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!
Thank you so very much Leanne. Your reports are inspiring.
I learnt something about Ronda and Knit-a-Square this morning that absolutely astounded me. I just have to share it with you, so my promised report on the orphanages will have to wait. I think this will amaze you too when you hear about it.
It's been quite a harrowing couple of weeks for Ronda. Last Tuesday morning, she arrived at the barn to find it flooded again. She said she could literally smell the wet wool when she climbed out of her car, and remembering the devastation that February's flood caused, dreaded what she might find inside. Fortunately, the measures that had been taken to prevent a repeat of that disaster saved it from being as bad; most of the bags of blankets were stacked on wooden pallets, keeping them out of range of the water. But the carpet, the blankets that had been laid out for photographs, and several bags of bundled squares which were awaiting delivery to gogo groups got soaked and needed to be washed, dried and repackaged.
Then Oti, the lady who works for Ronda and who served as a volunteer when Knit-a-Square was based at Ronda's home, landed in the middle of a family crisis. Oti's husband has another wife in Zimbabwe named Mavis, and Mavis' daughter, who was heavily pregnant and working in South Africa, began to hemorrhage on Friday night. She was rushed to hospital with her mother Mavis, only to have to wait hours for an emergency caesar. Ronda, who visited the family at the hospital and saw the overcrowded conditions and lack of concern for traumatised relatives, was naturally horrified.
"Perhaps it's the same the world over," she said with feeling, "but our government health care system seems to be in shambles. It's literally a miracle that both mother and baby survived."
Shaking her head wearily, she added, "It was an exhausting weekend. I'm just so glad I now have someone to help me do the parcel collection on a Monday."
I nearly left it at that, but decided to follow her comment up with a question. "How many parcels usually come in each week?" I expected her to say between 10 and 20 and put this to her.
"Oh no!" she exclaimed. "It's usually about 60 parcels, but we've had 250 on one day before. It's really hard work finding them all, filling in the manifests, matching up the numbers on the manifests with the numbers on the parcels, standing at the counter to pay whatever levies or handling fees they charge, and loading all the boxes and packages into the van. It can take anything from 45 minutes to 3 hours."
"What?" I had to know more. What about service?
It turns out that the staff at the Bryanstan Post Office know Ronda so well that they are willing to let her go into the back and sort through the parcels herself. This is advantageous because it means she doesn't have to wait in queues or rely on busy post office workers to shuffle papers and identify labels. If this were the case, it would take even longer. Sometimes there's a parcel without a manifest or a manifest without a parcel. Sometimes the post office is so full of clutter that everyone is tripping over boxes and mailbags to get from one section to another. Sometimes the customers in the front are yelling at the post office staff because one of their parcels has gone missing and everyones' nerves are frayed to breaking point.
And frayed nerves aren't unusual here. This isn't Royal Mail. Our postal system has been in crisis for years. There was a period, about 3 years ago, when we had a 5-month postal strike. That was because the system was so broken that nothing worked. Now the South African Post Office is under new, business-focused leadership and things are changing, but it's still a work in progress. For example, when I wanted to pay my car licence the other day, I had to go to 4 different post offices before I was successful. The first was being renovated and was an empty shell; the second didn't have the authority to issue car licences; the third told me their computers were offline. Well,it took perseverance but I eventually renewed my car licence!
So, back to Ronda. Why doesn't anyone from the post office help her carry the parcels to the van?
It's a funny thing. Apparently, they used to. Then the shopping centre management sent out an instruction, saying that no-one was to carry goods from the post office because it meant those people received tips, and this made the others, those who didn't receive tips, feel jealous. And that made them get angry.
"One day, it got too much for me," said Ronda. "I literally sat down on the pavement and cried. In fact, I did that twice. There were so many parcels and me with my arthritis..." She sighed. "I just couldn't manage anymore. That was when a man from our church stopped and asked me what was wrong. I told him, and he offered me a hand, and then said he would ask his wife to help me the following week. Dear Dorelle has been faithfully coming with me to the post office each Monday, dressed in her gym clothes and claiming that it's her workout. She's an absolute star."
Had you known or imagined that collecting the weekly batch of parcels was such an incredibly big job? I certainly hadn't. And it gave me a whole new level of respect for Ronda, learning how conscientiously she did it, week after week, for 6 years in a row! She assures me that, over the years, she and the post office staff have become good friends and they frequently waive levies where knitters have insured their parcels without realising the implications, They know Knit-a-Square is a charity and that the knitted contributions are not intended for sale.
Also—and this is pretty astonishing given the problems in our postal system—we seldom, if ever, have parcels going astray. Somehow, they all eventually arrive, occasionally looking a bit battered, but generally with all the listed contents intact.
I think you'll agree with me that this is a pretty amazing and inspiring story.
oh my goodess Leanne! what an epic effort ! just to get parcels! Thank goodness for Dorelle.