SEPTEMBER, 2009—Warm Up America teamed up again with Save the Children ("Save"), rallying volunteers nationwide to knit and crochet caps for newborns. Called "Knit One Save One," the program ended earlier this year with more than 100,000 caps being donated. Thousands of the caps were distributed to Save health facilities in Africa in the spring. The remaining shipment of 50,000 caps was sent to El Salvador and I had the heartwarming experience of witnessing these caps being distributed.
We met with several mothers who were just leaving the hospitals with their babies, as well as with mothers visiting their newborns in the neonatal unit. All enjoyed selecting just the perfect cap for their new babies.
I traveled to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, with Tracy Hinson, Associate Director of Operations for Save's "Survive to 5 Campaign." While there, members of Save's education and health staff took us on several trips into the field.
We first met with Gersande Chavez, director of Save's El Salvador office. She explained that the caps are being incorporated into a neonatal kit and distributed to new mothers through hospitals around the country. Though the caps are generally distributed through Save health facilities, when the staff at the Salvadoran Ministry of Health saw how beautiful the caps were, they wanted them distributed throughout the country. The 50,000 that were expected to last for at least a year, will now be used up within four months.
The neonatal kits include a cap, along with alcohol and swabs for the mother to clean her baby's umbilical cord, a baby rattle, and helpful information about general infant care. It wasn't until two days later when I visited a neonatal and maternity ward at a regional hospital northwest of the capital, that I realized how important our knitted and crocheted caps really are.
When we pulled up to Sonsonate General Hospital, there were lines of people snaked along the sidewalk waiting for visitor hours to start. This hospital serves some of the poorest families in the country and has been targeted to be among the first to receive caps. With Save staff members acting as interpreters, we started distributing the caps and explaining the program. At first hesitant, the new mothers' eyes widened when they saw our bag of goodies. Save staffer Jenny de Majia explained: "You have to remember that many of these woman have never received a gift before, so this is a big deal for them." Shyness overcome, the new moms quickly picked a favorite cap and immediately placed them on their babies' heads.
Equally gratifying was to be present at a press conference sponsored by Save and the Health Ministry announcing the program, Unidas y Unidos por las Salud Neonatal (roughly translated means United for Prenatal Health). In her comments, Chavez thanked the participants in the Knit One campaign for their love and generosity.
To meet the demands of this growing program, I will be advising Cathy Coddington, Save's Senior Specialist/Regional Advisior, Education in El Salvador, on organizing groups of knitters and crocheters in El Salvador and will be sharing our educational materials.
What was also exciting was to meet a local group of knitters who have been making chemo caps for children and recently heard about the Knit One Save One program. They are anxious to work with Save to develop the cap project in El Savador and have agreed to assist in recruiting others.
This small group first got together thanks to a plea on Face Book by Kennia de Salazar, a licensed nutritionist at a local clinic, and organizer extraordinaire. Though not a knitter herself, Kennia's daughter had started knitting chemo caps for children and needed help. de Salazar says, "Each member of our group is so different. We come from different walks of life, but our knitting has created a wonderful bond of friendship which is important to all of us." Her comments speak to the universal appeal of our crafts. The group members meet once a week in the early evening and they all use knitting looms.They love the speed of the loom, finishing caps in about two hours.
During my brief stay, I also had an opportunity to visit small community health centers and schools in the Ahuachapan region close to the Guatemalan border, as well as a book bag program for preschoolers held in an isolated village. Needless to say it was a very rewarding experience and one which I wish I could have shared with all the volunteers who contributed to this project. Chavez said in a recent e-mail to me:
"I am so glad you were able to come! I think we are on the path to increased funding for newborns and the campaign we were able to put on is all because of the caps, so a huge THANKS to you and the volunteers. I met with the US government today and it looks as though they are very much interested in following up on this initiative with us in-country.
"I am very excited about the possibility to expand the knitting campaign to schools and glad you’re willing to stay in touch!"