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Knitting traditions

Cindy Dashnaw | Nov 05, 2019

A Kiwanis member delivers blankets to children on the island of Ouvéa.

Winter nights can get chilly in New Caledonia, an archipelago dotting the Coral Sea a thousand miles off Australia’s Gold Coast. On one island, Ouvéa, tradition and poverty clash with the seasons; inside ancestral huts made of wood and straw or palm fronds, indigenous kanak families curl up on sleeping mats atop a cold clay or cement floor at night. A kanak hut has no chimney, which keeps inhabitants from using a fireplace or stove. 

So when nighttime winter temperatures drop to 10 degrees Celsius, families who can afford them reach for a blanket. And that’s where the Tiare Paita Kiwanis Club of New Caledonia saw an opportunity to expand an existing service project to reach more people.

The service project involved club members working with senior women at a residential community for retirees on New Caledonia (the mainland) to knit wool blankets for new single mothers. 

“At first, we had just created an activity for the women to use their talents,” says Julien Le Ray, Tiare Paita Kiwanis Club secretary. “The women made so many blankets so quickly that we started thinking of a place where Kiwanis never goes and where there might be a similar need.”

Club member Jacqueline Gouzenes, herself a kanak from Ouvéa, knew about shivering under insufficient bedclothes. When her club decided to provide blankets for those families, she stepped up to coordinate with the Ouvéa Mayor’s Office. 

On delivery day, 65 brightly colored blankets stood out against the greens and browns of the huts. The brilliantly dyed wool that so delighted everyone had come from donors or was bought with money donated to the club. 

“We communicated all year about this project on our Facebook page, and people were so generous. We had followers from all over sending us money and wool and even blankets,” Le Ray says.

Kanak women held the soft fabric to their cheeks, admiring the knitting and marveling even more at the journey the Kiwanians had taken.

“’Why did you choose us? Why so much kindness?’ We got so many questions and so many smiles. Mothers were especially happy. I saw lots of joyful tears, including from our Kiwanians,” Le Ray says. 

The Ouvéa families have begged the Kiwanians to return. Meanwhile, wool is still arriving at the club.

“The families offered to show us how to braid plant leaves if we teach them how to knit,” Le Ray says. “It was a big Kiwanis day on that island.”

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