I live in Johannesburg, not far from the Knit-a-Square office, and thought it would be nice to write about the experience of visiting the blanket room for the benefit of overseas knitters and crocheters. I know how lovely it is to get insight into the personal side of the charity one supports and i couldn't wait to experience the sorting, packing and stacking process firsthand when I read about it on the website.
At the outset, let me say that I am a really new member of KAS. I only came across the organisation in January 2017 when I did an online search to find a knitting circle I might join. Reading about Ronda and how she started the project inspired me enormously. Then, coming to the forum and immersing myself in some of the discussions, I knew that this was exactly the kind of community I wanted to belong to. Clearly, the members love knitting for good and are super-generous when it comes to helping children in need.
I should also explain that I am severely sight-impaired and rely on a driver to get to where I want to go. My driver's name is Bongi, so she came along as a volunteer too. We found the KAS office in a nicely-secured office park with good parking outside a large garage door, which provided pleasing light and ventilation for the large, open blanket room beyond. Bongi's first words were, "My, there are a lot of busy people in there!" My first impression, without the benefit of vision, was of a serene interior with gentle, uplifting music playing from a sound system at the far end of the room, and of cool air blowing from a large fan to keep the space feeling dry and fresh. Incidentally, there was no trace of a musty smell after February's flood, and the sunlight coming through the windows on the north side made everything feel bright and cheerful.
Ronda greeted us warmly and offered us tea and somewhere to sit while she oversaw the volunteers who were driving the van out to deliver squares to two of the sewing groups. We were shown how the squares are unpacked from their soft packaging and the details of the senders recorded. A couple of volunteers were grouping squares into matching sizes and assembling bundles of 35 coordinating squares. I learnt how to butterfly the loose threads on a square by feeling how it was done, as it had been impossible to follow the pictorial directions on the website. I also got to finger some of the beautiful hats, hand warmers and soft toys that had been sent in, and marvelled at the amazing colour choices some of the knitters had chosen. I'm a knitter myself but have tended to be very conservative in my selection of yarns. That, i can tell, is going to change!
Finally for today's entry, I want to rave about some of the blankets I saw. Again, I had not been able to see them in photographs displayed on the website, so was eager to get up close and touch some of the finished items. They are, in a word, stunning! Laid out on the floor in a pile like stacked pancakes, they reminded me of exotic tile designs comprising rich mosaics and beautifully textured pieces. Some were set in a grid, while others nestled in cosy companionship with each other, the entire effect being one of eye-catching elegance. But not just eye-catching. I couldn't help but run my fingers over the interesting textures. There is nothing quite like knitted or crocheted fabric. It's squishy and huggable, intricate in its stitchery yet strong and comforting in its expanse. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to be in the midst of so much lovingly-crafted handwork and committed teamwork. I shall be reporting back regularly on my visits to Knit-a-Square and I hope I can impart to you how much Ronda and the team in SA value and appreciate your participation.
Until next time, let the warm fuzzy feeling be yours as you stitch away!
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Leanne, another beautiful journey into the KAS HQ. Your descriptions are very powerful and provide a wonderful peephole for those of us on the outside. The colours and textures come alive through your words, and best of all we get to know about the marvelous people who keep KAS functioning. Thank you.
what a wonderful description ! I hope the bag of scottish squares came from my mother! More to come this weekend I need to bundle donated squares up.
It's an interesting idea and thank you for the vote of confidence. For now, though, I'm just enjoying being able to knit squares and learn. Maybe sometime in the future...we'll see!
Thanks Leanne for another fine, well written and interesting report - our hearts go out to Lindi - she is a 'friend' of whom most of us have never met. Many of us have 'known' Lindi since the early days of 2009-2010, and, she has never wavered in her devotion to KAS!
Leanne you are a gem, it is just like being there for the day. Dear Lindi I am so sorry she experienced the loss of two precious people so close together. Lindi is an "old friend" and lovely that you had the chance to talk with her and share what KAS means to her. Keep your stories coming !
I was away for two weeks in June, attending guide dog training, and have been tied up for another fortnight with home-based training to familiarise my new dog Tango with my regular routes. So it was lovely to return to the Knit-a-Square barn yesterday and see everyone again, especially now that winter is truly upon us and distribution season is at its peak.
