A little house on the edge of Lidgetton Village is abuzz with happiness.
It’s the day the Care Bears will be collected. A beaming Liphina Zondi, has put out tables and chairs for friends and neighbours who arrive with bulging bags stuffed with colourful bears. There is much laughter as they admire one another’s work – particularly the new patterns that emerge as their confidence grows.
Liphina was the first knitter in The Care Bears Project, started by Rebecca and Sam Pinnell. The Care Bear Project aims to uplift rural communities, by providing employment and much-needed income. Then using the product – the knitted bears – to bring joy to the children in these communities, many of whom have never received a new toy in their lives.
“I learnt to knit when I was very young, my older sister taught me,” Liphina recalls, “the first thing I made was leg warmers.” Her daughter still has some of the things she knitted for her family over the years (a great skill to have in the chilly Midlands winters). Liphina was happy to retire from her job as a domestic worker a few years ago to spend more time with her family, but living on a small pension has challenges.
The Care Bears fame has grown since she first gathered a community of knitters in Lidgetton and trained everyone how to make them. Liphina always feels pleased when people want to participate and come to her to learn how to knit and follow the pattern. She particularly loves the days when they go to donate knitted bears to the children who attend the local creches, “It makes me so happy to see the kids so happy.”
With the money she earns from this project, Liphina dreams of saving enough to build a veranda on the front of her house. The back yard is crammed with veggies – spinach, beans and potatoes. Her other love is gardening, and she enjoys cooking for her family too.
While Liphina is grateful to be able to work in the comfort of her home surrounded by her grandchildren, she can no longer knit all day like she used to. “My arms are not so strong anymore.” In the evenings, she settles down to watch her favourite programme, Generations, with a cup of Five Roses tea and her needles in hand. “Sometimes, I fall asleep when I am knitting.” she laughs. Clearly, this is relaxing and satisfying work.
Sam Pinnell concludes “Without Liphina, we doubt if The Care Bear Project would exist. From knitting the prototype, to translating and simplifying the pattern so that the rural ladies can understand it, she has also helped train the heads of the groups in Sweetwaters, Mphophomeni and Pietermaritzburg South. We are indebted to her for her time and patience. She is our champion knitter!”