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Knitting Groups: Jeanie in Malawi

Prepare for a captivating read as we find out all about Jeanie’s volunteering expedition to Malawi and her knitting groups.

After hearing all about Teresa O’Gorman’s knitting group I’ve Got Knits, it’s time for our second knitting group to step into the spotlight. This month we are heading across the Mediterranean Sea to south-eastern Africa, to the country of Malawi. When Jeanie first sent her entry in, we knew it would create an excellent read and fellow knitters would love to hear about her success, as did we.  

It all began when Jeanie decided to take a new direction in 2013 after retiring from her 44 year career in nursing, which led to a 3 month volunteering trip to Malawi. Volunteering for Joshua Orphan and Community Care Malawi, the head organiser approached Jeanie regarding setting up knitting groups in two villages, whilst in the country. The knitting groups would not only lead to giving the women of these communities the chance to all get together to create, but provide an income for them for the very first time.

 

After a local appeal for wool and needles, Jeanie was soon off on her selfless adventure to the African country armed with a case full of yarny goodness to begin teaching these ladies invaluable skills. Jeanie, had the pleasure of being placed in two villages, Pensulo and Baluti and in-between being a volunteer nurse she brought the ladies of these communities together to knit. 19 women attended the Baluti knitting group and 15 women the Pensulo group.

 

“The joy the women get from these groups is tremendous, it is one of the rare moments when the women are able to come together as a group and do what we all love best in Briton – knit and chat.”

Knitting and chatting, an activity us crafters have in our day to days lives was something these ladies had never experienced and Jeanie provided them with not only the opportunity to do this, but taught the Malawian communities knitting stitches and techniques, that would soon become the source to them receiving an income. The majority of the ladies had basic self-taught knit and crochet skills before Jeanie arrived, however with no wool, needles or pattern reading skills they were never able to progress. The master-plan behind the groups was to build the womens techniques and allow them to create handmade products to take to the market; finally selling them for profit. In-between laughter, telling tales and sharing stories from the two cultures the ladies were soon able to cast on, off, stitch together garments and finish off with invisible stitching.

 

Each week the women were overwhelmed with joy to see Jeanie and she recalls one occasion when the ladies had been working extremely hard in-between the group to increase their knitting skills. Planning to sell baby garments at the market, the ladies were so proud of their creations they brought their own children to the group modelling the handmade tops they had created – they were so proud and Jeanie didn’t have the heart to take these garments away from the little ones to sell at market. The ladies had really come a long way with their knitting and their first trip to market was extremely successful, coming close to selling out of all the handmade goods. The session after was filled with dancing, hand clapping and chanting – for some this was the first ever income they had received, kissing the money with appreciation, it truly meant the world to them.

Jeanie’s trip soon came to an end – promising the ladies she would be back, they were convinced they would never see her again, but true to her promise Jeanie has returned for the past three years, again armed with bags full of wool, needles and patterns.

Over the past four years new knitters have joined the group and additional skills have been taught. Using money to purchase pencils and paper, basic stationary our children may take for granted, the families of the Malawian women occasionally attend the group during summer holidays. The knitting groups now create an array of items from laces shawls to hats to bags and this year Jeanie saw Alex an 11 year old boy join the group, with bicycle spokes as knitting needles he was ready to learn and by the end of her trip he was delighted to have created a scarf.

The ladies continue to practice whilst Jeanie is at home in the UK, however sadly she has not found a knitter to take over the groups during these times.  Currently the women need the support to arrange a stall at the market and run the knitting groups - Jeanie aims is to find a volunteer to assist these ladies and to help develop their skills whilst she is not there.  Using their income on themselves and to purchase more materials to continue stitching and selling Jeanie truly has provided them with a life changing opportunity.  Jeanie’s long term goal is to organise business training for the women in hope they will one day have the skills to manage and run their own groups and market stalls successfully on their own. We couldn’t think of a greater goal and we wish Jeanie the up-most luck in supporting and encouraging these ladies.

“In the mean time I hope the women will continue to improve on their knitting skills, enjoy doing so, laugh, chat, come together, have fun, feel the satisfaction and the empowerment, success and achieving can do.”

In a male dominated country Jeanie has supported these women tremendously, empowering them and changing their lives for the better. It’s incredible the financial assistance our crafts can give a variety of communities, whether it be small knitting groups crafting for local charities or the volunteering expedition Jeanie went on to give these ladies opportunity and hope. Jeanie will be returning to the Malawian villages in April 2017, where she will continue on her mission to enhance the lives of these ladies.

We hope you enjoyed reading about Jeanie and her Malawian knitting groups as much as we have writing about it, it has been a true pleasure to share this story and we look forward to seeing future creations from the groups.

Don’t forget to share your very own knitting group story with us via knittinggroups@deramores.com for the chance to be featured and win a €125 yarn bundle.