Youmanity reports on a most inspiring human story. A group of entrepreneurial asylum seekers are challenging prejudice by learning to crochet. They started making hats, and are now knitting teddy bears for refugee children all over the world. Asking for donations of wool also meant that the refugees began to interact with the local people - whose perception of them hasn’t always been the best.
The twenty refugees living in the village of Cetona, near Siena, immediately understood that integration was going to be a challenge. If one has to go by skin tone, these young men couldn’t look more different - all having prominent African traits. They are allowed to work, but no one would employ them. With nothing much to do, they decided to react to their situation by learning to crochet - a craft usually reserved for women in their countries of origin.
In Cetona the refugees found the support and generosity of a local mentor, Suzie Alexander. “We are trying to provide these guys with some practical skills associated with a small business. Even if some of them are sent back to Africa, they will go back better equipped than when they came,” explains Suzie, organic local farm owner.
“I did it for very personal reasons – she says – I wanted my children to get to know about people forced to flee their homes, I wanted them to spend time with them and understand how they lived.”
At the outset the African crocheters were ribbed by fellow refugees and full of doubts about their ability to succeed? But after two weeks, one of the nine, Ismaila, finished his first hat. That was the proof they all needed, that it was not going to be impossible. More hats followed and soon it became a small enterprise with a name: Loop-La-Loop.
More good news
The next challenge arrived with an order from a school in Tel Aviv for 20 teddy bears. Students from the world renowned EMIS college, led by 17-year old Elena Cassina, formed the Teddy Bears Crossing Borders project. Their objective? To get the bears knitted and ready for the Easter break so students heading home could take the bears to orphaned children in local refugee camps. What is even more touching is that the Loop-La-Loop bears carried a letter in their ruck-sacks … a message to the children encouraging them to learn to read and study hard, because only through education will they be able to change their future.
The guys at Loop-La-Loop are incredibly enthusiastic about the good that their crochet work can generate and have no intention of stopping. “They have taken back their lives whilst being forced to wait for the decision of the Territorial commissions with regards to their asylum requests,” explains Suzie who is thinking about the second phase of their project.
Social integration - healing together
The crocheters have became so good at it, they now go into local schools to teach the children the art of crocheting, and more besides. Their interaction with local people is dispelling negative stereotypes on both sides.
Now that they are back on their feet, the next stage is professional training. With training the Loop-La-Loop men want to become builders and chefs, health workers and farm workers.. and not only.. the group has a musical voice too. Abega “Braveheart” Laone is a community reggae artist whose songs speak of Africa’s unnecessary suffering and of Africans’ responsibility to bring about change in their continent.
And so this is not just a story about guys doing crochet. This is a story of social integration in the making. Migrants helping themselves, helping each other, exchanging life stories and experiences is building bridges. And knitting itself, under the loving wing of Suzie’s Loop-la-Loop ever growing project, is serving as trauma therapy … with crocheters literally stitching themselves back together, one crochet loop at a time.
Loop-La-Loop is dedicated to the memory of Alessia Bouchlas - a fervent believer in human rights and a loyal supporter of this project.
To hear more about Loop-la-Loop click here
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