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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Thanks Pam for converting the photos into visible images!
Bongi and I were back at the barn today, ready to lend a hand with the packing of blankets and sorting of squares. There was a lively atmosphere as the volunteers milled around one end of the long table. After greeting everyone and letting them pat Tango on the head, I asked what all the excitement was about. Ronda was away and had, it turned out, messaged Mabel about collecting the post. Plans were being made about who would go and when.
Estelle left shortly with Thomas, a stand-in driver. That left the rest of us to find other things to keep us busy as the parcel corner was completely empty. Of course, there is always something to do, apart from knitting, which is generally what I do. Some of the ladies continued matching squares left on the table from last week, while others began folding blankets that had been brought in earlier. It took quite a while for Estelle and Thomas to collect the parcels from the post office but they finally returned with several heavy bags.
Meanwhile, I had a chance to meet and chat to a new volunteer, Megan. She was introduced to Knit-a-Square through Anne, and Anne met her when her bible study group reached out to Megan for help with their charity drive. I learnt that Megan acts as a coordinator for several charitable causes, calling on people to knit, crochet and donate second-hand items for distribution to the needy. She was able to pass baby garments on to Anne's bible study group earlier this year and is now partnering with Knit-a-Square to distribute blankets, beanies, hand warmers and soft toys to children at a squatter camp.
I found Megan enormously inspirational. She began her charity work when she learnt to make hats on a round loom and realised how quick and simple it was. She decided to celebrate her 46th birthday by making 460 hats for a worthy cause. After that, she committed herself to another big goal, drawing in others from her community to help. "It just grew from there," she said, laughing. "Sometimes I think I must be crazy but people just keep asking me what else they can contribute and I keep finding needs."
We chatted about the changing world we live in. A hundred years ago, charity knitting all revolved around the war—keeping servicemen warm by whipping up jerseys, socks and scarves. Today, the biggest needs seem to be the homeless, refugees, victims of natural disasters and, of course, orphaned and abandoned children. If we are crazy, it's because the world is crazy and we have to adapt.
We are fortunate at Knit-a-Square to have a really connected membership. Even though the poverty we encounter is great, we are encouraged by our sense of shared compassion. As our knitted and crocheted squares are sewn together into beautiful variegated blankets, so our individual wishes for the wellbeing of the children merge into one strong force for good. The more inspiration we can draw from each other and the more we see each other act, the more hope we will generate in whatever context we live.
Warm wishes to Ronda as she takes a well-deserved break at the Kruger National Park. May you spot all the birds and animals you hope to see!
Thank you Leanne for another interesting account of life at KAS. How I wish I could be there sometimes.
Megan sounds like a very valuable addition to KAS. It's so reassuring to hear of new volunteers arriving.
Thank you so much Leanne for your lively description of what is going on in the KAS Office......as if I am there and sitting next to you and the volunteers! You learn me a lot, give me a warm feeling about these precious volunteers and I am grateful for that. xoxo
Thank you, Leanne for introducing us to Megan.....another wonderful addition to Team SA. :))
I hope Ronda has a lovely holiday.
Thanks for the latest update - very interesting and good to "meet" another member of the team.
Thanks Leanne, it is always so interesting to meet a volunteer through you ! How amazing that it all started for Megan with making hats on a round loom, and that she made 460 ! What a goal !
Good wishes to Ronda for a lovely refreshing break !
Thank you Leanne for your wonderful descriptions of Tuesday Opening Days at KAS SA. For newbies to KAS it is inspirational and for us oldies, it is uplifting and reinforcing. A warm hello and big hugs to all the volunteers.
Thanks again Leanne, for a refreshing "look" at happenings in the KASbarn - it is so wonderful for me to be able to leave everything in the capable hands of so many volunteers and go away for a full week and Kruger Park is Peter's and my most special place of refreshing and rest always, despite the November heat. This time we were hosting three friends from WAY back in Zimbabwe days so memories were savoured and there were many laughs ... along with some tears too, as one of our number lost her husband 18 months ago and he was so much part of the Zim group in the good old days !
