June 1, 2005

A Common Thread

Filed under: Art and About Textiles — admin @ 9:27 pm

Zimbabwe is the epicenter of the AIDS pandemic. Nearly a quarter of the population ages 15 to 49 have the virus. One million children in Zimbabwe have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS.

Putting children in orphanages is an outdated model in Zimbabwe. Children who have dead or ill parents are raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles and older siblings. The focus in Zimbabwe is to help the generations affected by this trauma with family-based solutions, since over 95% of the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS are living with a close relative.

One of the ways the Lafayette-based J.F. Kapnek Trust is helping orphans and their families is by developing preschools and centers for early childhood education. The preschools not only give young children a head start on their education, but they also allow for a much-needed respite in the middle of the day for caregivers. Thus far, the Kapnek Trust has helped build eight preschools, each of which has 80 children enrolled. The preschools are lacking toys and educational materials for all these kids, and here is where creativity and the arts come in.

Last summer, Susan and Arden Strasser initiated Hope for the Heart of Africa, based at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Lafayette. Arden is a pastor at Our Savior’s and Susan is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who is working on a Ph.D. in Public Health. Susan and Arden lived for six years in Zimbabwe and South Africa and founded Hope for the Heart of Africa based on work they had done with African partners in health, welfare and the church.

While in Zimbabwe last year, Susan and Arden met a security guard, bored at her job because nobody came through her gate. To pass the time, she would knit. Susan says knitting is a large part of Zimbabwe culture and that the women are incredibly talented and creative knitters.

Susan saw the guard knitting with old crooked needles and asked the guard to knit a sweater for her daughter. Three days later, Susan received the beautiful sweater and an idea was born. What if the need for toys at the preschool was married with the untapped knitting skills of the local women? If the Strassers could generate seed money and knitting supplies, the Kapnek Trust agreed to help get the Knit Together program going.

Knit Together provides women in the Zimbabwe community a creative and therapeutic means by which to connect with the preschool children. By making dolls, teddy bears, fabric books, puppets, blocks and even color swatches for learning color names, the knitters are enriching the lives of Zimbabwe’s next generation. The women who agree to participate in Knit Together are provided with an equal amount of sewing materials for their personal use or to sell as a source of income.

The common creative thread of knitting reached across the world and touched the community at Our Savior’s, which has collected tremendous amounts of knitting supplies. Five large boxes have already been shipped, and a shipping container will be taking another huge load to Zimbabwe at the end of June. Some avid knitters couldn’t resist knitting something themselves to give to the children of Zimbabwe so a Baby Cap mini-project was launched to warm the heads of Zimbabwean newborns.

Monetary donations for Knit Together are accepted throughout the year by sending a check to: The JF Kapnek Trust, Re: Knit Together, 936 Dewing Ave., Suite E3, Lafayette, CA 94549. Monetary donations for Knit Together will enable the project to buy knitting supplies in Zimbabwe, which helps the local economy and cuts down on shipping costs.

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