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Knitting revives body and spirit

Dr Catherine Hamlin with patients at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Photo by Lucy Perry of Pure Graphics for the Hamlin Fistula Relief
WHAT BEGAN as a small project for two keen knitters two years ago has grown into a small army of women knitting blankets for the Hamlin Fistula Trust in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Heather Allison and Sarah Hucklesby investigated charitable organisations that could use hand knitted materials and decided on the Trust not only because of an Australian connection (the trust was founded more than 50 years ago by two Australian doctors, one of whom, Dr Catherine Hamlin, is still practising), but because they were drawn to the work of the Trust.

“It supports very vulnerable women who have suffered dreadful childbirth injuries resulting in incontinence,” said Ms Allison.

“Many young women in Ethiopia undergo unsupervised childbirth.

Many women labour for five to seven days, resulting in the death of their baby and the development of a fistula (a tear in
the bladder and sometimes the rectum).

“This results in incontinence and often rejection by their husband, family and their entire village,” she said.

“This injury is often able to be repaired by surgery and rehabilitation and continence is restored.

Conveniently the Trust required blankets made from knitted squares so the two women decided such a straightforward
task should be shared with many others and Women Knitting for Women was born.

“When women are admitted to the Fistula Hospital they are usually wearing clothes that are stained, ruined and smell offensive,” said Ms Allison.

“Each woman is given a blanket which she wears like a shawl over the hospital gown.”

The women keep the blanket when they leave the Hospital.

Ms Allison said the group is fairly unstructured and supports and encourages women around Brisbane to knit for the Trust.

They only meet three times a year but, on those occasions, teach women to knit or crochet woollen squares and join them
into blankets.

“We have a real cross-section of women knitting for us, from teenagers to older women.

“Connections have been made with work colleagues, neighbours, family members and friends.

“We have women knitting for us in New Zealand and the UK, school girls in Melbourne, and even grey nomads as they caravan around Australia,” she said.

“One elderly lady who has dementia and lives in a nursing home knits for us.

“Another lady with a mental illness has derived a great deal of satisfaction from completing squares and passing them on.

“We organise the many bags of wool and squares that are donated from far afield.

We fundraise in order to pay the freight to Ethiopia and we educate our supporters regarding women’s health issues
in the developing world.”

Ms Allison said the idea is not to make this a large fundraising venture, but rather it is an opportunity for women to connect
with like-minded women, to be aware of maternal health issues in the developing world, to get their hands into some beautiful wool and to contribute to blankets for their “sisters” in Ethiopia.

While these women are knitting for a cause, they are also part of a national knitting revival.

“Knitting is an opportunity to slow down in our hectic lives and to feel we can produce something tangible from our own hands.

“Once you get over the awkward learn-to-knit phase, the action is repetitive and soothing.

It becomes automatic, allowing plenty of brain space to think or listen.

“Knitting then becomes the perfect thing to do when conversing, at meetings (or Synod) or when listening to music.

For more information contact Heather Allison on heatherallison@optusnet.com.au

Photo : Dr Catherine Hamlin with patients at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Photo by Lucy Perry of Pure Graphics for the Hamlin Fistula Relief