The idea for the African InKNITiative came about while preparing for trip to Uganda.
Before we left we were told that one stop we would be making would be to visit an internal displacement camp (IDP camp) near a rock quarry in Kampala, Uganda, where widows and their children who have fled the brutal violence in the northern part of their country were given a place to settle and make a living by the government of Uganda.
The only work opportunity available to these women is to bust rocks in the rock quarry for about one dollar a week. Needless to say this is extremely hard work and doesn't come to close to providing for their needs, not to mention how hard this is for the older women. There are so many stories i could share about how the women came to be there, but i will save that for another post.
The organization that we went with had already begun a microfinance project with the women in the rock quarry by setting them up with a handmade re-cycled paper bead business which it brings to the US and sells. The beads are now providing the women with income that is well above the Ugandan market price for their efforts. This has greatly improved the lives of these women, who are now able to provide their children with adequate food, shelter, and education.
One day the thought occurred to me that maybe we could teach them to knit. Maybe they could knit something that we could sell for them... but what? It's hot in equatorial Africa, so nobody wears sweaters or scarves or even socks. I doubt there is any yarn to be had in Uganda, and even if there was, these women could not afford to buy supplies when they can hardly feed themselves.
But what could they make? It couldn't be too complicated because there was not only a language barrier but a literacy barrier as well. Few women could even read. It had to be simple, the supplies available and the product unique, universal in size and maybe even unisex.
The light bulb came on...Scarves!!!
But what could they knit them out of??
One day I was cleaning out some drawers and closets and it struck me how many perfectly good t-shirts i get rid of. What a shame. Most of them are at their peak of softness when they get tossed. Then it hit me...why don't we take them the t-shirts to cut up and knit into scarves?
Not only would they be one of the hottest fashion trends of the moment, they would be green AND re-cycled.
We went to Uganda loaded down with scissors, rulers, knitting needles, yarn (for practicing) , reading glasses , crochet hooks (so they could learn that too!) and t-shirts....tons and tons of t-shirts donated by friends here in the US.
Since we wanted to be able to teach as many women as possible, and maybe cause this craft to spread, we took almost a case of chopsticks from Pei Wei and used them as "trainers". As soon as a woman gets proficient enough at knitting she is given a pair of large knitting needles. Hopefully the ladies will teach other ladies , even youngsters to knit.
The first batch of scarves came about 6 months later.
Hmmmm, they were more like rugs than scarves.
I don't think many Africans have a reason to wear a muffler in 90 degree heat so I could see there was a going to be a learning curve there.
Six months after that we received our first small shipment. They were beautiful! Those hard working ladies knit with such care and precision. And they have such a wonderful color sense!
Look closely and you might find snippets of your college, summer camp, or your favorite vacation spot .
100% of the proceeds goes to this micro-business initiative.
Every time you buy one of these fun, functional and responsible scarves you are providing these women with a wage that is well over Ugandan market price and an opportunity for these impoverished women to work toward a future that is more than just their next meal.
"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime."