Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One Click And You Can Help-- This Is an AWESOME AMAZING STORY!!


Let me start by saying two important things. Today’s post is very long, but it’s a GREAT read. I can say that without bragging, because Jane King is the star here. Jane is a knitter and she is the adopted mom of a teenager from Colombia. She is such a knockout wonder of a miracle of a human that she continues, through her small non-profit, to provide aid to the orphanage in Colombia. I’ll let her tell the story in her own words below. Now here’s the REALLY SUPER IMPORTANT NEWS:

Jane is part of a contest that ENDS IN 13 DAYS. If she wins, her organization, Friends of Colombian Orphans, Inc., receives $20,000! This will go to a vocational program she started to teach the orphans how to machine-knit so that they can become self-sufficient. I’ve included a link in her interview that tells you EXACTLY how to vote for her group through a Facebook Page. Please, please, please—let’s help her win. Pass this on to every knitter you know. I want to see her get up to 1,000 votes by tomorrow. Let's help her.

And now, Jane’s story:

Q. Tell me about Friends of Colombian Orphans, Inc.

JK: It started up after we adopted a Colombian teen in 2006, through Kidsave International. We weren't planning on adopting: my husband was 58 and I was 54. But we read about these kids and said, "We can do this." We had an empty house, two grown kids and two old dogs. So we adopted. And spent a LOT of time in Colombia, due to difficulties with bureaucracy.

We spent time in three orphanages, getting to understand the setups, fell in love with the kids, and couldn't bear to just ....leave them behind? If I'd had a bus, I would have piled most of them in it. So when we got home, I needed to DO something. I'm a knitter, so we collected knitted hats and scarves from all my knitting buds to give the kids on the next trip, and we raised money to do repairs at our daughter's orphanage. The place was a mess: 240 broken windows, broken tile floors, no hot water, broken playground equipment. We raised money – from local friends and online friends who had followed our adoption blog - and got enough to repair lots of things.

We also threw a party for the girls in the orphanage, and gave everyone presents and a portrait of herself. We took a camera and two printers with us, and 200 cardboard frames. It took forever to take the pictures, and all night to print them out, but it was so much fun. Two friends came along, and it was life changing for them. None of the kids had photos of themselves. Can you imagine?

Q. Right now, you're trying to win a contest. How can we help?

JK: Community Giving is giving away a LOT of money. It's a voting contest. The top 200 charities (with the greatest number of votes) will each win $20,000. I nearly had a heart attack when I found out about it. $20,000 in Colombian is worth like $50,000. I spend a lot of time lately hyperventilating.

So you have to go to Chase Community Giving on Facebook. Once you “LIKE” the page, you get to vote. There's a place to type in the charity you are looking for. Type in COLOMBIAN ORPHANAGES in the search box. Our charity will come up. Find the VOTE button and click. We are in 84th place right now, which is keeping us in the running for the money. The contest ends July 12.

Q. How many children have you adopted from Colombia and what's that been like for all of you?

JK: Wow. We have two grown kids, so we weren't worried about the teen thing. We've adopted the one girl, Nataly. She was 13 when we met her, and 14 when we finally got her, and is now 18. She has one more year of high school. We just heard today that she did well enough on her SAT's to get into Austin Community College! That's HUGE for a kid who had virtually no education before she came here.

We were so dumb. We were like, Oh yeah, let's adopt. We didn't think about the challenges. But we have received from our daughter more than we have given. All she ever wanted was a family. Seriously. She doesn't even want Christmas presents. She loves us so much and is happy to be around us, and doesn't have any of that teen anger and dislike of parents that American teens have to go through. Also the Colombian culture is different: grown kids live with their families for years, until they get married. So Nataly figures to hang out with us as long as she can, I think! She didn't get her greatest wish until she was 14, so we are happy to have her around as long as she feels the need to live with us.

Don't get me wrong: it's been hard work, with tears and anger and misunderstandings. The first time she sobbed and said, "I don't want to be here,” I considered it an opportunity to point out to her that she didn't have a choice: she was now a part of a family, and families work things out. It was us saying, we are all in this together, kiddo, for good or bad. There's no way out! I think that was the first sense of security she felt with us. It has gotten easier throughout the years. She is a joy.

Q. Tell me about the knitting project.

JK: My friend on Rav, Laritza Taft, is a machine knitter and a Colombian born OBGYN living in the USA. When I was collecting hats and scarves for the girls in Bogota, she contacted me and said, yeah, it's nice to give the kids stuff, but why not teach them how to knit? Give them a skill that they can use to get off the streets. It takes about 3 months to teach a girl how to use a machine. Girls in Bogota age out of the orphanages when they are 18. If they are lucky, they get a couple years in a halfway house. Then it's adios, have a good life. Most of them turn to prostitution. It's just heartbreaking.

So I thought about this for a year. Laritza kinda walked me through my thought process. I ran everything by her, and my husband and a good friend and supporter in England who is much better than I am in organizing my thoughts. We asked our friend in Bogota, Mario (who had helped us through the bureaucratic nightmare that is adoption in Colombia) to be our project manager and find us an institution that might be willing to work with us. After a few months looking, he found a rehab facility for girls who have been victims of drug and sexual abuse. We went to Bogota and bought 3 knitting machines from the Singer company, painted the room at the institution, got them to install a metal door (those machines are $1000 each) and finally got the program running. We started out with six girls.

