffering children, particularly orphans in the world today.

You might be greatly buoyed by the depth and breadth of the organisations, individuals and activities involved, so many of whom are tackling this immense world social issue with great energy.

These stories can inspire us all with ideas that will enable us to raise awareness of the children’s plight and keep on making a difference.

The power of one

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri’s is a Ugandan who gave away his American Dream to return to his village Nyakagyezi. At the urgent request of his grandmothers to do something to help, he and his American born wife, diverted the down payment they were to have made on their house into building a free school for the orphans of his village.

Years later the Huffington Post returned to Kaguri’s Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. In addition to two schools, it also operates a library, farm and nutrition program, medical clinic, clean water system, and a support program for the grandmothers who care for up to 14 children at a time.

Since founding the project, Kaguri has also become an author. In “A School for My Village” he shares how he came to build the first school and the struggles he faced during the first few years.

The report says that in 2010, he resigned as Interim Senior Director of Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University to focus full-time on project.

Kaguri has been named a Heifer International Hero, recognized in Time Magazine’s ‘Power of One’ Series, and spoken to the UN about his work. When not visiting the schools in Uganda or working at his office in Okemos, MI, Kaguri travels the country to speak with students and supporters about the organization.

This kind of story carries with it the message of great hope. As individuals we can empower ourselves to make a difference.

Now some of us will engage in a new conversation about what we can do. Another stone in another pond – and in time the ripples will continue to change the way we think and how we act to help these children.