While we were there the news on Zimbabwe broke, so that caused much excitement and common interest as well.
And, for the first time in 20 years of visiting the Park, we saw more than 30 lions in 3 sightings in ONE DAY ! That is an all time record for us, and for most visitors to Kruger, I would think !
Back to the work - Monday saw us collecting the largest post EVER (this is a month for superlatives !) which cost R4100.00 in handling fees ... and took Dorelle and me more than three and a half hours to collect ! The volunteers were thrilled ... it's an ill wind, as they say !!!
Love to you all - it is impossible to write individual emails these days (gmail is troublesome and needs a technician to sort it out which I will arrange in due course) but we are always deeply grateful to each and every ONE of you for all you do to keep us going and your lovely lovely contributions and massive generosity !
God bless you all xoxoxoxoxo
I'm so pleased that you had such a lovely break. You certainly deserve it.
The news about Zimbabwe was very cheering. At last!!!! I visited Southern Rhodesia (as it was called in 1963) several times while I was living in Malawi (or Nyasaland). It was such a beautiful country. I hope the different factions will try to work together to bring some idea of democracy to the country.
Good news for ZIMBABWE - everyone around the world is hoping for a breakthrough in kindness and prosperity for them.
This week we've had thunderstorms each afternoon in Johannesburg, making the weather cool at night and pleasantly warm during the day. It's also approaching the end of the school year, with parties planned at many of the creches we support. Megan has promised to post a couple of reports about parties she is organising, so look out for those on the forum.
As usual on Tuesday, the volunteers opened an array of exciting parcels from all over the world. Most of the parcels contain slips with information about the sender but occasionally the items are sent anonymously. While we understand that some people like to give without seeking recognition, it is disappointing for us. We like to know where the squares, beanies, hand warmers and toys come from. In fact, as many of you know, we keep an ongoing record of the number of items our members send, partly as a testament to their generosity and partly as evidence to potential sponsors of our committed donor base.
You will be happy to know that the volunteers get a real kick out of reading the notes that come in the parcels too. We love to read out messages of thanks, or the odd funny comment about the patterns, or requests for items to be given as a set. Sometimes there are pertinent questions that need answering. Mostly, though, donors simply express their joy in being able to make a difference in children's lives.
I thought it would be nice to include an example of a message that came with a recent parcel. The sender is a social worker at a retirement home in the Czech Republic. I won't mention her name or location as I've not asked permission to use her words, but they touched us as many such messages do. It reads:
We send you a total of 500 pieces of squares in two boxes. These squares knitted and crocheted clients of retirement home in the town xxx and xxx, which lies in the Czech Republic in Europe. They knitted and crocheted squares of four months and are always continuing. Involvement in your project clients find meaningful fill in their free time.
We hope that these things will help to abandon or sick children in South Africa.
We are looking forward to another cooperation. We will be glad if you write us that these squares arrive in the order.
Of course, Ronda will respond, although this is not standard practice. There simply isn't enough manpower to acknowledge receipt of all goods. That is what the squares list and blanket room photo gallery are for. Many of you also follow the reports of distributions and spot your handiwork there.
Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that some parcels take a very long time to reach us, especially when shipped by sea from Australia. This isn't a problem because they do eventually arrive, and their contents are safe. For example, Anne opened two parcels this week which were postmarked March and May, and it is already the end of November! We suspect they must have sat at the harbour awaiting processing by customs, but there is nothing we can do about that. The good thing is that parcels hardly ever seem to actually get lost. It may take months, but the items eventually rock up and do eventually reach the children for whom they are intended.
Finally, we celebrated two more birthdays this week. Anne turned 77 and Estelle turned 70. I hope to put up some pictures of the birthday girls, so check the replies below.
Thank you Leanne. And I turned 70 also.