Our goal is to train as many as we can, and to have a central knitting facility in downtown Bogota where the young women can come to knit, have someone look after their kids, and partner with the University of the Andes to teach computer skills. Also have a retail outlet for the women, for sales. We will also buy their items by the piece. We have opened bank accounts for the young girls who are still under 18 so that they will have their own money when they age out.

Some people think "sweatshop,” but the girls come and knit for three hours in the afternoons. We had a waiting list of girls wanting to learn. It was heartbreaking. Well, we lost that room: the institution wanted it back, so now we are going to another place which has committed to having us there for at least a year. Meanwhile, I am thinking about maybe in a year or so having enough money to rent an independent space and grow the co-op. All we need is money.

Q. Can we buy some now?

JK: The girls are learning. We get sent samples, but until we are 100% happy with the quality, they are not for sale. I have a local Austin outlet that wants our stuff. The girls are learning how to make baby sweaters, booties, hats and blankets. We have to keep reining them in from making stuff that is too ...colorful. I am being kind!! It's fun. Eventually they will be for sale.

Q. How does having a vocation help the girls?

JK: Because of our high profile in this online contest, I was contacted just this last weekend by Yuli, a girl who was at our daughter's orphanage the same time Nataly was. This girl has access to a computer at night: she is taking night classes in accounting, because someone arranged for a scholarship for her (actually, another central Texas outreach group). She started talking to me on Facebook and we chatted a while. I began asking her questions:

Me: What do you do?

Her: I am in school at night.

Me: Do you have a day job?

Her: No senora.

Me: Would you maybe be interested in learning how to machine knit?

Her: Yes, definitely, senora. That is why I have written to you. I saw you here and looked at the photos of the orphanage. Do you remember me?

Me: (Well, I did. I asked) Do you have any family?

Her: No senora, I am abandonada.

At this point, I was starting to tear up and get goose bumps. I told her we would stay in touch. I called our manager first and asked him to call Yuli. Then I called Yuli's old social worker who has become a dear, dear friend of ours, and asked her if Yuli was OK, normal, dependable and not on drugs. Then I talked to my husband and we decided that, if we win this contest, we will buy a 4th machine, install it in our manager's house, and our manager's wife could begin to teach this young woman. We can't get her into the institution's program because she doesn't live there. But I am so excited; THIS is what we are all about. Young women with few prospects. Employing them, empowering them! I started looking into the future for Yuli: with an accounting certificate, maybe she could manage a new program for us somewhere!!! I can dream.

Q. Can you share one or two particularly moving moments you've had since you started the non-profit?

JK: Unless you have been to Colombia and visited the orphanages, you can't begin to understand the tug on one's heartstrings. It hurts. It really hurts physically to spend time with these kids who just want to TOUCH you. They get so little physical attention. They're not hungry or unclothed. But they are starved for love.

When we went for Christmas and threw the party where every girl received a gift bag of age-appropriate goodies including candy, stuffed animals, toys, jewelry and underwear (imagine 200 girls = 1400 pairs of underpants a week...doesn't exist: they sew their own), the girls gathered on the lawn in a circle around us, waited respectfully while we were introduced by the director of the orphanage, then came to us for their portraits, bags and hugs. All day they followed us around, laughing, wanting their photos taken and asking about our lives. There was one little girl who had never had new clothes. She was about 7, tiny because of malnutrition, and had really short hair because of lice. The director of the orphanage went through the suitcases of donated clothing we brought, chose an outfit for that girl, and put her into it then and there. The little gal just strutted out of the room. Simply strutted.

I have a lot of photos I look at whenever I feel like I need a boost. We also have pictures of the knitting students who are proudly holding up their sample creations. The look on these girls' faces. Girls who have been raped, thrown out of their homes, told they are worthless. NO! They are artisans and knitters! They will survive. Because of our help. Isn't that awesome??

Q. What we will use the money for if (I mean WHEN) you win?

JK: I buy yarn on ebay and send it to Bogota: most of the Colombian yarn is acrylic and we want them to use more wool and cotton. I've bought a lace carriage, but I need to take it there myself. Shipping is prohibitive. I wish I had someone who would donate it. Airfare is really expensive, but we need to GO once a year at least. We haven't been in a long time. We don't pay ourselves a salary. We need more machines at $1000 a pop. We need to pay our instructor, our project manager, too. By the way, we are also a Colombian nonprofit and are certified by the state government there as providers of humane services to children in state custody. We had to spend money on paperwork there to get that done. So we are good to go. We've crossed every t, dotted every i. I look for money everyplace. All the time.


regina said...

I just voted! Thanks for the heads-up. I'm passing along the link to your blog to a bunch of friends.

Jane said...

Thank you, regina. It means a lot to me to have fellow knitters support us.

Play Safe Kids said...

Playground equipment is one of the great joys of childhood! Playgrounds equipment can offer your child enjoyment, fresh air, and exercise, but they can also pose some safety hazards.

Playground Equipment

Alice King said...

Play Safe Kids-- That would be VERY tacky for you to put an ad for your company when these people are trying to improve the lives of young orphans. Why don't you offer them some of this fantastic equipment instead?