Spencer has been away this week on a class trip, so I have been looking for new activities and ways to get involved around Joburg. Through a new friend, I was introduced to the charity knit-a-square, and immediately loved the idea.
The concept of knit-a-square is to have people from all over the world send in 8×8 inch (20cm) squares, which are then sewn together, 35 at a time, to make blankets. These blankets, along with hats and hand-warmers and cuddly toys that the generous knitters send over, are distributed to street children, AIDs orphans, and other vulnerable children around the city.
When I arrived at knit-a-square’s headquarters, a warehouse bursting with brightly colored wool items, I joined a group of volunteers opening up packages, noting their contents, and sorting them into piles. The packages came from all over – Pennsylvania, Australia, UK, even 300 squares from a school in the Czech Republic. They come in all kinds of textures, materials, colors, and patterns.
Squares are sent individually because once combined into a whole blanket, the organization may be taxed for the customs. We tried to match them up into like-sized piles and nice color combinations, then bundled them up into stacks of 35. There is no shortage of squares coming from generous knitters overseas, but here in Johannesburg the need is to stitch these into blankets. Some go to go-gos (grandmothers) in the townships, who are payed a small amount per blanket to piece them together. Some also go to prisons, where prisoners can do the sewing as community service. The rest are done by the team of volunteers.
Having never knitted a day in my life, I was happy to help out on the less technical task of stitching the squares together. I was given a beautiful set of matching crocheted squares, which has made it much easier for me because they are all exactly the same size. It is actually such a nice activity to do while sitting around and watching the TV, and makes that time feel more productive. I am excited to see the final product and to know that it will keep a child warm.
I have done a few other volunteer activities since I got here – making pb&j sandwiches for underprivileged school children, handing out snacks to the homeless, playing with and caring for sick orphan babies. Each time, I feel good about what I have done, but I also end up discouraged by the staggering amount of suffering there is here. I can’t fool myself that a sandwich or even a blanket is going to change anyone’s life; it is not even a drop in the bucket of human need that exists.
Ronda Lowrie, the founder of knit-a-square, also recognizes the enormity of the problem, and she knows that other organizations are working to address the crucial needs of these children, such as food and shelter. But she explained to me why the work of knit-a-square is so important, nonetheless.
“The project would mean nothing without the message,” she told me on my tour of the warehouse, “There are 1.9 million orphaned children in South Africa, and we will never be able to reach them all. But it is not about what we give. Hats get lost, blankets get dirty or stolen. What is important is the message – that someone cares, that someone is thinking of them and wants them to be warm, that God loves them.”
What is especially beautiful about the message of knit-a-square is that 35 people, from all over the world, took the time to lovingly create each piece of that blanket, another stitched it together, and another delivered it. It is a beautiful chain of human empathy that ends with a child sleeping a little warmer and hopefully feeling cared for.
I really love the energy and work of this organization, and will be going back again next week to do more sorting and pick up my next blanket project. It has also inspired me – do any of you knit, or know anyone who does, and would you like to help me collect 35 squares to create a blanket? Comment below if you do, and I’ll direct you to instructions and give you an address to send to. I’d really love it if we could stitch together our own blanket!