Renton Technical ESL students knit for AIDs orphans in southern Africa
By TRACEY COMPTON
Renton Reporter Staff writer
December 2, 2010 · Updated 9:01 AM
Students in a Renton Technical College English as a Second Language class are learning new skills and healing the world one knitted square at a time.
Led by their instructor, Elizabeth Falconer, the class is participating in the KasCare program, which has people internationally knitting squares of cloth for blankets for AIDs orphans in southern Africa.
Falconer came across the charity group KasCare Inc. online during summer break and thought it would be a great project for her ESL class. They knit squares in the class that meets at WorkSource Renton Monday through Thursday evenings.
The knit-a-square project started as an Australian family's pursuit in 2008 and grew to a charity with 82,000 squares knitted and 7,000 garments.
Sandy and Roger McDonald came up with the idea of asking the world's knitters and crocheters to send 8 by 8 inch squares to South Africa, where they would be sewn into blankets.
"Many of the people in my classes are unemployed and we try and keep things upbeat around here," Falconer said. "It seemed like a good way to give some perspective on how bad it is in other places in the world. Like even if we're unemployed here, our life isn't that bad compared to what other people are facing."
According to a July 2008 report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDs, there was an estimated 5.7 million people living with HIV in South Africa; approximately 3.2 million are women and 280,000 children, ages 0-14.
The Renton class surpassed its goal of 100 squares, which is a drop in the bucket to the charity's goal of 105,000 for 2010. For them, it's the experience and chance to give back that matters.
Cisse Aboudramane is originally from the Ivory Coast and the project is close to his heart. As a human being, as an African he said he is touched by the project.
"That motivates us to do more knitting," Aboudramane said.
He enjoys this ESL class and said that it is helping him on the job as a warehouse associate for Amazon.
Aboudramane is one of the few men in the class who learned to knit for the first time with this project.
"I never knit in my life because in our culture only ladies knit," he said.
It's new to Elmer Raimundo of El Salvador, too. He's been working on the same baby blue square for three days.
"I'm trying to, but I get confused," Raimundo said with a smile.
He just started working at McDonald's and hopes his English skills will one day get him into college and a job working with computers.
One of the top knitters in the class is Kesone Lityouvong. Originally from Laos, she learned to knit in a refugee camp in Thailand. Lityouvong is laid off from work now but uses the knitting as a distraction to do things for others.
"If you make something for other people, it makes you happy," she said.
And that was really the point, according to Falconer, a shared activity to build community.
"We did a lot of things ESL-oriented, as far as language goes, before we started the project, she said.
To prepare, they read a "Mr. Putter" children's book about knitting, then a trend article about guys knitting – Falconer anticipated reluctance from her male students about the project. Finally, they read about South Africa and the situation there and watched a few videos.
"And during the project we talked a little bit about traditions and what people had done in their own countries and as it turns out a couple of the women are quite good at knitting already."
Falconer and the women became the teachers to the rest of the class of about 25 students.
The class planned to send the squares to KasCare for Thanksgiving. Because ESL classes are an ongoing endless task, Falconer thought it would be good to do a project the students could learn and complete.
"So, it's satisfying that way," she said.Contact Renton Reporter Staff writer Tracey Compton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.