Today is World AIDS Day. It is a day I always remember, and AIDS research and assistance charities are very close to my heart, even moreso now that we have a daughter that comes from a country that has been very hard-hit by this disease.
I am not going to ask you what you are going to do on this day. Charity, if one engages in it, is a very personal thing, and AIDS charities and work are not everyone’s first choice — to say it can be a somewhat politicized cause is probably a fair statement, even in this day and age.
I am, however, going to tell you what I am doing today, and all this month, actually.
I am knitting red squares for the Knit-a-Square project.
Knit-a-Square is a charity project in which people all over the world knit or crochet 8-inch squares. Those squares are then packed up and sent to South Africa, where they are sorted and sewn into blankets to give to children who have been orphaned by AIDS. Sometimes, they are also sewn into sweaters for kids to give them something to wear when the weather gets cold. But the end result is to give comfort and warmth to kids who have been devastated, and continue to be, by the loss of their parents to a really opportunistic, nasty disease.
Have a look at the site. Some of those kids could break your heart. But seeing them wrapped in blankets, THEIR blankets, sometimes one of their only possessions in this world — well, that’s what got me knitting.
Squares are easy. And quick. Two things I love in a knitting project.
The charity knitting group I belong to on Ravelry has chosen to use World AIDS Day as the stepping stone for this month’s knitting challenge — to knit red squares for the entire month of December. Not only is it the colour of the AIDS campaign, but it is also a colour of the Christmas season. However, because of the stigma attached to AIDS in many countries, the only caveat is to avoid the red ribbon motif, and instead make “plain jane” simple squares. Well, I am not good at patterns anyway, so that works fine for me.
Every time I look at my daughter, or at some of the other kids adopted from Ethiopia, it is hard not to remember the phrase “there but for the grace of God go I”. And having met a birth mom who was dying from AIDS and who had lost a husband to AIDS, whose daughter was being adopted by a Canadian family, while we were in Ethiopia… well, how could I pass up this challenge? This woman had such grace, such dignity, such beauty in the face of such a devastating situation — and her only goal was to make sure that her daughter had a family to love her and care for her for the rest of her life. As a mom now, I completely understand. I get it. And it makes me marvel at her strength and her selflessness.
I cannot think of her without wondering how she is. I cannot think of her without sending up a silent wish for her to live her remaining days in peace, and hoping her death is one without too much sadness and suffering. I cannot think of her without tears.
Every square I knit this month will be in her honour. She touched me greatly.
And while she had the strength and the resources to make an adoption plan for her beautiful girl, many cannot. And so I will knit, this month and always, to ensure that those moms’ and dads’ beloved children have something to keep them warm, some small consolation in a devastating time.
I cannot change the world. But I can do something. This is what I choose to do, and why.
And if you knit or crochet, and you feel you want to do something, have a look through the Knit-a-Square site. And get your sticks and hooks moving for a good cause.
Looking for some good reading to put on your Xmas list? Well, since we’re on the topic, I have two recommendations.
- And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts — This book outlines the beginnings of HIV/AIDS, and the early days of research, fear, politics and ignorance. It is a long but brilliant read from someone deeply affected by the disease in his community, who later succumbed to it. More than once, I wanted to heave the book across the room in anger and frustration at the issues surrounding AIDS and HIV in the West.
- 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen — This powerful, compelling book outlines 28 stories of people living and dying with AIDS in present-day Africa from someone on the ground talking to and getting to know the people involved. Some of the stories will absolutely break your heart. And some will inspire. And I defy anyone connected with adoption in Ethiopia to read the story of the little girl caring for her brother, both orphaned by AIDS in Addis, and not feel the urge to hug their children that much tighter.