In January 2003 Amy Berman, a Minneapolis mom, read a magazine article that changed her life. Working in advertising sales at the time, Amy had no idea that she would one day become the accidental executive director of a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing comfort to humanity’s most innocent–children. But that’s exactly what happened.
The article was about infant and child rape in Africa, an increasing problem caused, in part, by the myth of the “virgin cure”–a belief that if a man has sex with a virgin, including infants and toddlers, he will be cured of AIDS, a disease that has reached pandemic proportions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The youngest victim in the article was only 2 months old.
Amy was shell-shocked. She simply could not close the magazine and continue on with her everyday life after learning the horrifying pain of these children. She felt compelled “to do something”.
The article mentioned that the Child Protection Unit in Durban, South Africa was collecting teddy bears, dolls, games and books to deliver to the rape victims. Amy thought of the one item that had brought her own two children comfort throughout the years. A teddy bear knitted by her mother using a pattern circa World War II.
Although Amy was not a knitter, she was so motivated that she learned quickly, under her mother’s instructions, and soon began teaching other women to knit. The price for her lessons? One knit bear sent to a child in Africa. Thus, Mother Bear Project was born.
Providing Comfort One Stitched Bear at a Time
Mother Bear Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is to give comfort and hope to children, primarily those affected by HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, by providing them with an unconditional gift of love in the form of hand-knit and crocheted bears.
All bears are made using the same knit or crochet pattern available on the Mother Bear Project website. Complete kits that include yarn, needles or hook, tag, and pattern are also available. The pattern, simplified by Amy for beginners, is so easy that even children as young as 6-years old knit and give these bears of love.
Each bear comes with a tag signed by the knitter and can be as inventive as the creator wishes, from simple bears to bears that resemble celebrities or movie characters. The bears must use worsted weight yarn only and are not exceed 12″ from head to paw and cannot be adorned with buttons, snaps, bows, or any other item that could be a choking hazard for small children. Hearts, however, are perfectly okay.
In fact, once a month at least 3 groups meet to sew felt hearts on each bear sent to Mother Bear Project. Amy likes big red hearts added on the bears so that the children will know that someone loves them.
In the 14 years since Amy created Mother Bear Project, she has gone from sending 15 bears in the first shipment to 1,000 each month. She has taken multiple trips to Africa to and seen the heartbreaking reality that is the lives of these children. Many own nothing but the ripped shirts on their backs. A bear from Mother Bear Project is often the first and/or only toy these children have ever had. They are a simple gift to a child “…who has nearly nothing in the world with the message that they are loved by someone halfway around the world”.
A simple gift with absolutely no strings attached. They are not handed out on holidays or birthdays, for religious reasons, good grades, or proper behavior. They are given simply to comfort a child whose life has been affected by HIV/AIDS, whether they are a victim or an orphan. In fact, Amy hopes to give a bear to every child who has lost a parent to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging nations. They number in the tens of millions.
She cannot meet this goal alone. There is a network of hundreds of organizations and individuals, from Peace Corps. Volunteers and The Girl Scouts, to people like you and me, who are donating or distributing donations. Each one dedicated to sharing a bit of love and comfort to a child in need. But more help is needed.
I have read countless stories detailing the obvious joy in a child who receives a bear from Mother Bear Project. Stories about children dancing and skipping around excitedly while they waited in line for what might be the only toy they would ever receive. Stories about children tying the bears around their necks in the piggyback style of African mothers. Even stories of children who put their own battered shoes on their bear babies. And of course, stories about children whose eyes light like a Christmas tree upon receiving their gift. I am both heartbroken and uplifted by these stories. I am compelled by these stories.
I want to be an honorary Mother Bear. May the bears I make serve as the hugs that I cannot give these helpless little ones. May they serve as the handkerchiefs that I am not there to wipe their tears with. May they serve to console them and warm them on the cold lonely nights because I cannot be there to snuggle with them. May they serve as simple reminder to these innocents touched by atrocity that someone loves them… that someone cares.
I am compelled to make a difference one stitched bear at a time, are you?
Until next time… Happy Crafting!