Unfortunately, our driver Joel has gone off for two months” until the beginning of October. He gave very little notice, which could disrupt operations. However, he did give us the name of a possible alternative driver who brought the ladies to KAS yesterday and we are hoping he may be able to fill in adequately, including helping with distributions from time to time.
On a more positive note, Mandela Day is coming up this month and several organisations have arranged distributions of blankets as part of their own projects. Some people will be collecting squares to spend 67 minutes sewing them together in honour of Madiba. In addition, the SA Post Office will be doing their big distribution of blankets, sewn by PO staff from squares delivered to them at the end of May. This will take place on Friday 21st, specifically in honour of Mandela Day 2017.
My getting-to-know-you chat was with Wandi, who is, of course, one of the longest-standing members of Knit-a-Square. She has a beautiful warm presence and a manner that puts you at ease. I learned that she has two grown-up children, a son and a daughter, who live with her, and six grandchildren. Widowed in 2000, she runs a home-based sewing business with her daughter to make a living. The rest of her time is spent volunteering because the needs of her community are so great.
Wandi first learned about Knit-a-Square when Ronda and others from her church visited a soup kitchen to hand out blankets. When Ronda asked if Wandi would be interested in helping to sort squares, she readily agreed and thoroughly enjoyed the work. Over time, she became very committed, locating groups of children in informal settlements who badly needed warm blankets and garments. Once she started going out to distributions, she realised how huge the problem of poverty was and was moved to motivate others to join her in helping Knit-a-Square.
That was when she began setting up gogo groups and liaising with individuals who wanted to help sew up blankets. Today she has eight gogo groups, goes out regularly on distributions, and offers her time at her local Methodist church to hand out clothing and food whenever they have an outreach.
I asked Wandi to tell me about a memorable distribution she had been on. She said that once, in the middle of winter, she and Joel visited an informal settlement located behind one of Johannesburg’s largest government hospitals. It was a grey day and the dirt road was impassible on account of recent rains. They had to leave the van at the entrance to the settlement and walk through the mud down to where the creche was situated. When they got there, everything was dark and cold because there was no electricity and only a single brasier for over 100 children. The teachers helped them fetch the bags from the van. When the bags were opened and the blankets and toys were handed out, says Wandi, you should have seen the smiles on their faces! They were so happy and kept asking, “Is it really for me? Can I keep it?”
Wandi shakes her head as she shares the story. “These are children who have never ever received a present in their life. I never knew how bad it could be for the needy until I started going out and seeing what kind of effect we had on the children. It gives me such a sense of fulfilment every time I do it.”
She tells another story of when she and Joel went to Orange Farm, a settlement south of the city known for unrest. On the day they arrived, there were protests, and it was impossible to reach the creche by road. However, the teachers were expecting them and they didn’t want to let the children down, it being the middle of winter and icy cold. So they found a place in the veld where they could park the van, and climbed through dongas [ditches] to reach their destination. Wandi laughs as she remembers how she had to be hauled up the steep bank with her bags. Talk about commitment to a goal!
Incidentally, I thought I’d add Wandi’s answer to a question that was in my mind as we discussed church outreaches. How do the volunteers maintain order when there is such need? I had envisaged an open field and people milling about trying to grab what they could, but she shook her head. They run the outreach in a church or hall, she said, or sometimes even a creche or house. They sell sandwiches, soup and cool drinks to those who gather outside, then they invite people to file in at one entrance. Shoes are arranged according to size on one sheet on the floor, and bundles of clothes on another. Each person chooses one pair of shoes and one bundle of clothes then files out. If items remain after the first walkthrough, the people are invited to come in again, and so order is upheld.
It was a pleasure to chat with Wandi as she unwrapped packages of squares and noted down the details of their senders. Together we admired contributions from Scotland, Czechoslovakia and Canada, to name a few. There was a box of colourful hand-warmers from France and a package collected from a local private school. All in all, another heartwarming morning.
Another incredible and heart touching installment, Leanne. Thank you for all your honesty, curiosity and sharing. Tango sounds like a wonderful dog.
Such a lovely portrait of Wandi. I just so much enjoy hearing about Ronda's team in SA. It brings them that much closer. Thank you Leanne.
The world is that much better for having beautiful, caring folk like Wandi, in it. :))
Thank you so much Leanne, for once again sharing these wonderful stories with us. I hope you know how much it means to those of us who will never get to meet all these wonderful people or experience the joy of distributing or being part of this fabulous team in SA. xo